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SodaStream Criticized For West Bank Plant

SodaStream is the first Israeli company to advertise in the Super Bowl. The company has dodged controversy in efforts to break open the soft drink market. Its plant in the West Bank has made it a target for an international boycott movement.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And let's think about the Super Bowl once again. Last night was big for the Ravens and for an Israeli company called SodaStream. It ran its first Super Bowl ad.

The original spot it hoped to air was rejected. And as NPR's Larry Abramson reports, there are much bigger controversies facing that company.

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LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: Ad viewers saw last night shows regular folks using their SodaStream devices to fizz up and flavor ordinary water, as they imbibe, bottles containing traditional soda drinks explode.

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ABRAMSON: The message...

(SOUNDBITE OF SODASTREAM AD)

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: With SodaStream, we could have saved 500 million bottles on game day alone.

ABRAMSON: In other words, by making your own soda at home, and refilling bottles, you can drink gaseous liquids while saving the environment at the same time. Sounds harmless enough. But a similar ad was banned in Britain last year by an advertising consortium, which feared SodaStream was denigrating the soft drink industry. Of course, the banned ads simply migrated online, where they went viral.

When SodaStream bid for a spot in the Super Bowl, it played the David and Goliath card again when it submitted this ad.

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ABRAMSON: Coke and a Pepsi delivery guy square off, racing to get into a store. Before they get inside, their bottles explode, thanks once again to the SodaStream effect.

CBS rejected that ad, perhaps because it directly disparages two major sponsors.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: If you love the bubbles, set them free.

ABRAMSON: Like Apple's 1984 Super Bowl ad announcing the Macintosh, SodaStream is trying to harness an underdog energy with these ads. It depicts its consumers as independent-thinking environmentalists.

But for many supporters of Palestinian rights, it's SodaStream who is the bully, pushing around its workers. SodaStream has long maintained a manufacturing facility in a settlement called Ma'ale Adumim outside Jerusalem. That plant is on land the Palestinians want for their future state. That has made SodaStream a target for an international boycott movement and led to this insult to Hava Nagila, sung by demonstrators in Boston recently.

(SOUNDBITE OF INSULT TO SONG, "HAVA NAGILA")

DEMONSTRATORS: (Singing) Your dimes are funding war crimes, and it's about time, that shoppers take a stand, SodaStream.

ABRAMSON: The issue is also super-sensitive in Israel. SodaStream would not agree to an interview on tape, but the company sent a detailed email, explaining that SodaStream is a multi-national company with 20 plants, worldwide. The company says its plant in the West Bank is located in an area which, under the Oslo Accords, remains under Israeli control until a final agreement is reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

In a company produced video, SodaStream's Daniel Birnbaum describes his firm as boon to the residents of the occupied West Bank.

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DANIEL BIRNBAUM: We give them an opportunity not only to have a job and health insurance, but also social benefits and a very high pay scale which they could never achieve in the West Bank.

ABRAMSON: But the Palestinian Authority says factories like SodaStream's help support what they see as Israel's illegal occupation of West Bank land. Israeli groups that oppose settlement activity agree.

Rona Moran, with the Coalition of Women for Peace, based in Tel Aviv, says SodaStream and other settlement businesses weaken the Palestinian economy.

RONA MARTIN: And all of the work in this factory is actually benefiting from exploiting Palestinian workers as cheap labor and Palestinian land for the establishment of the factory, and enjoys benefits and funding from the Israeli government.

ABRAMSON: While SodaStream tries to stay out of this political debate, Rona Moran has to watch what she says. Israeli law says anyone advocating a boycott of Israeli products can be sued.

Larry Abramson, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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