Guest contribution by Ghassan Rafeedie
Recently, Scarlett Johansson has become a spokesperson for SodaStream, the Israeli company with a plant in an illegal settlement built on stolen Palestinian land. SodaStream makes a device that allows you to make your own carbonated drinks at home. While at first glance — and without knowledge of the terrible conditions Palestinians suffer at the hands of SodaStream — some see this as a unique and useful device, it is becoming clearer by the day that SodaStream’s days are numbered. Even Scarlett Johansson cannot save them.
Here is a picture showing their stock’s performance since hiring her.
Hiring her has come across to me as being an act of desperation that is very likely to backfire by helping Palestinians get the message out about boycotting companies like SodaStream.
The issue with SodaStream is that there are two major risks that cannot be managed properly at the same time: the device’s poor design and the moral issue that accompanies their so-called environmentalist product. Even worse news for SodaStream (and better news for supporters of equal rights for Palestinians) is that these cannot even be separated and argued independently. They go hand-in-hand, and will continue to do so in the future.
First, SodaStream machines are designed poorly and the company has put all of their eggs in that basket, so to speak. Single-use appliances overall don’t fare very well in the market place. Worse still, they’re trying to sell an appliance to replace an item that is both cheap and readily available. In order to get around this, SodaStream markets itself as an environmentally friendly company that is “saving bottles.” The problem is that in order to discuss environmentalism you must discuss the context surrounding the creation of the device and its use.
So why is SodaStream’s alleged “environmentalism” a problem? Because you can’t consider it without discussing the occupation of Palestine and the fact that SodaStream makes its product on stolen Palestinian land. There is a heavy moral burden to carry for those who own one of these devices. Large portions of the American public are going to be uncomfortable dealing with the fact that they are using a device that is helping fuel one of the defining conflicts in the world. But SodaStream can no longer sell the device and hope people will never notice. Americans are learning more about them with every campaign advertisement and celebrity endorsement.
This is exactly why SodaStream is doomed to fail. In order to succeed or at the very least come clean, it has to present the context of the device rather than just the function. Discussing context brings up the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement and how boycotting Israeli companies who profit from the unequal treatment Palestinians receive at the hands of their occupiers can actually help solve the conflict. The BDS movement is so well organized that SodaStream cannot advertise on a large scale in this country without showing the public their own crimes against Palestinians.
There are many reasons which could contribute to SodaStream’s failure. Perhaps the more they discuss the environment the more Americans will realize that the environmentally friendly thing to do would be to ignore the syrup, carbonation, and manufacturing process of the device itself and just drink water without any additives at all. Or perhaps Americans will realize it’s just an unnecessary product attached to a dishonest marketing scheme. In the end however, the more SodaStream invites Americans to see who they are and what their product is, the more Americans will do just that and learn the truth about apartheid profiteering.
Ghassan Rafeedie is a graduate assistant who focuses on cultural anthropology at Kent State University.