Friday, January 31, 2014

Sodastream is a factory, not a settlement

I had an e-mail exchange this week with a fellow who really really doesn't like us. On the topic of that Sodastream factory in Mishor Adumim, he informed me that the Palestinian workers there are treated as slaves. When I suggested I might try to see their payrolls so as to test his proposition, he backed off: payrolls don't prove anything, he told me, the only thing that's important is that Palestine isn't sovereign.

Which got me thinking. The Israeli-Arab conflict famously makes many otherwise reasonably normal people lose their marbles, so that they engage in all sorts of mumbo-jumbo. The Sodastream story seems to be such a case. In any other context, worldwide, a private company maintaining a factory in an underdeveloped country so as to take advantage of its lower labor costs would be regarded as a boon for the hosting country (if perhaps not for the rich country the factory had previously been in). Sodastream, however, isn't paying hundreds of Palestinian workers what they'd get from a Palestinian employer. It's paying the Palestinian laborers Israeli wages, with the social benifits mandated by Israeli law.

Nobody lives in the Sodastream factory: it's a factory. If ever there is peace between Israel and Palestine, Israeli owned factories in Palestine employing Palestinians is precisely the sort of thing everyone should be wishing for. Not for the "soft" advantages of people working alongside one another, which is the kind of thing one can't easily measure: for the "hard", quantifiable advantage of employment and foreign curreny.

In any other context, this is called FDI (foriegn direct investment) and is eagerly sought by politicians and toted up by economists. When it comes to Israel-Palestine, however, normal discourse goes silent.

(On a related note, Yair Rosenberg has a great piece up at Tablet about the debate, 53 years ago today, when Yaacov Herzog forced Arnold Toynbee to cut out the mumbo-jumbo and talk straight).

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

for those humans, history started with an iPhone and American Idol. let's give the kids more drugs!!!!!

Aaron Gross said...

On the Toynbee debate: I don't think that advice works anymore. According to the article (I haven't watched the debate), we're supposed to defend Israel not as a moral exemplar, but a state like all other states, no better but no worse. That probably worked in 1961, but not today and probably not since about the 1970s. For good or ill, Israel now is pretty atypical. It's a "Western" state that rules over a foreign, non-Western population. It's a relatively strong "Western" state engaged in a protracted war against a much weaker, non-Western enemy. And it's a "Western" state that defines itself, explicitly and proudly, as a 19th-century style nation-state. All of those things make Israel a unique target. Pro-Israel people can no longer plead, "We're just like all the others," as Herzog could at the time of the debate. That's more because the West has changed than because Israel's situation has changed.

Another thing that's changed is that anti-Israel people are used to the question "Why Israel?", and they have answers prepared. You can argue whether those various answers are good or bad, but the point is that "Why Israel" is not a show-stopper as it might have been in 1961.

Bottom line, I don't think the article has much to teach us about defending Israel in the 21st century.

Aaron Gross said...

I think the only reasonable argument against Sodastream is the "normalization" one: it helps normalize the occupation. Even in the most anti-Israel interpretation of international law, I don't think there's anything illegal about a private firm in the occupant state setting up a factory in occupied territory and employing members of the occupied population voluntarily. So it just seems about "normalization"; but if that's all that's going on, then from that point of view it should be just as bad no matter which side of the Green Line the factory is located on.

Anonymous said...

The facts are clear, Sodastream didn't setup shop where it is to use "slave labour" as the BDS crowd wld have you think.
There are many in Israel, and some (very few) in the Palestinian territories (Note I didnt say "Palestine" like all media, as a nation of 'Palestine" does not exist) that are tired of the Peace Process industry and try to do positive things for each other and cooperate with each other. Sodastream looks to be a shining example of that. Tragically, Oxfam and the BDS crowd would rather see these people fire bullets at each other, than work together.

Anonymous said...

I think Yaacov Lozowick's thoughts can be summed up in one sentence said by former PM Golda Meir. There will be peace when the Palestinians care more about their children than their hatred for Israel. The Jews can't possibly economically build up a people that is too busy trying to destroy Israel. You can bring a horse to water but you can't force it to drink.

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SerJew said...

"For good or ill, Israel now is pretty atypical. It's a "Western" state that rules over a foreign, non-Western population. It's a relatively strong "Western" state engaged in a protracted war against a much weaker, non-Western enemy. And it's a "Western" state that defines itself, explicitly and proudly, as a 19th-century style nation-state. "

Complete garbage. If there´s anything remotely similar to a 19th-century state today it would be the US. But, what is really atypical, anachronic and backwards today is the medieval Islamic ideology. And that´s why Israel is involved in a protracted war.