When SodaStream was looking for somewhere to open the UK’s first EcoStream store, dispensing ethically sourced food, drink and cleaning products into customers’ own bottles and jars, Brighton must have seemed the obvious place. The city is famous, after all, for ethical consumption of all kinds, and elected Britain’s first and only Green MP.
What they may not have considered, however, is that Brighton is also the kind of place where people know that SodaStream’s headquarters are in Israel, and that their factory at Mishor Adumim is built on illegally occupied West Bank land. As a result, every Saturday afternoon for more than a year now, the shoppers on Western Road have been able to witness an ethical-consuming protest against an ethical-consuming shop – and latterly a protest against that protest too, from pro-Israel activists including Julie Burchill and Chelsea Fox, a drag artist who likes to dress up as Grace Jones.
From a distance, the combined fluttering of their large Israeli and Palestinian flags looks like a statement of unity, but this is an uneasy standoff. There have already been arrests and prosecutions. “SodaStream likes to portray itself as an ethical company, environmentally,” says Russell from the Brighton and Hove Palestine Solidarity Campaign (BHSPC), which began the protests. “But there is, shall we say, an irony in a so-called ethical company operating out of illegal settlements.” Those on the pro-Israel side, needless to say, don’t agree. “The allegations they make about the shop are complete lies,” says Daniel Laurence Matthews. “A lot of people passing say: ‘It’s about time. It’s good to see someone standing up for Israel.'”
Except I get the feeling that on Saturdays most people are doing exactly that – passing, and not going in. Inside the shop there are tanks full of extra virgin olive oil and raspberry vinegar, an array of Ecover products, a whole wall of smart new SodaStreams … and no civilian customers at all. There’s also a security guard on the door. At least he’s making money.
For their part, SodaStream won’t budge. “We do not seek confrontation but we will not close the shop in Brighton,” chief executive Daniel Birnbaum told the Brighton Argus. Birnbaum cites the 442 Palestinians and 237 Israeli Arabs that the company employs at Mishor Adumim, with healthcare and salaries triple the national average.
Nevertheless, on a wheelie bin out front, I think I spot some hope: rival flags stand crossed with each other. According to Barry from the BHPSC, the Israeli flag is even being held up with Palestinian elastic. It seems good of them to allow this compromise. “We haven’t,” he says. “But the police won’t let us take their flag down.”
SodaStream: the Israeli-run shop dividing Brighton