Boycott of Israel costs hundreds of Palestinian workers their jobs
SodaStream has sacked its last 74 Palestinian staff after the company was forced to move a factory from the West Bank and the Israeli government refused to renew their work permits. Last year the drinks company closed its largest production plant in Mishor Adumim, a settlement in the West Bank, and moved it to Lehavim, in southern Israel, in response to pressure from the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement. The group urges consumers to avoid Israeli goods that are manufactured in the occupied territories. The move cost about 500 Palestinians their jobs. The final group of 74 had been granted temporary work permits, but Israel chose not to renew them. The office of Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, said that his policy was “to give priority to the employment of Israeli workers”. In a comment aimed at Mr Netanyahu’s administration, SodaStream’s chief executive, Daniel Birnbaum, said: “The government of Israel somehow couldn’t overcome their own bureaucracy or hard, headedness and figure out the tremendous challenge of allowing 74 good people to continue to let them do what they have been doing.” The company sells a machine that carbonates water and flavoured syrups to make fizzy drinks. Its revenue in the last quarter of last year was $113 million (£81 million). It became a target for the BDS movement in 2014 after it hired Scarlett Johansson, the actress, as a spokeswoman and featured her in a commercial during the Super Bowl. In Britain, the company closed its store in Brighton after protests on consecutive weekends. John Lewis has removed SodaStream products from its shelves. Tens of thousands of Palestinians work on Israeli settlements because of the stagnant economy in the West Bank, where one in six are jobless. A further 58,000 people hold permits to work inside Israel, a figure that the Israeli army hopes to increase despite months of violent unrest by Palestinians, which has included shootings. Defence officials believe that the economic problems in the West Bank have fuelled the unrest. Israel has argued that Palestinian workers are often the first to suffer from the boycott movement. However, Mahmoud Nawajaa, a co-ordinator for BDS, called the SodaStream dismissals “the price that must be paid” for ending Israel’s 49-year occupation of the Palestinian territories. Human Rights Watch said last month that Palestinian workers in settlements were routinely paid below the minimum wage and denied the benefits offered to Israeli employees. The plant in Lehavim employs about 1,200 people. Mr Birnbaum had previously threatened to close the factory if Israel did not renew permits for his Palestinian workers. He said yesterday that he was “hopeful” some of the employees could be rehired, and he also suggested that SodaStream could restart some operations in the West Bank.