The World

Bubble Trouble

Controversy over SodaStream’s factory in the West Bank is becoming a yearly Super Bowl tradition.

Last year, around the time the maker of bubbly beverage-producing devices became the first Israeli company to advertise during the Super Bowl, Palestinian groups called for a boycott of its products. One of the company’s factories is located in an industrial park linked to the Ma’ale Adumim settlement in the West Bank.*

This year, the whole issue has been turbocharged by the addition of actress Scarlett Johansson as the company’s new spokeswoman. Johansson announced today that she is stepping down from her role as an ambassador for Oxfam, the British charity organization, which opposes trade with the settlements.

SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum gave an interview to the Jewish Daily Forward this week in which he described the Palestinian factory as a “pain in the ass,” but said he won’t shut it down out of consideration for the plant’s 500 Palestinian workers, who would likely not be able to continue working at the factory if it were relocated inside Israel.

Birnbaum has defended the factory in the past, saying that it provides employment for Palestinians and said in the new interview that he would be happy to continue operating in a Palestinian state, should a peace agreement be reached between the two sides. (The Forward profile also includes a bizarre scene in which Birnbaum tells his “mostly male, 30-something Palestinian workers,” that “Scarlett Johannson would be proud of you!”)

Palestinian groups say the company’s advertising has misrepresented conditions in the factory, and that Arab workers are discriminated against and exploited. Whether that’s true or not, the Palestinian Authority opposes factories like SodaStream’s on the grounds that they provide economic support to the settlements.

It seems to me that Birnbaum—and Johansson—should probably have known what they were getting into. Given that the company has attempted to portray itself as an ethical alternative in its advertising, including sponsoring fake environmental rallies featuring previous spokeswoman Rosario Dawson, it can’t really get too upset when it’s targeted for its production practices.

In any event, SodaStream’s Super Bowl ad has, for the second year in a row, been rejected by Fox not because of Mideast politics but because it was considered too nasty to fellow sponsors Coke and Pepsi.

*Correction, Jan. 30, 2014: This post originally misspelled the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.