by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
As we approach the Jewish holy days, we are reminded of the phrase that initiates the Telling of the Story: Let all who are hungry come eat, let all who are oppressed, join us at the table of liberation. Unfortunately, if they are Palestinians living in the West Bank, they may need a special security clearance. That is the case for Palestinian workers who are employed by SodaStream, the increasingly popular home carbonation product sold in 39 countries in 35,000 stores worldwide.
Jewish religion commands us to make food choices that do not promote oppression. Nor is the consumer or manufacturer permitted to derive pleasure or benefit from products that are the result of oppression.
That is why I choose not to buy SodaStream, even though this product claims to be environmentally friendly, employs hundreds of Palestinian workers, and even provides an onsite mosque for praying.
The boycott of SodaStream arises from its location in an industrial zone within Ma'ale Adumin, the largest Jewish-only settlement in the West Bank. SodaStream pays taxes to Israel, not to the Palestinian Authority, even though it is located in the West Bank, and so, does not benefit Palestinian infrastructure such as roads, schools, or hospitals.
The Palestinian workers have to be shipped into the settlement because they are forbidden to live there, because they are not Jewish. Like many Palestinian workers, they have to travel to a place that used to be owned by their families and villages, like a Bedouin woman named Wahde who lost her home and her land when the settlement expanded.
As the Israeli group WhoProfits.org writes, "The funds the municipality of the Ma'aleh Adumim settlement collects from SodaStream and the other factories in its industrial zone are used for the construction of roads, education services, sewage treatment, gardening, for the payment of salaries of municipal employees and the like. Thus, when one buys a SodaStream device—one contributes to sustaining the Ma'aleh Adumim," which is an illegally built settlement.
People boycotting SodaStream are doing so because we oppose Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and the segregation policies that sustain it, such as segregated roads, check points, and the resulting poverty that drives Palestinians to seek employment at SodaStream in the first place. Palestinian workers must obtain special security clearance to enter the factory, clearance that could be taken away, for instance, if they initiated a strike against management. Palestinian workers in the West Bank are not protected under Israeli labor law, making them extremely vulnerable to exploitation. Such cases have already been documented by the Israeli NGO Kav LaOved, who campaigned to have workers reinstated after they were fired for demanding higher wages in 2008 and 2010.
The Palestinian economy could not produce SodaStream because of export and import rules and regulations and the difficulty of transporting products. SodaStream does not face these limitations because it is a Jewish-owned business. In fact, SodaStream receives tax deductions for manufacturing its product in the West Bank.
SodaStream could move its product inside the Green Line, and then make every effort to keep roads and check points open for workers as a way of opposing occupation. SodaStream could advocate for equal protection under the law for its non-Jewish workers. But it doesn't.
SodaStream is not a peacemaking company; it is a company that is promoting and sustaining occupation. Even though it offers employment, the overall effect is the further ghettoization of the Palestinian community.
Occupation is a brutal system of legalized segregation and ghettoization that is sustained by military rule. In the Torah we are commanded to observe one law for the citizen and the stranger. Palestinians are being made strangers in their own land, and, on top of that, they do not enjoy equal rights.
As it is, when you use the SodaStream device to make fizzy water, you are enjoying the fruits of oppression. To me, that is not kosher for Passover.
About the author: Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is on the Rabbinic Council of Jewish Voice for Peace and is co-founder of The Muslim Jewish Peacewalk, Mural Arts in Palestine and Young Pacifist and Proud with The Fellowship of Reconciliation. A performing artist, author, and peace activist, Lynn's newest book, "Trail Guide to the Torah of Nonviolence," will be out in April. She is co-author of "Peace Primer II: Quotes from Jewish, Christian and Islamic Scripture and Tradition."