On January 10th, 2014, SodaStream announced Scarlett Johansson would be the new face for their marketing. It proved a disastrous decision. Johansson brought mainstream media attention, as only a celebrity could, to the SodasStream factory built in the illegal settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and to the BDS campaign generally.
In the weeks leading up to her first significant tv ad, for the Superbowl, a concerted and often clever online campaign satirized Ms Johansson’s perceived hypocrisy: serving to promote SodaStream’s commercial interests directly conflicted with her work as an ambassador for Oxfam, a charity highly critical of Israeli settlements. Memes circulated of Ms Johansson sipping SodaStream bottles in front of disturbing images such as separation barrier and demolished Palestinian homes. Three days before the SuperBowl, with both Oxfam and the movie understar under pressure, Oxfam accepted her resignation, stating:
While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador.
Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support… Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. [Oxfam : Full statement]
Defenders of SodaStream refer to the facts that there are about 500 Palestinian employees at the factory and that they receive better pay than is generally available in the West Bank towns where they live. One worker has spoken of earning 10 times more than the 20 shekels ($6) a day he earned when plucking and cleaning chickens at Azzariah [CS Monitor].
These arguments echo those made by supporters of white factory owners in the time of apartheid South Africa. Ronald Regan, Margaret Thatcher and others applauded factories that employed large numbers of willing black workers who lacked opportunities elsewhere (eg. NY Times). From their initial calls for boycotts, ANC and union leaders accepted there might be some economic pain for these workers, but they insisted on bringing the world’s attention to the universal suffering under the apartheid system. The boycotts, sanctions and divestment they called for were key to ending apartheid and the systematic injustices faced by black workers.
Even though the SodaStream factory does pay the legal minimum wage to Palestinian workers (unlike some other Israeli businesses [Kav LaOved]), workers have clearly voiced problems:
One of the workers waiting for the SodaStream bus this morning says he hates the fact that he’s working in an Israeli settlement, and lies to people when they inquire about his work.
“I’m ashamed I’m working there,” he says. “I feel this is our land, there should be no [Israeli] factory on this land.”
He feels like a “slave,” working 12 hours a day assembling parts – drilling in 12,000 screws a day, he adds. [CS Monitor]
SodaStream benefits from, supports and normalizes illegal settlement activity.
The settlement where the SodaStream founder, Peter Weissburgh, built its factory in the 90s has a particularly troubling history and legal status. From the early 70s the Israeli government made plans to extend Jerusalem’s industrial zone, Mishor Adummim, and annexed 3,000 hectares to do so. In 1975, the messianic right-wing group Gush Enim originally established an outpost of prefab concrete structures and wooden huts in the area 6 miles from Jerusalem, without authorization but with the support of Defense Minister Shimon Peres. In 1979, permanent settlement status was granted and 300 Israelis took up residence. Since then further expropriation of lands and transfer of citizens means Ma’ale Adummim now covers 5,000 hectares with a population of 39,200.
The creation and growth of Ma’ale Adummim is a clear breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits an occupier from transferring “parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” B’Tselem found in its report that the building of a police headquarters, the planned E1 project and infrastructure suggest that Israel wants Ma’ale Adummim to be considered “an Israeli city that will remain under Israeli control in any final-status agreement reached with the Palestinians”:
It appears that in Ma’ale Adummim, the government decided to permanently expropriate the land because it viewed the area as an integral part of Jerusalem that would forever remain under Israeli control.
The geographic location of Ma’ale Adummim also infringes the collective right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. The settlement severs the West Bank at a strategic point, dividing it into two cantons, thus making it impossible to establish a viable Palestinian state with reasonable territorial contiguity.
This land annexation has put terrible pressures on the neighboring Palestinian villages of Abu Dis, al-Eizariya, Al-Issawiya, At-Tur and ‘Anata. And perhaps cruellest of all has been the expulsion of over 1000 Jahalin Bedouins [Reuters]
Dispossession of Bedouin
Since Oxfam and Scarlett Johansson stopped working together, there has been a “blanket refusal” of permits being granted to Oxfam workers who carry out humanitarian work related to the supply of water, food and health services to Palestinians. (Israel punishing Oxfam for break up with Scarlett Johansson, say aid workers, Electronic Intifada, May 15th 2014)
In August 2014, SodaStream announced it’s closing its factory in the illegal settlement of Ma’aleh Adumin. The CEO claimed it wasn’t being considered because of BDS activists, but he also described such activists as “financial terrorists” which suggest he does believe them to have a power to be frightened of. (Haaretz: SodaStream to decide whether to shut down controversial West Bank plant August 27, 2014)
The BDS movement successfully pressured the company to close (at least sooner than planned) its factory in an illegal settlement, but the company is still very much a target, not just because it moved to an area developed by displacing Palestinian bedouins. BDS is a comprehensive boycott of Israeli companies and companies supporting its policies, not just settlement companies. (Electronic Intifada: SodaStream admits bowing to boycott pressure February 22, 2016)