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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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Anti-Israel boycott draws little interest

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An attempted boycott of a Halifax health food store that carries Israeli SodaStream products has mostly fizzled, according to Mark David, the Atlantic region consultant for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

Only about a dozen middle-aged protesters appeared at Planet Organic April 7 to urge a boycott of SodaStream products. They were shooed away from the store by management, and their efforts appear to have had no impact on sales, he said.

Instead, David and CIJA’s “Buycott Israel” initiative is urging consumers to purchase SodaStream products and inform store management of their shopping decision, he added.

SodaStream is an Israeli company that sells soda-making gas cylinders that allow consumers to make their own carbonated beverages. One of the firm’s principal Israeli production facilities is in Mishor Adumim, which protesters say is on occupied Palestinian land.

Marta Mikita-Wilson, president and CEO of SodaStream’s Canadian operation, said the company has been the subject of boycott attempts at times over the past few years, but very little has come of it.

Sales have not been adversely affected, and the publicity has led some consumers, who were unaware of the company, to take a closer look at its products, she said.

“It’s almost a reverse effect,” she added. “You put us in the light of the media and people say what’s this?”

They find out that “it’s a huge wellness product” that’s good for the environment, reduces pollution created by plastic bottles and is beneficial to consumers.

“People sell more after they create awareness,” she added.

Mikita-Wilson, who hails from Poland, said protesters’ concerns are unfounded. “When we built the factory, there was as of yet no agreement there would be a Palestinian state there,” she said. “It’s close to the border and… it’s not sure how it’s been established about what territory belongs to who.”

She said in postwar Europe, the borders of Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia all moved, but “nobody boycotted over borders.”

Mikita-Wilson said the company employs hundreds of Palestinians, about half its workforce.

“SodaStream has been targeted around the world. Somebody feels that we as a company don’t recognize Palestinian workmanship. That’s not true. We create the work for them. We give them a chance to make a decent living.”

She pointed to a promotional video released by the company – “Building Bridges, not Walls” – which touts its positive impact on Palestinians. It provides them with jobs, respects their religious practices, brings them into the same workplace with Druze and Israelis, including those of Russian and Ethiopian backgrounds, pays them far more than the prevailing wage in the West Bank, and does so at the cost of profits.

Company CEO Daniel Birnbaum said in the video that the location of the factory would make more economic sense if it were closer to suppliers, technicians and the country’s port.

David said advocates of the BDS movement have in the past attempted to boycott Halifax’s Mountain Equipment Co-op store, which also carried Israeli products, but “we don’t usually see this kind of boycott here.”

David added that he purchased SodaStream merchandise at Planet Organic and “we made sure that Planet Organic was thanked for carrying Israeli products.”

At The CJN’s press time, Planet Organic had not responded to a request for an interview.

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