Sodastream, Some Boycott Opportunities Are Best Left Alone


The myopic American protest machine has been in ludicrous speed mode since Scarlett Johansson made the decision to make a sexy time style commercial for Sodastream, an Israeli owned company that makes overpriced soda machines in order to hook you into their overpriced refill ecosystem ale Keurig (hint, just buy carbonated water and syrups and make Italian soda, duh, cheaper). Here’s the commercial.

Sodastream is an Israeli company and the factory where many of the units are made is in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank and employs both Israeli Jews and Palestinians, about 500 Palestinians, and they pay really well for the area. Naturally, pro Palestinian protesters, in the West, not in Palestine, have targeted Sodastream, asking for people to boycott the company. If this was successful and caused the plant to have to be shut down then all those Palestinians would lose their jobs. Slate’s Matthew Yglesias says that shouldn’t matter to me. He says that it would all be worth it because I should “think about South Africa under apartheid.” Here’s the full quote:

Think about South Africa under apartheid. Living conditions for black South Africans were bad. At the same time, black South Africans were still impacted by the larger South African economy. The various sanctions and boycotts to which South Africa was being subjected didn’t microtarget white South Africans. Black South Africans shared the pain too. And so black people in South Africa in 1987 had slightly worse lives than they would have had absent boycotts and sanctions. But the point of the boycotts and sanctions wasn’t to maximize the welfare of black South Africans under conditions of apartheid, it was to end apartheid. And it worked!

I’m 10,000% sure that consumer boycotts of South African companies did not at all end apartheid. Consumers boycotting South African companies? Really, that’s how Black Africans claimed their rightful place in the society of their own country? No, not at all. This is some Glenn Beck “ideological purity” stuff right here. It simply didn’t happen. Consumer boycotts of South Africa did have some effect, yes, but that effect was mostly to hurt the pocketbooks of Black South Africans, it didn’t cause the end of apartheid. Yglesias is confusing correlation with causation. Far more central to apartheid’s end was the UN’s strengthening of its arms embargo of that country in 1986 by UN resolution 591 which made it increasingly difficult for the White South African minority to control the Black South African majority. All the Sodastreams in the world can’t have that effect.

Americans love slacktivism and I certainly understand why. Sodastream’s machines aren’t immensely popular and so not getting one isn’t going to be difficult for the vast majority of individuals. Of far more importance is the U.S. providing Israel with $3.1 billion dollars a year plus military aid and the world’s tolerance of the continuous building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. Until that changes then consumer boycotts won’t even enter the picture as being relevant.

But this is all identity issue stuff anyway. We’re meant to believe that if we as good citizens of the world don’t rally to every call that advocacy organizations email blast into our inboxes then we’re not doing our part, that we’re a part of the problem. Sometimes, on certain issues, that’s true, but it’s not true this time and I know it’s not true because the advocates involved clearly don’t care about the Palestinians employed by Sodastream. They are simply a means to an end. Shut down the Sodastream factory, get all the Palestinians fired, and we will have “showed them.” Sacrifice them because it’s “topical” and happening right now. In short, because it’s convenient. Or, y’know, you could join the Tea Party. You’d fit right in.

I’ll pass on the sanctimony that takes money away from Palestinian families for the sake of “doing something.” The expansion of Israeli settlements is something I’m vehemently against but not everything is worth protesting. I’ll pass on this rallying cry, this waving and distracting banner, and I’ll pass on Sodastream as well. After all, I was going to anyway.

image – YouTube