NPR’s ‘Here and Now’ Sets Up BDS as Moral Force

In yesterday’s segment about Pepsi Co.’s $3.2 billion purchase of SodaStream, NPR “Here and Now” host Robin Young and her guest Derek Thompson, senior editor at The Atlantic, set up the anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divest, sanctions) movement as a force for moral good in its fight against the bad-acting Israeli beverage company. The journalists do so without even identifying BDS, instead citing “Palestinians and their supporters” and “pro-Palestinian groups” as SodaStream’s critics. In the “Here and Now” segment, it is these moral heroes calling out the Israeli company for the “moral questions” (as Thompson puts it) surrounding the company’s former location in the West Bank, its “support for Israeli occupation of Palestine,” and the subsequent “punishment” of its employees for laying them off.

The agreeable duo — Young lobs only softballs at Thompson — give voice only to the anti-Israel and anti-Palestinian-employment viewpoint that SodaStream “represented support for Israeli occupation of Palestine,” a blight on the healthful, eco-friendly company’s “positive moral valance.” The pair fail to raise the “moral questions” about, or even note, BDS’ apparent responsibility for the factory’s move from the West Bank to southern Israel, depriving hundreds of Palestinians of a reliable, solid livelihood. A transcript of the relevant excerpt follows:

Young: So let’s get to the elephant in the room for many when they hear about SodaStream being bought by Pepsi Co. SodaStream started as a British company but the Israeli owners put a factory in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, what Palestinians and their supporters see as illegal Israeli occupation. The actress Scarlet Johansson got flak for being a spokesperson  for SodaStream. The company argued that they gave Palestinians jobs but announced in 2014 that they were going to move the factory. Is this part of why it’s being sold and can Pepsi shake that which for a lot of people it stuck to SodaStream?

Thompson: Yeah, I think it’s really interesting to me because on the one hand SodaStream is popular because it has this positive moral valance, right. You’re not drinking sugar. You’re not using extra plastic bottles. You’re doing something that is good for the environment, good for the world.

Young: We should say they have these reusable bottles  – yes – so they are saving hundreds of thousands, millions of throwaway water bottles.

Thompson: Absolutely. Yeah, thank you. That’s great context. But at the same time you also have the fact that pro-Palestinian groups said it represented support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine. And so SodaStream left the West Bank but it laid off many of its Palestinian workers which only compounded the controversy because it was seen as punishing the Palestinian population. And so it’s really interesting. You have this company that on the one hand people are excited about precisely because it seems like a moral alternative but it also has these moral questions that are anchoring it down.

The real elephant in the room here is the BDS movement and its key role in this whole story, about which neither Young nor Thompson breathes a word. As NPR earlier noted in a 2016 story about SodaStream’s laying off of Palestinian employees, the BDS movement advocates for the so-called “right of return,” which would see Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants settle in Israel – something Israelis and others view as tantamount to the dismantlement of the Jewish state. BDS activists heavily targeted SodaStream and Scarlett Johansson, and its leadership took credit for the factory’s move out of the West Bank, but Thompson ludicrously blames SodaStream’s layoffs (an outcome of the relocation into southern Israel) – not BDS – for “compound[ing] the controversy because it was seen as punishing the Palestinian population.”

Moreover, in Thompson’s formulation, on the one hand, SodaStream’s environmentally-friendly, sugarless drinks are doing “good for the world.” Its former employment under favorable and non-discriminatory terms of Palestinians close to their West Bank homes, on the other hand, was, apparently, bad for the world, a counterbalance to the company’s “positive moral valance.”

While Thompson tells listeners that “pro-Palestinian groups said [SodaStream] represented support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine,” echoing Young’s earlier statement that “Palestinians and their supporters see [the Israeli factory in the West Bank] as illegal Israeli occupation,” the pair never shares what Israelis and their supporters say and see. In their determination to find “moral questions” in the actions of the Israeli company, “Here and Now” not only overlooks the views of Israelis, but also those of Palestinians who lost their livelihood thanks to BDS’ concerted smear campaign of an Israeli company with practiced coexistence. As Palestinian human rights activist Bassam Eid opined:

I’m opposed to the boycott because it only ends up harming the Palestinians themselves. Take, for example, the SodaStream plant in Mishor Adumim that is now moving some of its operations to Be’er Sheva. I’ve met with Palestinians who worked at the factory and were fired because of the move. They told me they were earning an average of NIS 5,000 a month there, and that today they are being offered salaries of just NIS 1,400 in the PA.

People there are deep in debt because they have taken on long-term commitments based on the understanding that their work at the plant would continue; but reality has slapped them in the face because of the pressure created by BDS movement. Today, they are running between the courts and the bailiff offices and is anyone taking any notice of them? Do you think the boycott movement cares about them at all?

Thus, Thompson’s identification of those who opposed SodaStream’s West Bank presence as “pro-Palestinian” excludes those who prioritize Palestinian quality of life over anti-Israel ideology. “The BDS movement, which claims to be our friend,” said Eid, writing as a Palestinian, “is determined to blame Israel for all our problems, and refuses to acknowledge the true issues. Instead, they are engaged in a self-serving narrative aimed at making them look like heroes who are supposedly helping the Palestinians.”

NPR’s Robin Young and Derek Thompson have picked their heroes and drawn their moral lines. For them, the Israelis who employed Palestinians across the Green Line, close to their homes, under favorable, non-discriminatory conditions were doing bad for the world. For the journalists-cum-moralists, the BDS activists who battled the Israeli company which they say “represented support for the Israeli occupation” are the heroic do-gooders, Palestinian employment be damned.