The Sparkling Waters of the West Bank
Clifford D. May
In this topsy-turvy world, if you’d like to see Palestinians
living in peace, gainfully employed, with access to quality medical care and
reason to believe tomorrow will be brighter than today, you’re denounced as
contrast, you prefer that Palestinians remain impoverished and on the dole of
America and other “donor nations,” hating their next-door neighbor and
bequeathing that hatred to their children, viewing themselves as victims while
aspiring to “martyrdom” in an endless war, you get to call yourself a
champion of the Palestinian cause.
I share this
observation with you because last week PepsiCo announced plans to buy SodaStream
for $3.2 billion. Perhaps I need to explain.
you probably know, is a device for making sparkling water at home — no plastic
bottles to schlep and then throw away or send for recycling.
Daniel Birnbaum, an Israeli entrepreneur, a visionary who came up with a wild
idea: Open a factory on the West Bank and hire Palestinians. Give them
“Israeli wages” which are about four times higher than the average in the
territories. Provide them and their extended families with medical insurance, a
benefit few employers in the West Bank provide.
Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews and let them all work together, learn about each
other, maybe develop mutual respect and even friendships. What an achievement it
would be if the experiment succeeded!
And succeed it
did. By 2014, with more than 500 workers, SodaStream was among the largest
private employers on the West Bank.
champions of the Palestinian cause denounced Mr. Birnbaum as anti-Palestinian.
In particular, advocates for BDS (the campaign to de-legitimize and demonize
Israel through boycotts, divestments and sanctions) accused him of stealing
Palestinian land, profiting from the “occupation” and exploiting Palestinian
Mr. Birnbaum recounted to me over dinner in Tel Aviv three years ago, “I’m a
walking war criminal!”
were particularly effective in Europe. For example, they persuaded retailers in
Sweden to ask Mr. Birnbaum not to send them SodaStream products from the West
Bank. Those retailers had no problem receiving merchandize made in China, a
country where about a million Muslims are right now incarcerated in
“re-education camps,” a country that occupies Tibet (offering no
“two-state solution”), a country where persecution of Christians and other
minorities continues to worsen.
Birnbaum needed a new and bigger factory, he decided not to build in the West
Bank but instead to relocate to the Negev Desert, well within the “armistice
lines,” the temporary borders drawn in 1949 when the war between the fledgling
Jewish state and the Arab nations surrounding it came to a halt.
factory employs 1,400 Bedouins, many of whom have never before had regular jobs
with regular paychecks. BDS social warriors began attacking Mr. Birnbaum again,
this time accusing him of exploiting the Bedouins. The local Bedouin sheikh told
them to pound desert sand.
The news of
PepsiCo’s purchase of SodaStream makes one thing abundantly clear: While the
BDS campaign managed to deprive Palestinians of good jobs, it failed to prevent
the company that had provided those jobs from becoming an enormous international
significant is the fact that PepsiCo is the buyer: Years ago, it was one of the
companies complying with the Arab League boycott against Israel.
a co-founder of the BDS campaign, is livid. He issued a statement declaring that
the PepsiCo purchase notwithstanding, SodaStream “is still subject to
boycott,” and claiming that the factory in the Negev is “displacing the
indigenous Bedouin-Palestinian citizens of Israel.”
people can be interpreted as replacing people, he didn’t explain. No matter:
On NPR’s “Here and Now” and other left/progressive media outlets,
SodaStream was portrayed as the villain in this drama, with no hint that there
might be another side to the story.
BDS has lost
other significant battles. Hannah Brown, movie critic of The Jerusalem Post,
reports in the current issue of Commentary that Israel has become a global force
in television, “one of the world’s most prolific exporters of ‘formats’
— industry jargon for concepts and programs.”
recently attempted to persuade
In March, a
BDS group sent
For all that,
the menace BDS poses remains. The Nazi slogan of the 1930s that presaged the
Holocaust was “Don’t buy from Jews!” BDS proponents have updated that to
“Don’t buy from the Jewish state!” Leaders of the campaign do not hide
their own exterminationist intentions. If that means innocent, peaceable and
hardworking Palestinians end up as collateral damage, c’est la guerre.
anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism are on the rise throughout much of Europe. And
on American campuses, where left/progressive doctrines dominate, BDS sophists
convince credulous undergraduates that the freest and most tolerant nation in
the Middle East is singularly oppressive.
By doing so, they get to call themselves champions of the Palestinian cause. As I said, we live in a topsy-turvy world.