boycott

Boycotting SodaStream: Righteous protest or empty gesture?

January 21, 2014: 2:30 PM ET

The Israeli firm has a plant in the occupied West Bank, which has some American liberals upset. But the situation, like many, is more complicated than it appears.

140121112425-sodastream-620xaFORTUNE -- Boycotting businesses for political reasons is often a complicated affair. There are always trade-offs. Take SodaStream (SODA), for example. The company's home-carbonation gizmos reduce pollution and enable people to avoid buying bottles and cans of unhealthy soda from giant corporations like Coca-Cola (KO) and PepsiCo (PEP).

For those reasons, SodaStream is especially popular among socially conscious types. But now many of those people are learning that the product's maker isn't some little hippie-run outfit based in Taos, N.M., or Burlington, Vt., but is in fact an Israeli firm that has a manufacturing plant in the occupied West Bank, and so has been deemed a purveyor of "blood bubbles."

What's a progressive shopper to do? As recounted by New York magazine, it's a conundrum for many of them. Some hide their SodaStream machines in cabinets, but keep using them. But for others, it's very simple: If you buy a SodaStream, you are supporting Israel's settlements policy, and you deserve to be shamed. "Enjoy your Palestinian blood cocktails," a "left-wing reporter" told holiday-party guests of New York's Kate Stoeffel.

MORE: SodaStream's bubbly rise

It's a conundrum for SodaStream, too. The location of the SodaStream plant "enrages a politically informed, far-left segment of the liberal-yuppie demographic the product is marketed to," Stoeffel writes.

And it's a conundrum for celebrity endorsers. SodaStream's presence in the West Bank "normalizes" Israel's settlement policy, according to the Jewish Daily Forward, which excoriated actress Scarlett Johansson for signing up this week as SodaStream's global brand ambassador.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that SodaStream's plant employs hundreds of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, and houses both a mosque and a synagogue. Boycotting SodaStream as a protest against Israel's settlements policy might make some people feel like they're helping a good cause, but, asks The New Yorker's Emily Greenhouse, "who can measure, or say, whether boycotting SodaStream would help the intangible cause of Palestinian nationhood more than it harms the lives of tangible Palestinian employees?"

The best approach is probably for everybody to assess the situation for themselves, but also to avoid insulting people at parties.

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