Backfire: Hundreds of Palestinians Lose Jobs After Activists Push to Boycott Israeli Company that Scarlett Johansson Promoted

Hundreds of Palestinian workers have lost their jobs following a boycott campaign against SodaStream, an Israeli company that manufactures home kitchen fizzy drink machines once promoted by Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson.

SodaStream was a prominent target of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign and CODEPINK, because it operated a factory in the West Bank, territory that Palestinians claim as theirs.

An Agence France-Presse photographer captured images Monday of the laid-off Palestinian workers sobbing as they said goodbye to their Israeli colleagues following a decision by the company to move its factory out of the West Bank.

Arab-Israeli women greet a colleague (R) being one of the last Palestinian employees of the Israeli SodaStream drinks firm leaving after they were laid off following a work permit battle on February 29, 2016 before they leave SodaStream's plant in the Israeli city of Rahat in the Negev desert. The company lashed out at the government for refusing to grant them work permits after it relocated from the West Bank to southern Israel. The company, which manufactures a device for making fizzy drinks at home, announced in late 2014 it was closing the West Bank plant following a boycott campaign that included targeting Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson after she advertised its product. The plant, located in a Jewish settlement, closed in October last year, with more than 500 Palestinians made redundant, and then relocated inside Israel. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)
Arab-Israeli women greet a colleague, right, being one of the last Palestinian employees of the Israeli SodaStream drinks firm leaving after they were laid off following a work permit battle Monday before they leave SodaStream’s plant in the Israeli city of Rahat in the Negev desert. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

“We’re heartened by all the support that everyone has shown us, but in the end, when I get up tomorrow, I won’t have a job to go to,” Yasin Abu Ateek, a 29-year-old father of two who worked for SodaStream for six years told the Jerusalem Post.

The Post, quoting the company, reported that the Palestinian employees each supported an average of 10 other people with their income.

“All the people who wanted to close [the factory] are mistaken. … They didn’t take into consideration the families,” Ali Jafar, a Palestinian shift manager, told The Guardian in September.

“SodaStream should have been encouraged in the West Bank if [the BDS movement] truly cared about the Palestinian people,” SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum told the British paper then.

The company moved its operations a two-hour drive away from its original plant to southern Israel in October, citing financial reasons; however, BDS activists had hailed it as a victory of their campaign.

The company employed more than 500 Palestinians and boasted that all employees regardless of nationality and ethnicity received equal pay and benefits for comparable jobs.

When it relocated the factory to southern Israel, SodaStream had planned to bus in 74 of its Palestinian workers two hours in each direction every day; however, the Israeli government did not grant the Palestinians work permits that would have allowed them to enter Israel.

“Today is their final day working with the company, sadly,” SodaStream spokesman Maayan Nave told AFP on Monday.

The CEO of the Israeli SodaStream drinks firm, Daniel Birnbaum (R), greets one of his Palestinian employees who were laid off after being caught in a work permit battle on February 29, 2016 before they leave SodaStream's plant in the Israeli city of Rahat in the Negev desert. The company lashed out at the government for refusing to grant them work permits after it relocated from the West Bank to southern Israel. The company, which manufactures a device for making fizzy drinks at home, announced in late 2014 it was closing the West Bank plant following a boycott campaign that included targeting Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson after she advertised its product. The plant, located in a Jewish settlement, closed in October last year, with more than 500 Palestinians made redundant, and then relocated inside Israel. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)
The CEO of the Israeli SodaStream drinks firm, Daniel Birnbaum, greets one of his Palestinian employees who were laid off after being caught in a work permit battle on Monday before they leave SodaStream’s plant in the Israeli city of Rahat in the Negev desert. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

The Israeli Defense Ministry’s branch COGAT, which handles Israeli-Palestinian civilian ties, did not comment on why the 74 did not receive permits to work in Israel but released this statement: “COGAT has taken many measures to help the factory and provided temporary permits to hundreds of laborers in the past year and a half to enable the transfer [of the factory].”

Israelis have been on edge given a five-month wave of nearly daily Palestinian stabbing attacks in Israelis, including an ax attack on Friday at a mall just a 10-minute drive from the former West Bank SodaStream plant in Mishor Adumim outside Jerusalem. The main suspect in the stabbing was a worker at the mall who held a work permit, according to Israeli media reports.

Johansson faced pressure from BDS activists two years ago after she took the position of brand ambassador for the carbonated beverage kit.

David Horovitz, the founding editor of the Times of Israel, in an op-ed Monday slammed the boycott Israel activists given the huge layoff of Palestinian employees.

“Proponents of BDS purport to act in the interests of Palestinians, specifically their quest for independence. It is doubtful that the hundreds of unemployed former Palestinian workers of SodaStream see it that way,” Horovitz wrote.

“And as of Monday, all of its Palestinian employees are out of work. What a challenge now, for them, to feed their families, to keep their children safe and prevent them from succumbing to the prevailing hatreds,” he wrote, adding, “Well done, BDS campaign. A great victory for Palestine. A great step forward on the way to… what, exactly?”

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