“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)
This past week, millions of viewers were glued to their televisions watching the Super Bowl, the annual championship game of the National Football League (NFL), the highest level of professional American football in the United States.
Part of the Super Bowl’s entertainment is the commercials, for which companies pay top dollar—four million for 30 seconds of ad time.
One much anticipated ad was that of SodaStream, an Israeli company that has created a DIY home carbonation kit that saves the environment from virtually tons of plastic bottles annually while reducing the cost of fizzy drinks for the consumer.
Their brand ambassador is Hollywood starlet Scarlett Johansson.
The commercial was allowed to air only after replacing the final dig: “Sorry Coke and Pepsi” with “I just love to help people.”
Controversy surrounding the SodaStream commercial has brought both Scarlett Johansson and the company tons of unexpected exposure in the world media.
Pro-Palestinian activists have criticized SodaStream for maintaining a large factory in the disputed territories. Some claim the company is taking advantage of Palestinians who have few other employment options.
“While I never intended on being the face of any social or political movement, distinction, separation or stance as part of my affiliation with SodaStream, given the amount of noise surrounding that decision, I’d like to clear the air,” Johansson said, who has been criticized for her support of the product.
“I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine,” she said. “SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’ale Adumim factory every working day.” (Israel Today)
While some deceptively portray the SodaStream plant as a kind of “slave labor” camp for Palestinians, nothing could be further from the truth.
The plant employs about 1,300 workers—500 Palestinian Arabs from the disputed territories, 450 Arab Israelis, and 350 Jewish Israelis. These are the people who are hurt most by those who condemn Israeli businesses because they operate in the disputed territories.
At SodaStream, the workers earn a decent wage (much more than they could earn in the Palestinian Authority) and have benefits and breaks. They can even pray in the small onsite mosque that the company has provided for them without being docked time from their break allowances. (Haaretz)
“I’m happy. We’re like family. We have fun,” said Mohammed Yousef, a 22-year-old from the Palestinian village of Jaba. “We are Jews and Muslims here. We are here peacefully. We have no problems. Everyone is complaining about settlements here and everywhere, but SodaStream is different.” (Gawker)
Another Arab employee said, “The salary I earn here enabled me to complete my studies. Not many would do this for the Arab people. It is only a problem for other people [who call this place a settlement]. I need this work, and I am very happy here.” (Israel Today)
Another worker, Rani Abed Rabbo, who was offered a management position by SodaStream after losing his job in the hi-tech sector, said, “Everyone is treated the same here. The privilege that the Israeli worker gets, the Palestinian also gets. There is no discrimination here. We eat together, we laugh together. We feel welcome here.”
“I want everybody here—Jew, Israeli Arab, Palestinian Arab, Russian, Ethiopian—to feel equal, with the same pay, the same benefits, the same opportunity to advance and become managers,” SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum said. (Haaretz)
Although it would be easier to close the plant due to the negative attention and rely on plants elsewhere in Israel to produce the product, Birnbaum said he is committed to the Arab employees who earn a living there.
“We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda,” he said, adding that he “just can’t see how it would help the cause of the Palestinians if we fired them.”
Criticism of Scarlett Johansson’s position as SodaStream brand ambassador also touched her role as global ambassador at the international charity Oxfam, causing Johansson to cut her ties with them.
Groups such as Oxfam, which focuses on relieving global poverty, have denounced SodaStream for producing its products in an Israeli factory in the Judean and Samarian Jerusalem suburb of Ma’ale Adumim, even though Ma’ale Adumim is a consensus settlement that likely would be retained by Israel through land swaps under any peace deal.
Canada’s Minister of Employment, Jason Kenney, said he would also drop Oxfam and become a “customer of SodaStream, thanks to all the nutters at Oxfam who are marginalizing Palestinians.”
“I’ve given money to Oxfam in the past because I thought they were there to help poor people, not to marginalize Israelis and make Palestinians unemployed,” he said. (Sun News)