Netanyahu Is Exploiting BDS to Stay in Power, SodaStream CEO Says

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Daniel Birnbaum, SodaStream International CEO, visiting the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on Dec. 11, 2014, ahead of testing Pepsi Homemade and Sierra Mist Homemade flavors in Florida. Mr. Birnbaum, smiling, is standing with crossed arms and is wearing a dark blue shirt with rolled-up sleeves.
Daniel Birnbaum, SodaStream International CEO, visiting the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on Dec. 11, 2014, ahead of testing Pepsi Homemade and Sierra Mist Homemade flavors in Florida.Credit: Bloomberg

The CEO of SodaStream, the Israeli carbonated beverage dispenser manufacturer that has been a major target of the anti-Israel boycott movement, told an Israeli business daily, with some irony, that he thanks the boycott, sanctions and divestment movement for his company's success.

In his interview with Globes, Daniel Birnbaum placed blame at the doorstep of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which he said has been playing the victim in the face of the BDS campaign and using the boycott to maintain itself in office.

SodaStream had been in the crosshairs of the boycott movement for having a manufacturing facility in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone in the vicinity of Ma'aleh Adumim, a West Bank Jewish settlement just outside of Jerusalem. The facility, which opponents of the BDS campaign point out employed a large number of West Bank Palestinians, was relocated inside Israel proper, to the Negev, where there is a sizeable Bedouin Arab population. The company said the move was made purely for economic reasons and not due to pressure from boycott advocates.

Birnbaum spoke at the United Nations on Tuesday at a conference organized by the Israeli mission to the UN on combatting the boycott. At the end of the summit, in an interview with Globes, Birnbaum embarked on a pointed and bitter critique of the government.

“The Netanyahu administration loves being the victim,” said the SodaStream CEO. “My feeling is that the current Israeli government cultivates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in all its forms and it grasps onto the BDS movement because perpetuating the conflict and the boycott movement strengthens its hold on power."

“SodaStream is a rare symbol of coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians," Birnbaum said. "For years we employed at our Mishor Adumim factory 500 Palestinians who worked alongside 500 Jews and 200 Arab Israelis. At first, relations were strained, but gradually the atmosphere improved. There were Palestinians who were promoted up to management, and it did not cause any trouble. The Palestinian employees were happy. We created a new reality in the Middle East.”

Birnbaum took the government to task for failing to issue work permits inside Israel for Palestinians who sought to continue working for the company at its new Negev facility. “I blame the Israeli government for scuppering this initiative, which it did in order to place the blame on the BDS movement,” said Birnbaum, “The government alienated the people who could have been ambassadors of peace, the people who were loyal to us, and that is how it perpetuates the conflict.” He said he was still trying to secure the permits.

“We love to be miserable. We love to play the victim card. When Israel emphasizes its weakness, when it cries that the BDS movement is hurting it, it hands another victory to the terrorists. When Israel claims SodaStream was 'forced' to leave Mishor Adumim because of BDS pressure, it presents a trophy [a reward] to the terrorists."

Birnbaum categorizes himself as a "right-wing pragmatist,” the report said. "He does not see the Israeli presence in the West Bank as occupation. These are the historic lands of the Jewish people, in his opinion; the Holy Temple existed before Islam. But at the same time, Israel wants – or should want – peace and 'I am for a Palestinian state, for two states for two peoples. Not simply a toothless Palestinian state, but an armed Palestinian state that could defend itself from Hamas.'"

"The more Palestinians we employ, the fewer incentives there will be for armed resistance. People will have something to lose. It should be perceived to be in the national interest,” Birnbaum said.

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