This blog is a blog for The/Studio
and not a political blog, so I’m not going to even attempt to unravel the complicated situation of the Israeli settlements. I don’t know enough about the subject to do so, nor would it be appropriate for the purposes of this blog.
However, as a member of the business community, I’d like to point out the hypocrisy and uselessness of the frequent denunciation of the business community by nonprofit organizations. It appears that the flavor of the year for nonprofit organizations is to boycott companies that do business in the Israeli settlements.
Recently Scarlett Johansson became the global spokeswoman for Soda Stream
, and has received criticism because Soda Stream operates a factory in an Israeli Settlement which is on territory that could potentially become part of a Palestinian state. As a result Johannson resigned from Oxfam because they decided that her support for Soda Stream was incompatible with their position on the Israeli Settlements.
Coincidentally on the day that this was announced, one of my good friends who is in charge of international production for Soda Stream, actually called me from Soda Stream’s factory in Israel. I asked him his opinion on the recent controversy. Of course I cannot corroborate what my friend said, because I am not there. However, I have a lot of respect for my friend and consider him to be a reliable source. First he told me that there are more Arab employees at the factory than Israeli’s and he said they are paid far more competitive wages than what is available in Palestinian controlled areas. Both of these facts can be corroborated by numerous media sources.
He explained further that the Palestinian employees were just as concerned as Israeli management, by the negative publicity because they were worried they would lose their jobs, because Soda Stream would be forced to relocate their factory. He also said that the Soda Stream factory was a state of the art facility, where all employees worked under comfortable conditions, and received equal pay with their Jewish coworkers. Lastly he said that Soda Stream was a positive thing because it allowed Palestinians and Israelis to cooperate with each other on a daily basis.
This article in the International Business Times
seems to corroborate what my friend is saying. The article says this about a Palestinian female employee of Soda Stream
“She has worked at the factory for just four months. Considering she’s a Palestinian living in Jerusalem but working in the occupied West Bank, the political storm is far from her mind. She said she sees no conflict in working at SodaStream: “We are human, we earn good money and the work is good.”
The article goes on further to say
Zafid Abu Aballah, 28, is an Israeli Arab who has been a machine operator at the factory for four years. He earns $2,000 a month, significantly more than the Palestinian Authority minimum wage of 1,450 Israeli shekels ($377).“I have an Israeli passport. If the firm closed I could find another job, but Palestinians would not be able to. There are no jobs for Palestinians in the West Bank,” he said. “This is political, but the people here just want to work and live, they don’t have an interest in the politics between Palestine and Israel.”
I wonder if Oxfam even bothered to visit the factory or speak with the Palestinian workers before they denounced Soda Stream and Johansson? Organizations such as Oxfam are boycotting Soda Stream for what reason? Soda Stream inherited the factory in the settlements and did not even purposely build the factory there. If Oxfam objective is achieved and Soda Stream is forced to leave the settlements, what good does it actually accomplish? Palestinians will lose good paying jobs and there will be one less opportunity for Israeli’s and Palestenian’s to interact with each other.
Furthermore, like most products, many of Soda Stream’s components come from China. So why isn’t Soda Stream being denounced for having strategic suppliers in China? After all China is not a Democracy and took land from the Tibetans (again, this is not a political blog, but the narrative Tibetans being oppressed by China is also not really a completely accurate narrative). Should we also boycott American products since we stole land from the Native Americans? Or what about boycotting Brazil for not honoring their agreement to give land to the descendants of African slaves
It just seems that Oxfam and other organizations don’t have a consistent stance. Israel is a democracy and has a better human rights record than basically every country in the region. Will a Palestinian state provide equal rights and access to all religious groups if they form a new country, and will they protect the rights of their gay and lesbian communities? If Palestinians primary supporter Saudi Arabia, is any indication, then the answer is of course no, because they don’t even support basic women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. So then why isn’t Oxfam announcing a boycott on Saudi oil?
This sort of hypocrisy is similar to the recent activism against Apple for making products in Foxconn’s China factory. Apple was ridiculed for having their phones manufactured in China, because they said the workers in Foxconn were paid low wages and had to work under harsh conditions. However, I know first hand that Foxconn pays better wages than other factories in China, and also has better working conditions. Suicide amongst employees in Foxconn’s factories was sited as an example of the poor treatment of Foxconn’s workers, yet a closer look revealed that the suicide rate amongst Foxconn employees was lower than the general suicide rate in China. Furthermore, why was Apple being singled out when almost every other major electronics brand such as Samsung, and HP also have their products produced in the exact same factory?
My major motivation for writing this blog, is that I think nonprofit organizations that take these sort of stances are often hypocritical, and take stances on certain issues as some sort of self righteous vindication that they are doing good in the world, when in reality they aren’t benefiting anyone. This boycott against Israeli made products has been styled after the boycott of South African products over 20 years ago when there was a movement to remove the White South African apartheid regime.
Although I absolutely agree that apartheid should have been abolished, I question the commitment of those individuals and organizations that supported the boycott. Based on many metrics the average black South African is doing far worse than they were under apartheid. If you look at instances of HIV, murder, rape, and other metrics the quality of life has deteriorated under the ANC. However, no nonprofit group would dare boycott the ANC, despite the fact that although mostly a black institution, the ANC is complicit in corruption and monopolizing power, which has translated into very little progress for the average South African.
A consistent theme of my blog is that capitalism and entrepreneurs benefit the world. Just because an organization has the title of nonprofit, doesn’t mean they actually benefit humanity. I will argue that Soda Stream’s ability to provide high wages for its Palestinian employees, and its ability to provide daily interactions between Israeli’s and Palestinians will do much more to solve the conflict than Oxfam’s self-righteous, selective and unhelpful boycott.
I’m also not saying that consumers should not hold companies up to high ethical standards. However, these standards shouldn’t be hypocritical, and the goal should be to truly help people, and not to further a political agenda.
It all reminds me of the Occupy Wall Street protest. They denounced capitalism, but they couldn’t even organize a proper demonstration. The event was so poorly organized that it could not sustain itself for more than a few months, the camps that they set up were filthy and there were reports of rampant crime at the Occupy Wall Street protest. I’ve learned in life that its easy to criticize and speak about utopias but quite a different thing to create a utopia.