SodaStream, the Israeli maker of home carbonated beverage devices that Pepsico bought for $3.2 billion this year, is establishing a manufacturing plant in the Gaza Strip, CEO Daniel Birnbaum said Thursday.
Birnbaum told the Globes Business Conference that SodaStream wanted to take its business model of Jewish-Arab cooperation on the factory floor to Gaza and to encourage other companies to do the same.
“We want to amplify that. We want more companies to do that and now we have a project: We’re establishing a manufacturing facility as a co-backer in Gaza. We want the people of Gaza to have jobs, real jobs, because where there is prosperity, there can be peace,” Birnbaum said.
He did not discuss other details of the plan, apart from signaling that SodaStream and PepsiCo would be partners in the business. Birnbaum made the announcement during a dialogue with Pepsico CEO Ramon Laguarta.
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SodaStream has had a tangled history vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Until three years ago, its main plant was in the West Bank industrial zone of Mishor Adumim.
As one of Israel’s few high-profile companies selling to consumers, the West Bank plant made it a target of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. The controversy peaked after actress Scarlett Johansson starred in an ad for the company’s products during the 2014 Superbowl.
The company has since relocated to the Negev town of Lehavim. Amid the BDS controversy, Birnbaum stressed that SodaStream was creating badly needed jobs for Palestinians and that the factory was a model of coexistence.
On Thursday he reiterated that theme, saying diversity is very important to the company.
“We love to show what peace looks like. At the factory there are 1,000 Jews and 1,000 Arabs, including a few hundred Palestinians. You wouldn’t believe it — we get along. We live in peace and harmony, and people are smiling and friendships are emerging.“
A SodaStream plant would provide an badly needed boost for the Gaza economy, where an Israeli-Egyptian blockade and disputes with the Western-backed Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank have brought economic life to a standstill.
According to the World Bank, unemployment in Gaza reached 44% last year, compared with 18% in the West Bank, with youth unemployment at 60%.