Bubbling with pride

That’s welcome news – for the hundreds of Bedouin, Palestinian and Jewish employees who count on the company for their livelihood, and for Israel.

By
August 21, 2018 20:19
3 minute read.
Sodastream sold to Pepsico for 3.2 billion dollars, Aug 20, 2018

Sodastream sold to Pepsico for 3.2 billion dollars, Aug 20, 2018. (photo credit: ELIRAN AVITAL)

 
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The news this week that global beverage and snack giant PepsiCo had announced it was acquiring Israel’s carbonated drink-machine maker SodaStream for the staggering sum of $3.2 billion should bring an effervescent glow to the faces of all Israelis.

It follows on the heels of other stellar buyouts of Israeli companies in recent years, such as autonomous driving firm Mobileye, which was bought by Intel last year for $15.3 billion and video software unit NDS, which was acquired by Cisco in 2012 for $5 billion.

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The irony has been noted that until 1991, PepsiCo honored the Arab boycott of Israel, and now it’s paying a huge sum for an Israeli company and has pledged that it will continue to operate from Israel. As Israel’s consul-general in New York, Dani Dayan, tweeted Monday: “The story of Israel’s economy in a nutshell.”

SodaStream doesn’t fall into the hi-tech “start-up nation” matrix that has become a mantra for those who want to tout Israel’s technological prowess, but its international exposure and ubiquitous spot in kitchens throughout the US and Europe point to another astounding success for Israel.

From what can be gleaned without being on the inside, it couldn’t happen to a more worthy company. Since the company was bought by Israeli company Soda-Club in 1998, SodaStream has provided steady employment to thousands of workers. In return, its employees have shown a rare loyalty to the company that has expressed itself in ways that touch on the very essence of what being Israeli means.

For years, SodaStream’s main factory in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone of Ma’aleh Adumim stood as a shining example of how Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians could work together – not in a rose-tinted Pollyanna – but in an environment of mutual respect.

The BDS movement attempted to launch a boycott of SodaStream’s products due to it being situated over the Green Line – and in doing so, put the jobs of hundreds of Palestinians from the towns, villages and neighborhoods near Ma’aleh Adumim in jeopardy.

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When, due to financial considerations which were only marginally connected to the boycott campaign, SodaStream decided to close the factory in 2016 and move to a brand new facility in Lehavim near Rahat, CEO Daniel Birnbaum worked tirelessly in lobbying the Netanyahu administration to obtain work permits for the Palestinian employees to enter Israel proper and commute to the new plant.

Although the new factory provided hundreds of jobs to the local Bedouin population, the permits for 74 longtime Palestinians workers, all married with children, were discontinued despite Birnbaum’s threats to close the factory in protest.

Last year, after a yearlong struggle, the permits were renewed and almost all of the Palestinians returned to their jobs at SodaStream, traveling 90 minutes each way every day. They do it because SodaStream treats them well, pays fairly and provides a pleasant work environment while manufacturing a successful, in-demand product.

At Monday’s press conference announcing the deal, PepsiCo CEO Ramon Laguarta committed to keeping SodaStream’s Israel operation running for at least 15 years. “This company has demonstrated it is a very successful business,” he added. “Why would you derail a successful business?”

That’s welcome news – for the hundreds of Bedouin, Palestinian and Jewish employees who count on the company for their livelihood, and for Israel.

SodaStream’s achievement was best expressed by Birnbaum, who at the beginning of the press conference defined the deal not as an exit, but as an “entrance.”

 “We are talking here about… an investment of a giant international firm – the biggest food and drinks company in America and the second biggest in the world – that is planting a flag here and is showing trust in the economy of Israel.”

Then, as can only happen in Israel, he made an international $3.2 billion dollar business transaction into a totally personal moment by summarizing the story of the Exodus in 1947, which carried his father Ervin.

“Who would have believed, father, that after the Holocaust and all that you went through, after you lost 30 members of your family, you got to enjoy this moment… where the ashes of the Holocaust have been transformed into a moment of glory and pride?”

Sometimes, it turns out, the good guys do win.

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