Israeli Beverage Maker Takes on Soda Super-Giants

In this photo released by SodaStream on Tuesday July 17, 2012, actress and environmentalist Rosario Dawson supports SodaStream’s inaugural “Unbottle the World Day” by showing the number of bottles and cans consumed by an average American family over five years, in New York. Today’s event is in conjunction with twenty environmental exhibits being unveiled around the world. SodaStream, the world’s largest manufacturer of home beverage carbonation systems, enables consumers to reduce their own carbon footprint by making carbonated beverages at home.

Actress and environmentalist Rosario Dawson supports SodaStream’s inaugural “Unbottle the World Day” on July 17 by showing the number of bottles and cans consumed by an average American family over five years in New York. SodaStream enables consumers to reduce their own carbon footprint by making carbonated beverages at home.

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Pro-Palestinian activists say the company has profited from Israel's occupation of the West Bank. They say Palestinian workers have suffered from low wages and poor working conditions and criticized the company for receiving economic incentives, including tax deductions, from the Israeli government.

"The new SodaStream publicity blitz has given the U.S. boycott, divestment, sanctions movement a marvelous opportunity to bring our campaigns targeting settlement products to a new, unprecedented level of visibility and success," said Anna Baltzer, an organizer of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. "It's time to burst SodaStream's bubble. There's nothing environmentally friendly about military occupation."

The boycott movement has had a generally limited impact on Israeli businesses, although in 2010, a European Union court said that goods produced in West Bank settlements did not qualify for the same duty free status granted to products made inside Israel. The case involved SodaStream products being shipped to Germany.

The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories Israel occupied in 1967. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but continues to control access. Last week, the U.N. General Assembly recognized a state of Palestine in these boundaries as a non-member observer.

Aside from political backlash, last month the United Kingdom banned a SodaStream TV advertisement saying it disparaged other soda manufacturers. In the 30-second advertisement, soft drink bottles simultaneously combust as people use the machine at home to happily carbonate their drinks.

Birnbaum, meanwhile, defended the company's West Bank presence. He called the anti-Israel activists a "confused bunch" and said he is providing jobs for Palestinians.

"We don't strengthen or support the occupation," he said. "What we're doing is taking a facility in the occupied territory and giving Palestinians a career and economic benefits. I've got to laugh when they think we're on the wrong side of this. We're part of the solution. We build bridges, not walls."

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