Australian student union drops SodaStream competition
The boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign initiated by Palestinian civil society has been gaining strength since its launch in 2005. The aim of BDS is to pressure companies, universities and governments to cut ties with the apartheid state of Israel. It is an international campaign that has had many victories around the world.
Artists such as Elvis Costello, Snoop Dogg, Meg Ryan and Roger Waters have all refused to perform in Israel. Companies such as Alstom, the French transport multinational, lost a US$10 billion contract in Saudi Arabia. Unions across the world, including Australia, have passed resolutions in support of the Palestinian call for an Israeli boycott until the basic demands of the campaign are met. Those demands are that Israel:
- End the occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands and dismantle the apartheid wall;
- Recognise the fundamental rights of the Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
- Respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
Last year the La Trobe University Student Union passed a motion supporting BDS. This year we discovered that for orientation day the student union was running a competition in which the prize was a soda machine. SodaStream is an Israeli company that manufactures and distributes home carbonating devices and flavourings for soft drinks. That sounds harmless enough, but its main plant is located in the industrial zone of Mishor Edomim. an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Kav LaOved, an NGO committed to protecting the rights of disadvantaged workers in Israeli companies, has reported that SodaStream factory workers, in particular Palestinians, are paid less than half the legal minimum wage. It has described the factory as ‘one of the worst’ in terms of working conditions, with employees being fired if they complain.
Students for Palestine (SFP), a network of university activist groups formed in the wake of Israel’s invasion of Gaza in late 2008, which has supported the BDS campaign for a number of years, was outraged to discover that the student union was offering a SodaStream machine as a prize. Several students from SFP approached the student union about this product being on the BDS boycott list and argued that giving it away would be in violation to the motion passed by the student council.
After much argument, the student union removed the SodaStream machine as a prize. This is the first victory for the BDS campaign this year. It is a lesson to keep our eyes open for this sort of thing happening on campuses, making sure that we all take motions to student councils for student union support of BDS.
This win for solidarity with Palestine at La Trobe University shows that no fight is too small. If we had chosen to ignore this incident, we would not have made any advance in the BDS campaign, which is working towards ending the terror that Palestinians live under. Free Palestine!