The Prime Minister’s Office hit back on Thursday at SodaStream’s accusations that the Israeli government was to blame for the loss of Palestinian jobs at the company.
SodaStream’s CEO Daniel Birnbaum has been giving interviews in which he has been bashing virtually every ministry in the government, complaining about bureaucratic inflexibility. After a year-and-a-half of intense lobbying, he could not persuade the officials to grant work permits for employees who live in Yehuda and Shomron to enter Israel proper, despite the company vouching for them.
“This is not about BDS,” Birnbaum said in one interview. “This has nothing to do with BDS. It has everything to do with the Israeli government. I hope someone in the government will step up and correct the idiocy in the bureaucracy.”
An official in the PMO told The Jerusalem Post that SodaStream has only itself to blame for the situation. As long as the plant was located in Mishor Adumim, across the Green Line, it could employ as many Palestinians as it wanted.
“But because of BDS they made a decision to relocate into the Negev,” the official said. “This is a perfectly legitimate decision - sad, but legitimate. I empathize with the company’s plight, and this move was a victory of BDS over coexistence.”
But relocation made it subject to Israeli law, which has strict limits and quotas on foreign workers.
Israel, the official said, has a quota for Palestinian workers. That number is currently around 60,000, but most of that is for construction, not industrial plants.
“SodaStream knew that, but when they moved they put in a special request – in order to ensure stability and continuity in the company – for special temporary permits for the 74 workers. We agreed. Then they approached in November, and asked for another extension. We went above and beyond, and gave another extension.”
Birnbaum, he said, promised in writing not to ask for another extension. But now he is demanding another extension, and blaming the government for the predicament of his workers. The blame, he said, resides with the boycotters, not the Israeli government.
“Why is he [Birnbaum] so passionate about letting BDS off the hook?”
The official explained that it would not be fair to other companies, such as Osem, Coke and Tnuva, who would like to hire cheap Palestinian labor, but are not granted the permits.
“SodaStream has to abide by Israeli law like other companies,” the official said. “We are not holding them to a different standard, but we are also not going to reward them for giving in to BDS.”
In response, Birnbaum told The Post that “the only thing this has to do with [BDS leader] Omar Barghouti is that Netanyahu is serving him a victory, and as an Israeli that infuriates me.”
Birnbaum said that work building the Lehavim plant began in 2010 because it outgrew the Mishor Adumim plant, not because of BDS. “We moved plants from China, Turkey and the Galil here to create Israeli jobs. They’re just inventing [excuses] to get out of this uncomfortable position that they got themselves into,” he said.