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Israel's SodaStream to open factory in Gaza

SodaStream [Mike Mozart/Flickr]
SodaStream [Mike Mozart/Flickr]

Israeli firm SodaStream is to open a manufacturing plant in the Gaza Strip.

The plan was announced yesterday at Globes' business conference, which hosted SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum in conversation with Ramon Laguarta, the CEO of Pepsico – which bought SodaStream earlier this year for $3.2 billion. During the conversation, Birnbaum revealed:

We set up our plant in Rahat [north of Beersheba in the Negev desert], and I want to make it bigger and give more people hope, so we're in the process of also putting a plant in Gaza, which will be operated through a subcontractor.

"We want people in Gaza to have real jobs, because when there is prosperity and plenty, there will also be peace," Birnbaum added.

Birnbaum did not reveal any further details of the company's plans or elaborate on who the subcontractor would be.

READ: USAID to cease operations in West Bank, Gaza within months

The announcement will likely raise eyebrows given that SodaStream was forced to close a plant it previously operated in the occupied West Bank due to pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. SodaStream's plant was formerly situated in Mishor Adumim – an illegal Israeli industrial park in the E1 area of the occupied West Bank that has since gained international attention amidst Israeli threats to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar.

In September 2015, SodaStream announced it would close its West Bank operations within two weeks, though Birnbaum sought to downplay the impact of BDS' pressure, saying it had only a "marginal" effect on the business, labelling the movement anti-Semitic.

However, general coordinator of the Boycott National Committee (BNC, the Palestinian coordinating body for BDS), Mahmoud Nawajaa, said at the time that "SodaStream's announcement today provides further proof that the BDS movement is increasingly able to hold corporate criminals to account for their role in Israeli apartheid and colonialism".

Nawajaa was also critical of SodaStream's decision to move its operations to Rahat, explaining:

Even when [the West Bank] closure goes ahead, SodaStream will remain implicated in the displacement of Palestinians. Its new Lehavim factory is close to Rahat, a planned township in the Naqab (Negev) desert, where Palestinian Bedouins are being forcefully transferred against their will. Sodastream, as a beneficiary of this plan, is complicit [in] this violation of human rights.

SodaStream was thrust into the international spotlight in 2014 after Jewish-American actress Scarlett Johansson quit her long-term role as an ambassador for UK-based charity Oxfam in order to become the face of the brand. Johansson's spokesperson said in a statement that she and Oxfam had a "fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions [BDS] movement".

Scarlett Johansson, Scarlett Ingrid Johansson is an American actress and singer on 7 December 2016 [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/Flickr]

Scarlett Johansson, Scarlett Ingrid Johansson is an American actress and singer on 7 December 2016 [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/Flickr]

For its part, Oxfam accepted Johansson's resignation, saying that "while Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors [… it] believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in [illegal Israeli] settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support."

READ: Bernie Sanders, Dianne Feinstein join opposition to anti-BDS bill

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