Identity, Israel, Justice, Politics

On Jobs and Justice and SodaStream and the Occupation

Word is that SodaStream is packing up their factory in the occupied territory and heading to the Negev desert in Israel.  A piece at takes aim at the BDS movement, which took aim at SodaStream this year, imagining what might happen if SodaStream packs up and leaves behind the hundreds of Palestinian workers who make a living at the factory. The article, of course, has a disclaimer at the bottom, presumably tacked on after a large number of comments pointed out  that this particular piece of Hasbara (“advocacy” in Hebrew) had jumped the gun, given that the the official announcement is yet to be made and there is no word as to what SodaStream will do regarding their Palestinian workforce. It is actually rather funny to have an entire article dedicated to an imaginary scenario, which then is noted as imaginary in a disclaimer at the end. Here it is:

DISCLAIMER** We would like to thank everyone for reading and commenting on the article, and make a clarification: the company has yet to make an official statement regarding this situation (they have only announced the new factory), but, as IsraellyCool points out, it its considered “common knowledge” that this may indeed happen. As stated above, the decision to move factories is non-political, and whether or not the Palestinian employees will be able to continue working with SodaStream remains to be seen. In this article, we are simply looking at what we believe will take place as a result of the BDS movement. Thank you.

So, to be clear, none of what the article posits is based on reality as of now.
Now, first of all, decisions about strategy and aims for Palestinian self determination are not for ShalomLife and JewSchool to make. They are for the individuals and collectives that make up the Palestinian people. That is a minimum requirement for self determination. It is no doubt true that Palestinians under occupation and people in liberation movements throughout the world have had to and will have to face economic, physical, and many other kinds of danger. Whether it is worth it for these workers to put themselves at further economic risk in order to resist occupation is not really for me to decide. The jobs those people have are very real and provide very real food and shelter and life. I can not judge. I can only suggest, opine and stand in solidarity. Still, while one can’t say that SodaStream does no good, it is a certainty that SodaStream perpetuates economic injustice and the occupation. 
The truth is that the entire argument that the ShalomLife article is predicated on betrays the first and foremost problem with SodaStream’s relationship to the Palestinian people working there: The workers have very little power. SodaStream can pack up and leave, as they may be doing. They can fire them any time, and they have. Even Palestinian ministers cannot move about without Israel’s permission, how much power do you think those workers have? The very fact that an Israeli company can set up shop in occupied territory with only the permission of the occupier, and employ people living under occupation without a great deal of human and civil rights wraps the entire argument up in a nice tidy little package: People living under occupation don’t have the same access to the choices that people not living under occupation have, and while it may provide short term sustenance to a person or family or town, it cannot be relied on as a basis for livelihood for a family or community because it is in someone else’s control. This isn’t a problem limited to the occupied territory, mind you. Lack of power over our own communities, families and environment is a problem at the core of capitalism. The inequality of the occupation makes it that much worse. 
If SodaStream were actually dedicated to the betterment of the lives of the Palestinians they employ there are plenty of things it could do: It could, at minimum, have secure, fair, long term contracts that protect workers from unfair dismissal (such as happened), for example. SodaStream could give ownership of the West Bank factory to the Palestinian SodaStream workers living under occupation. It could move the factory out of occupied territory and also get permits for the workers that want to work in the Negev, if they wanted to. The workers could be given shares in the company and/or make SodaStream cooperatively owned by Palestinians and Israelis. Shared ownership would make it a potential example of co-existence, which is the image the company wants to project anyhow. The CEO could make a statement against the occupation and endorse political candidates that stand against the occupation.  They could do a whole lot of stuff to fight the occupation, but they don’t. If they didn’t want to deal with these issues, they shouldn’t have set up a factory in the center of the occupation.
We must build movements to struggle for self-determination for all peoples as well as economic and environmental justice (and much more… There is much to do). Yes, SodaStream is a pretty good solution for the quadrillion plastic bottles we use every year, but as it stands now they benefit from the occupation and economic injustice, and so they perpetuate a reality in which millions live without control over their future.
A. Daniel Roth is an educator and journalist living in South Tel Aviv. You can find more of his writing and photography at and follow him on twitter @adanielroth

21 thoughts on “On Jobs and Justice and SodaStream and the Occupation

  1. “SodaStream could give ownership of the West Bank factory to the Palestinian SodaStream workers living under occupation.” Does that really seem like a particularly fair or reasonable suggestion? Please try to answer that without resorting to employing the term “occupation” when answering. Explain how it is reasonable to suggest a profitable business give up its factory.
    “It could move the factory out of occupied territory and also get permits for the workers that want to work in the Negev, if they wanted to.”
    Is that a viable option under Israeli law? B/c if it isn’t, then again, this would also not be a reasonable or fair suggestion, correct?

  2. I can’t imagine why an answer about this issue would need to avoid the word “occupation”. The occupation is central to this issue. It’s also not “resorting” to using it. Occupation, after all, is reality there.
    Either way: Passing ownership to the workers via making it into a worker’s cooperative does not make them less profitable. It shares the profits with everyone involved in it. It is a reasonable option if you think it is reasonable for workers to share in the fruits of their labour. In this particular case, given the injustice Palestinians suffer there it would be a huge step for the company, which likes to say it is a bastion of coexistence, to pass the factory over to those workers to own as a collectively owned contractor for SodaStream (or something like that) and make SodaStream, in part, and actual ‘coexistence project’. Is it reasonable? Absolutely. Given that SodaStream has lost 35% of its value of the past year in the wake of calls for BDS I’d say a move like this is beyond reasonable. It is a strategically and morally solid choice. Is it likely? I doubt it.
    To the second question: Yes. Tens of thousands of Palestinians living in occupied territories receive, lose, and struggle for permits to work in Israel. There is no reason why SodaStream would ‘be forced’ to abandon those workers.

  3. “It is a reasonable option if you think it is reasonable for workers to share in the fruits of their labour.”
    Oh, so you are assuming a socialist model of business as a reasonable demand to make of this business or any business. How reactionary of me to question that obvious assumption. But others less convinced of the coming future proletarian paradise than ourselves might not be onboard with this assumption, and that will bring THEM back to my first assertion: This is an unreasonable and unfair request not to be taken seriously.
    “There is no reason why SodaStream would ‘be forced’ to abandon those workers.”
    Right. And how long is the commute to the Negev?
    Your team wanted SodaStream to leave the West Bank. If this is true, you won, and the Palestinian workers are out of a job, just as YOU demanded.
    Here’s a question for you — Why not own it and stop acting desperate to pretend that isn’t what you demanded?

    1. If you take a moment you will find that there are myriad examples and a long history of profitable, mediocre and failing cooperatives (just like other business models) all over the world. I can’t imagine why that would be seen as unreasonable; The commute from the current factory location to the proposed location is a bit over an hour; I am always available to ‘own’ my positions. As is clear in the post above, I am for an end to the occupation (I say it often) and for SodaStream to stand against it too. There are a few ways they can do that, some of which I have detailed in the post.

  4. Not for reasons like this, no there aren’t. Please find one comparable one (hint: note that qualifier — that means the Park Slope Food Coop would not suffice) and corresponding case studies so we can compare.
    And don’t be afraid to get down and into the details of such a debate. You are totally going to win this one, being the expert in business you clearly are, with all of your helpful suggestions for SodaStream and businesses worldwide.

    1. No really. It’s not at all unreasonable. There are, for example, 30,000 cooperatives in the U.S. and there are more than 150,000 members of cooperatives in Israel according to the International Cooperative Alliance. If you want a couple of specific cases of factories you could looking up “Chicago Window Factory” or take a look at “The Take”. Also the history, and present in many cases, of Kibbutz industries might be helpful to look at in thinking about the potential of a worker’s coop.

  5. In classic Judaism, a righteous person was someone who gave others from his wealth. In contemporary, “neo-chassidic” Judaism, a righteous person is someone who gives away someone else’s wealth, in its entirety.

  6. One can offer the employees stock options in the company as part of their compensation. That allows them to benefit from ownership and have a vested interest in the underlying company’s success in a way that makes good business sense.
    But let’s not mince words. SodaStream can build golden toilets for their Palestinian employees. They can provide chauffeur driven limousines to ferry their staff to work, they can have onsite gourmet chefs to provide free, delicious and nutritious meals and still certain folks will not be satisfied.
    “From the River to the Sea” – there are demands on both sides that are incompatible with each other. The only solution to the “occupation” are comprehensive and final status negotiations. BDS is bullshit and will never solve anything. So yeah.
    Finally, this post, based on a post by Shalom Life that was basically lifted wholesale from a post on Israellycool, that itself was based on a company press release in Hebrew that made no mention of factories shutting down, people losing jobs and BDS pressure. This is thus just SO stupid. The factory in the Negev has been in the works for years. There is no “BDS pressure” angle to this story. It’s a nice hypothetical discussion that serves no purpose.

  7. That the whole conversation is imaginary was clarified at the outset. I agree that the question of what SodaStream is doing is totally theoretical at this point. However, the question of what they ought to do serves the purpose that any conversation about what ought to happen serves.

  8. You gave Kibbutz Industries as an example of Jews giving up profitable private ownership to give to an Arab collective?
    Checkmate, kid.

  9. What do you mean? At no point did I indicate that. Kibbutz factories in many cases are examples of worker’s cooperatives. Those are all examples of worker’s in control of factories, as you hoped for.

  10. Very true. I never wrote that they were. I’ve never ever heard someone claim that they began as privately owned enterprises. You asked for examples that were pertinent to the case of workers owning a factory. I gave you a few. My understanding was that you were not aware that there are many ways in which factories exist as worker’s cooperatives.
    if you are wondering why I inserted the Kibbutzim into a list that included two examples of worker’s taking over, I added the Kibbutzim as a longstanding example of worker’s owning their factory (ie. there are many ways in which this happens).

  11. My question was quite clear. It was that your demand for a profitable private to cooperative model was unreasonable, and to provide an example of one. Your answer was and continues to be, “But there are cooperatives in the world,” ignoring my question.
    Which means you don’t have one.

  12. Your answer was posted while I was writing mine. So glad you finally understand my question. TNow I remember why it is not useful to engage with neo-chassidicm.

  13. No, I didn’t ignore your question. You actually asked two questions: What’s reasonable AND what’s happened before. As i stated above: I don’t think it is unreasonable for worker’s, Palestinian workers living under occupation included, to own the factory they work at. There are literally thousands of examples of this throughout the world.
    I also, as should be clear in the piece, don’t think it is unreasonable to demand of a company to do the right thing (I think becoming a cooperative is a good idea). Workers, in Chicago for example, have demanded just that and taken the factory. I don’t think that is unreasonable. I gave you a few instances of similar examples of workers owning and in some cases taking their factories. Now, to ask if something is reasonable is one question, and my answer is yes. I hope I can convince some others that it is a reasonable demand. If that’s not you its okay. So i said I think its reasonable and I gave you examples, which you don’t think are good enough. Either way, the connection you’ve drawn between what’s reasonable and what’s happened before (ie. has an example) is false to begin with. If we all judged what’s reasonable based solely on what’s happened before we would all be, well, conservatives, and we aren’t all conservatives. And that’s good.

  14. Chicago Windows was bankrupt. Bankrupt is NOT profitable.
    Hence, that is again an exceptionally bad example, as I specifically said PROFITABLE.
    This is not about conservative vs. self-righteous communist. This is about finding a parallel case study as requested. Not even one. And not backing down because you can’t admit it even when you’re clearly wrong.

  15. DK, you sound like you have no idea what you’re arguing. Here’s a little more about the many institutions around you that, because at the time of their founding they were little guys trying to compete with the big guys, were founded as cooperative enterprises: The Associated Press, Ace Hardware, Cabot Cheese, Dairy Farmers of America who produce 30% of our milk, Full Sail Brewing (great beer), Land O’Lakes butter, Tillamook cheese, and Whole Foods. I also happen to have worked at Bethlehem community-owned coop that manufactured most of the olive wood-made Christian tinkets you see in Jerusalem.
    But more broadly, DK, I think you’ve seized on one really odd line out of the article. Daniel’s point (which CK took up with a more bluntness) is that if SodaStream wanted to put their money where their mouth is, then there are lots of options available to them to improve the lives of their workers. Which is not to say that SodaStream does not genuinely care for their employees the way that a regular company cares for its employees, meaning, only up to a limit. But that limit is apparent and that’s the point of Daniel’s piece. SodaStream isn’t a victim here, it made a choice to locate its factory.
    Also, I don’t believe the hype and counter-hype about this being or not being a BDS victory. The truth, I suspect, is that West Bank products sold in Europe need to be labeled as such. That policy by the EU is not any success of the marginal BDS movement but reasoned allies of Israel enacting targeted pressure against a specific Israeli policy their member countries have bent some 40+ years of foreign policy to ending. The truth is mutually inconvenient: the BDS movement is not succeeding, but pressure by Israel’s allies does. Let’s hope the EU does more of it.

  16. “Which is not to say that SodaStream does not genuinely care for their employees the way that a regular company cares for its employees, meaning, only up to a limit”
    Exactly, KFJ. Exactly. Any further demands are UNREASONABLE. Some of the demands made here were VERY unreasonable.
    Glad we agree.
    The end of your analysis on winners/losers is quite interesting. KFJ. Time will tell.

  17. So we’ve established that I think cooperatives are indeed reasonable and there are many examples of various kinds and origins, which are certainly relevant to understanding whether this might be reasonable or not. It also seems that you don’t think it is reasonable for a company to go from profitable private enterprise to cooperative. I do, and I think it is not so far fetched as a way for SodaStream to move forward. I got interested in if this would be a groundbreaking move (not that novelty makes something unreasonable). I found a few examples of companies that were doing well and became coops: Clansman Dynamics, Swann Morton (50% shares owned by workers, 50% shares in a trust), Isthmus Engineering (according to their marketing video they started as private firm and, from what I can tell quickly shifted). I will continue searching too.

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