As SodaStream leaves the West Bank, it blames its critics for hurting Palestinian workers

SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum.
SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum.
Image: AP/Dan Balilty
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SodaStream, a maker of machines for carbonating beverages at home, has a factory located in an illegal settlement in the Israel-occupied West Bank, so it has been seen by some in the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as complicit in the oppression of Palestinians.

After much international hand-wringing and controversy, the Israeli company is now in the process of shutting down this factory (one of its 13 overall) and opening a new one in the Negev Desert.

The move came more than a year after the actress Scarlett Johansson inadvertently increased SodaStream’s profile a symbol of political conflict, after activists’ criticism of her appearing in an ad for the company prompted her to step down from her role as a goodwill ambassador for the charity Oxfam.

SodaStream’s chief executive, Daniel Birnbaum, has maintained all along that the West Bank factory is great for Palestinians and that its critics are antisemites, not human rights champions. The factory once employed at least 500 Palestinians, alongside roughly 800 Israelis, reportedly paying them equal wages. Closing the factory would hurt those employees and their families, Birnbaum argued.

The company’s critics were skeptical: “Any suggestion that SodaStream is employing Palestinians in an illegal Israeli settlement on stolen Palestinian land out of the kindness of its heart is ludicrous,” the movement shot back in a statement to the Guardian.

Today, two weeks from the West Bank factory’s closing, Birnbaum reiterated his view:

“SodaStream should have been encouraged in the West Bank if [the BDS movement] truly cared about the Palestinian people,” Birnbaum told The Guardian. “It’s propaganda. It’s politics. It’s hate. It’s antisemitism. It’s all the bad stuff we don’t want to be part of.”