‘What’s the problem to have a factory in the Palestinian state-to-be? We don’t give a hoot where the factory is going to be,’ says SodaStream CEO.
Scarlett Johansson Photo by Reuters
If he could turn back the clock, SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum would “never” have established a production plant on an Israeli Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. In fact, he said Tuesday, its location has turned out to be “a pain in the ass.”
“We’re here because we’re here — for historical reasons,” Birnbaum told the Forward in an exclusive interview, when asked about the public row that has erupted over the controversial location of his company’s main facility.
The decision to locate SodaStream’s now contentious plant in this industrial park within the boundaries of the West Bank settlement Ma’ale Adumim, about 10 minutes outside of Jerusalem, did in fact predate Birnbaum’s arrival. It was a choice made by company founder Peter Weissburgh, back in the 1990’s, long before SodaStream was taken over by the Fortismo Capital Fund, it current owners, who appointed Birnbaum to head the firm in 2007.
But though he wouldn’t have opened the factory at its current site, Birnbaum said that its presence here is now a given reality, and he won’t bow to political pressure to close it — even though the company is about to open a huge new plant in the Negev, within Israel’s internationally-recognized boundaries, which will replicate all functions of the West Bank plant, and dwarf it.
The reason is loyalty to approximately 500 Palestinians who are among the plant’s 1,300 employees, Birnbaum claimed. While other employees could relocate on the other side of the Green Line if the plant moved, the West Bank Palestinian workers could not, and would suffer financially, he argued.
“We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda,” he said, adding that he “just can’t see how it would help the cause of the Palestinians if we fired them.”
Birnbaum, who spoke to the Forward from his office in the plant, offered his comments during his first interview since controversy over the plant’s location was reignited by the company’s recent decision to sign actress Scarlett Johansson as its new global ambassador.
In the lead-up to Johannson’s debut as a company spokesperson in a high-profile commercial to be broadcast during this Sunday’s Super Bowl, critics, including advocates for boycotting Israeli products on account of the occupation, have targeted the actress and the company for the soda maker’s manufacturing location. West Bank settlements, including Ma’ale Adumim are regarded as illegal by the international community.
But Birnbaum said that if a Palestinian state comes into being, as is the aim of current U.S.-brokered talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, SodaStream will also be happy to stay and pay its taxes to the new Palestinian state.
“We already have factories under the control of the Chinese, the Germans, the Americans and many other countries,” he said. “So what’s the problem to have a factory in the Palestinian state-to-be? We don’t give a hoot where the factory is going to be.”
Those comments may prove controversial among settlers and other right-wingers in Israel, who are currently skewering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his recent suggestion that some settlements could stay in place under Palestinian rule after a peace deal. But in contrast to the settlement movement’s negative response to the idea, Birnbaum is keen for his company to be the guinea pig. “I really don’t care where the border is,” he commented.
Unlike the question of Israeli homes in a foreign entity, he noted, there’s already ample precedent for Israeli-owned factories operating in foreign areas.
Birnbaum’s advisor, Maurice Silber, said that within the company “everybody is against the occupation.” But it does not follow, he said, that because SodaStream operates in an occupied area, it violates human rights. Eventually, he said, SodaStream could become the “seed of the future Palestinian economy.”
At the plant, awareness of the current international controversy over Scarlett Johannson’s new role at the company was clearly widespread among employees. During the Forward’s visit, Birnbaum took to the plant floor to give some 250 Palestinian workers a kind of pep talk about the issue, urging them to ignore the political attacks. “We are making history for the Palestinian people and the Israeli people,” he told them in Hebrew, followed by a translator who rendered his comments into Arabic. “This is about livelihood.”
The Palestinians applauded these comments. But then Birnbaum added with a flourish: “Scarlett Johannson would be proud of you!” And at the sound of Johannson’s name — even before the translation — applause among the assembly of mostly male, 30-something Palestinian workers burst out again, palpably louder.
Back in his office, Birnbaum denied that SodaStream’s West Bank location brings his company economic benefits that it could not just as easily get in industrial areas available to it within sovereign Israel. A number of these industrial areas, including the Negev site where SodaStream’s new plant will be completed soon, receive the same tax breaks as the Mishor Adumim industrial park. And while the company’s 2012 annual report suggested that reducing operations at Mishor Adumim could have a negative impact on the company, Birnbaum said that SodaStream “could move without any economic hardship.”
This article was published in Haaretz newspaper on 1-29-2014
By ALAN ROSENBAUM
“We are a government agency with a start-up soul,” says Hagai Dror, managing director of HealthCare Israel, one of the three winners of the 2019 InnoDip Award for innovative diplomacy. The award, established by the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy at the IDC Herzliya, will be presented at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference on Thursday, November 21 in Jerusalem.
Healthcare Israel was created by Israel’s Ministry of Health in 2016 to deliver life-saving and cost-saving healthcare innovation, technology and expertise to the world, and promotes cooperation and Israeli health system exports through collaborations between government, the health system and the healthcare industry. It has leveraged Israel’s existing diplomatic ecosystem to reach out and create new kinds of international cooperation projects and business deals specifically in the healthcare space.
By YAAKOV KATZ
U.S. Ambassador Friedman to ‘Post’: New policy advances the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace • PM: Policy rights a historical wrong
In a historic reversal of US policy, the Trump administration announced on Monday that it does not view Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal. The policy change was announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington.
“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees with president Reagan,” Pompeo said in reference to Ronald Reagan’s position that settlements were not inherently illegal. “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.”
Leftist students verbally abused and ransacked tables belong to conservative students
Binghamton University’s downtown campus in New York.
A New York State assemblyman has slammed Binghamton University for the way it has handled a group of leftist students who verbally abused and ransacked tables belonging to the campus College Republicans group.
The conservative students were handing out flyers for an upcoming talk by well-known economist Dr. Arthur Laffer when the incident occurred on Thursday.
A view of the Yehudit Bridge and the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv, Feb. 17, 2019. Photo
CTech – Tel Aviv will officially launch its free weekend transportation service this Friday, the city announced Tuesday. In collaboration with neighboring towns Givatayim, Ramat Hasharon, and Kiryat Ono, Tel Aviv will operate six routes covering over 300 kilometers. Minivans will pick up and drop off passengers at over 500 stops across the metropolitan area at a frequency of once every 30 minutes between 6 pm on Friday and 2 am on Saturday, and between 9 am and 5 pm on Saturday.
Tel Aviv has long awaited a solution for transportation during Shabbat and other Jewish holidays. The principle of the “status quo”—a guideline which dictates maintaining the common practice when it comes to the fundamentals of Jewish Orthodoxy, especially Shabbat observance—effectively prevents the state from offering public transportation services on Shabbat, but since Tel Aviv’s service is free, it does not currently fall under the legal definition of public transportation.
A police car in the German capital of
An elderly man has been viciously beaten up in broad daylight on a Berlin street by a youth who showered him with antisemitic abuse.
According to the BZ online news outlet, the 76-year-old pensioner was walking along the Berliner Strasse in the Pankow district of the German capital at 9 a.m. on Monday when his passage was blocked by a 16-year-old youth and four of his friends.
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