CEO: SodaStream Promotes Biblical Peace
MISHOR ADUMIM, Israel -- From the Super Bowl to the West Bank, Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson found herself in the middle of two controversies.
Both involve SodaStream, a product that lets you make your own carbonated drinks.
Fox recently pulled the plug on a SodaStream commercial in which Johansson poked fun at two other big sponsors, with the line, "Sorry, Coke and Pepsi."
The actress endorses SodaStream and for years served as a spokesperson for Oxfam, a group fighting global poverty.
But Oxfam recently told Johansson her work with SodaStream was "incompatible" because it operates a factory in what they call the "occupied West Bank."
SodaStream's factory, just outside Jerusalem, is at the heart of the controversy. It's about a 20-minute ride from Jerusalem and it's become the target of the BDS movement, which stands for "boycott, divestment, and sanctions."
The factory employs 1,300 factory workers; 500 of them are Palestinian. Some in the BDS movement and groups like Oxfam would like to shut the factory down.
SodaStream Chief Executive Officer Daniel Birnbaum said they should come to his factory.
"I say they should come here and look my workers in the eye and tell my workers they want to close the factory," Birnbaum said. "It's easy to want to close the factory when you're sitting behind an Oxfam desk in New York, or wherever, and claim we are the ones hurting human rights."
Oxfam claims, " businesses such as SodaStream further the ongoing poverty of the Palestinian communities that we work to support."
Yet SodaStream workers, who make three to four times what other Palestinians make in the West Bank (biblical Judea and Samaria), tell a different story.
"We love SodaStream. We need SodaStream," employee Yusef Mohammed told CBN News. "Where we go after this job? No work on outside. No work on outside. And in the SodaStream, everything is easy here. Everything is easy. I have a permit. I have all what I need. We have all what we need."
"I'm the only boy in the family so I have to work in the work like this. I'm lucky to find a job like this," fellow employee, Mahmoud Ahmed, said.
"To come and learn from this factory how to have peace. It's the best way to live together," another employee, Ahmed Nasser, added.
"Every day I tell my friends to come and work here,"Employee Zufer Adwalla said.
Johansson stood with SodaStream's Palestinian workers and resigned from Oxfam. The actress said she and Oxam "have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement."
Birnbaun lauded Johansson's refusal to back down.
"Finally someone like Scarlett has the courage to stand up to that very popular type of joining the boycott, apartheid-type of language, and see that there's a smarter way to get people together and promote peace -- a lot of love going on right now," Birnbaum said.
In the meantime, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's warning that if peace talks with the Palestinians fail, the BDS movement will severely hurt the Jewish state.
Birnbaum said SodaStream promotes biblical peace.
"In Hebrew from the book of Isaiah, 'They shall transform their swords into plowshares.' That's what we do here," Birnbaum explained.
"This factory used to be a munitions factory of the Israel military and we converted it into a food factory. So instead of making weapons, bomb shells, we make soda makers and we don't want to make it on our own," he continued.
"We want to make it with our Palestinian brothers side by side with Jews," he said. "And every day we're proving that peace can happen, and peace will happen in the Middle East."