Yesterday on Twitter, foreign-affairs writer Armin Rosen engaged other Mideast watchers in the reason American officials call Jewish settlements “illegitimate” instead of “illegal.” It’s the sort of distinction that ought to be common knowledge–judging their legality would preempt final-status talks in contravention of the various agreements already reached–but isn’t. And amid the controversy over SodaStream, it was also a good reminder of just how loaded such language becomes when applied to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Evelyn touched on this subject earlier, on the hypocrisy of those who designate themselves pro-Palestinian by demanding that hundreds of Palestinians lose their jobs, benefits, and professional connections, especially since they go against the express wishes of actual Palestinians, for whom they claim to speak. But the whole issue is littered with loaded and Orwellian language. Put aside the opinion pieces, for a moment, since they are by writers who seek openly to claim language for their side. It can be more interesting to watch the “reporting,” which claims neutrality and is anything but.
The New York Times is usually the place to go for this sort of journalism, and the paper’s story doesn’t disappoint. Of the SodaStream controversy, the Times tells us:
The factory is in Mishor Adumim, an industrial zone attached to the large, urban settlement of Maale Adumim in the beige hills east of Jerusalem. Israel views the territory that it captured from Jordan in the 1967 war as disputed and says it intends to keep Maale Adumim under any peace deal with the Palestinians.
A common complaint from the pro-Israel side is that Israeli claims are identified as such while Palestinian claims are not subject to the qualifications and caveats so prevalent in coverage of Israeli statements. Of course the territory captured from Jordan is disputed. Israel keeping Maale Adumim is treated here as a demand (or even a threat) by Israel. But past parameters of the peace process consider Maale Adumim to be retained by Israel. Thus, not only is the land obviously disputed, but Israel is given greater claim to the city in question.
Worse, however, is the following sentence:
The dispute over the ad, scheduled to air during the Super Bowl on Sunday, has pitted pro-Palestinian activists against people and groups who support Israel unreservedly.
According to the Times, opponents of the SodaStream factory are self-evidently “pro-Palestinian,” but those who stand against the boycott of the Israeli company are not pro-Israel or supporters of Israel but rather are those who support Israel unreservedly. This is, first of all, flatly false. It isn’t true among Westerners, Israelis, or even Palestinians. Are the Palestinians at SodaStream who oppose the boycott to be considered “unreservedly” pro-Israel? To ask the question is to simultaneously wonder if mainstream reporters and editors have lost their minds.
And that, according to Yaacov Lozowick, is exactly what happens when “otherwise reasonably normal people” confront the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lozowick notes that the SodaStream controversy is causing people to forget what words mean, and explains:
In any other context, worldwide, a private company maintaining a factory in an underdeveloped country so as to take advantage of its lower labor costs would be regarded as a boon for the hosting country (if perhaps not for the rich country the factory had previously been in). Sodastream, however, isn’t paying hundreds of Palestinian workers what they’d get from a Palestinian employer. It’s paying the Palestinian laborers Israeli wages, with the social benifits mandated by Israeli law.
Nobody lives in the Sodastream factory: it’s a factory. If ever there is peace between Israel and Palestine, Israeli owned factories in Palestine employing Palestinians is precisely the sort of thing everyone should be wishing for. Not for the “soft” advantages of people working alongside one another, which is the kind of thing one can’t easily measure: for the “hard”, quantifiable advantage of employment and foreign curreny.
In any other context, this is called FDI (foriegn direct investment) and is eagerly sought by politicians and toted up by economists. When it comes to Israel-Palestine, however, normal discourse goes silent.
And indeed, this is a point made by SodaStream’s CEO Daniel Birnbaum:
Unlike the question of Israeli homes in a foreign entity, he noted, there’s already ample precedent for Israeli-owned factories operating in foreign areas.
Birnbaum’s advisor, Maurice Silber, said that within the company “everybody is against the occupation.” But it does not follow, he said, that because SodaStream operates in an occupied area, it violates human rights. Eventually, he said, SodaStream could become the “seed of the future Palestinian economy.”
The company is “against the occupation,” will happily stay in a Palestinian state and pay taxes to the Palestinian government, and would like to jumpstart the process by providing a jolt to the Palestinian economy. It’s a move and a mindset that would be celebrated were the company not owned by Israeli Jews. Nonetheless, the fact that Israel’s enemies must torture and distort everyday language just to attempt to make their case says a lot about how an honest rendering of the facts favors Israel’s moral standing.