Monday, January 27, 2014

Boycott the boycott with a seltzer

Ugh, the SodaStream debate. While every single thing in your home, with the possible exception of a bunch of farmers market kale, was produced unethically, you should apparently single out the seltzer-maker, because it may or may not be Bloodthirsty Zionist to own one. Which trumps which - that it's from the West Bank, or that the company employs Palestinians? I could see how there'd be no discussion at all if this were "employs" in the sense of a Bangladesh garment factory, but this is not so straightforward.

And yet every lifestyle article about it seems to have gotten the same round-up of sound bytes from one side, and so this gets categorized as yet another ethical fashion issue. As the such issue, because an iffy product from Evil Jewish Israel is of course worse than a $3 tank top people who aren't Jews and have nothing to do with any Jews died to bring to a mall near you.

Which is the problem each and every time. I personally don't know whether I buy the 'it gives Palestinians jobs' argument. But I'm also not prepared to single out Israel as the country whose products deserve extra scrutiny. And no, this is not about my great enjoyment of the seltzer in question for the past several years.


PeteySansSnark said...

Given that it turned out that the boycott and divestment movements were actually pretty crucial in changing the thinking of Apartheid South Africa's regime, I'd say that the boycott and divestment from Israel's Illegal Occupation is pretty smart thinking. And the wider the uptake, the better.

(Personally, I've boycotted all Israeli products since 2001, not just those from the Occupied Territories, as a replication of the successful South African strategy. It's too bad, as Sodastream seems like it'd be a nice product given my heavy seltzer consumption, but I'm not going to provide aid and comfort to an outlaw Apartheid regime.)

Of course, if one feels sympathy for the regime's practices, then boycotting the boycott definitely makes sense.

Phoebe said...

Snark-reduction appreciated. Better still, though, would be responding to the argument, which, to be fair, was largely in the other post I linked to. So, for ultimate clarity:

1) The state of Israel does things that are wrong. Whether "apartheid" is the right term isn't something all would agree to (and there's neither the space here nor the time in my afternoon to explain why I would not, but it may be somewhere on WWPD), but are there problems, included but not limited to the treatment of Palestinians? Yes.

2) Every other country also does things wrong. Some far more wrong than Israel. (Anywhere else you're boycotting lately?)

3) We end up learning a wildly disproportionate amount about Israel's wrongdoings, because there's great general interest (esp. in Europe, what with Holocaust-education-derived guilt) in pointing out the wrongdoings of Jews. It might oversimplify somewhat to label all the disproportionality "anti-Semitism," but that certainly enters into it. It's clearly great fun for a lot of people to point out that Jews aren't saints.

4) Some of what Israel's criticized for is unfair. Some, however, is fair.

5) Where does this leave us if we object both to the disproportionate singling-out of Israel, and to certain Israeli policies? For me, it means not swallowing whole the Sodastream-can-do-no-wrong argument, while also not joining up with the boycotters.

caryatis said...

There are other seltzer makers, Petey.

Phoebe, wouldn't it be incredibly hard to boycott all products from all countries that abuse human rights as much as Israel does? It'd be hard even to find out which clothing comes from say

Vietnam and Bangladesh and Myanmar. I think there's a case for keeping consumer boycotts *focused*--people are more likely to engage in focused boycotts because it is less burdensome, and so a focused boycott ends up being much more effective.

We kind of perceive as Israel as a Western, liberal country, which is why it's shocking the first time you learn about some of its illiberal policies (I just found out there is no civil marriage!) That's also why people tend to assume Israel will be more susceptible to international pressure than places which seem more foreign and impenetrable like Myanmar. So some of it is probably anti=Semitism, but some of it is the opposite--a feeling that Israelis are Just Like Us and can easily be pressured by our opinions.

Phoebe said...


Point taken. Some of it, I'd say, is *definitely* anti-Semitism, but also definitely not all of it. And I do think it's been a mistake, on the part of the pro-Israel side, to present Israel as The West epitomized, as vs. as a country with many of the same post-colonial-type problems as other formerly subjugated peoples now ruling their own nations. Which, yes, puts me at odds with a lot of more right-wing pro-Israel sorts, but not, from what I've seen, with the Zionist left.

I'd also say, though, that a lot of shocking things go on in most every country thought of as Western and liberal. Gun violence and general lack-of-safety-net-ish-ness in the U.S., treatment of Roma in Europe, etc. There's plenty of mess all around, not just in developing countries.

Miss Self-Important said...

So, if a country is almost like us but lacks, say, civil marriage, we should pound them into submission, whereas if a country is not even close to us and has, say, child marriage, we should just let that slide?

Londoner said...

Considering that China required military level security just to parade the Olympic torch through Western cities, I don't think Israel is uniquely singled out in these matters.

Phoebe said...


I kind of get what Caryatis is saying. Expect an entire bloggy post on this...


Obviously other countries sometimes come under criticism. Witness the Russian vodka boycott! This doesn't tell us that Israel isn't criticized more often and more loudly for more minor offenses.