Why Are You Boycotting SodaStream, Anyway?

If the BDS movement is to achieve anything, it must be clear on what its goals are - or it might end up undermining itself.

Mira Sucharov.
Mira Sucharov
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Mira Sucharov.
Mira Sucharov

With the steady stream of words about SodaStream and boycott and settlements and occupation being pumped at us, it’s easy to get lost in the bubbles. When it comes to the current debate, here are some pockets of tension and confusion that I think deserve to be brought to the surface.

First, debate over boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) seems to conflate the justness/unjustness of the means of resistance with the ends sought. Following on two Intifadas, the second bloodier than the first, the 2005 call from elements within Palestinian civil society for the non-violent tool of BDS against Israel should have come as welcome relief. During the first Intifada, Israeli soldiers were forced into the morally untenable position of facing down stone-throwing youth with tanks and guns. During the second Intifada, Israelis got used to thinking that each bus ride or cafe meeting could be their last.

But if the means -- non-violent, economic pressure -- are more moderate than what had come before it, in some ways the goals are more extreme. Since the peace process began over two decades ago, the conventional wisdom has been that a two-state solution will be the result. Such have been the (sadly, all-too muted) premises of Oslo, the Geneva Initiative, the peace talks at Taba and Camp David, the Clinton Parameters, the Arab Peace Initiative, and now, the Kerry Plan. But by demanding the full return of Palestinian refugees into Israel and demanding that Israel give up its core identity of being a Jewish state, the BDS movement is out of step with the most likely outcome -- and, from the point of view of overlapping needs and desires, probably the best one, too.

So on one hand, the BDS movement rightly faults Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for displaying a lack of sincerity towards the current peace process. His government’s continued announcements of new housing starts in the West Bank, and his partnering with intransigent coalition members, are but two examples. But on the other hand, the BDS movement is demanding an outcome that doesn’t even square with the goals of the peace process it claims to be defending, a process from which we know refugee return will be limited at best.

Maybe, then, we should assume that the goal of those who support BDS is not a two-state solution at all, but is indeed a “one-state solution,” whereby Israel ceases to be a Jewish state in any meaningful way, and all refugees are granted return. In that case, I have to ask, with tongue only slightly in cheek, what is the point of opposing settlements, settlers or settlement-made products to begin with, when they would remain where they are, in one big-happy-post-national arrangement?

But let’s assume for a moment, perhaps more generously, that the goals maintained by those who are currently targeting SodaStream because of its West Bank factory are indeed more circumscribed. Let’s assume that it’s the location of the factory that is the problem, as the boycotters claim.

Even here, though, there is a lack of clarity on what the boycott is specifically meant to achieve. Here’s the thing. In a two-state scenario, one could easily picture a company such as SodaStream operating a factory across the border, in the neighboring State of Palestine. Such a company would continue to employ the 500 Palestinian workers it currently employs, while also paying taxes to the Palestinian government. The company’s CEO has even explicitly stated his willingness to do this in such a post-two-state scenario. In fact, the success of any two-state solution will certainly depend on a high degree of economic cooperation and cross-border trade, employment and cooperation between the two countries. Do BDS’ers oppose this post-peace scenario too?

Understandably, much of the BDS movement is motivated by a sense of outrage: outrage over the occupation’s many human rights abuses, outrage over second-class treatment of Israel’s Palestinian citizen minority, outrage over the separation barrier that has cut off West Bank Palestinians from employment opportunities, and in some cases, their own land.

If BDS is simply meant as a form of J’accuse, then, perhaps its proponents should be clearer that this is an act of emotion. But if it’s meant as a coherent, causal-chain form of political action, then BDS supporters also need to be clearer on what the intended endgame is for any given act of protest. Of course, having meaningful dialogue between BDS advocates and Zionists is doubly difficult due to the oft-heard BDS eschewal of “dialogue” when it comes to Palestinians and Israelis. Slaves don’t “dialogue” with their masters, goes the thinking. And so the bottomless glass of political stalemate gets deeper and wider.

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