Dining Services 'Mistakenly' Factored Politics into SodaStream Decision, Spokesperson Says

UPDATED: Dec. 18, 2014, at 11:28 p.m.

In the face of criticism over a spring decision to suspend purchases from an Israeli soda water company with a presence in the West Bank, a Harvard University Dining Services spokesperson wrote in a statement Thursday that HUDS  “mistakenly factored political concerns” into the controversial decision.

“As the President and Provost have made clear, our procurement decisions should not be driven by community members’ views on matters of political controversy,” HUDS spokesperson Crista Martin wrote in an email.

Last spring, HUDS suspended its purchase of water machines from soda water company SodaStream, whose primary factory is currently located in the West Bank, following complaints raised by members of the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee and the Harvard Islamic Society that the appliances could offend Palestinian students.

University President Drew G. Faust requested an investigation into the decision in response to learning of the decision to suspend purchases of the machines from The Crimson this week, and Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 wrote a statement reiterating the University’s stance against basing purchasing decisions on political considerations.

“Harvard University's procurement decisions should not and will not be driven by individuals' views of highly contested matters of political controversy,” Garber wrote Wednesday in an email. “If this policy is not currently known or understood in some parts of the University, that will be rectified now."

In the past, Faust has argued against using Harvard’s endowment for political purposes in issues such as divesting from fossil fuel companies.

This is not the first time that HUDS has made purchasing decisions in response to political concerns. In 2013, the dining service stopped serving Barilla pasta after the company’s chairperson told an Italian radio station that the company would not feature gay families in its advertising.

Andrew W. Schutts ’16, a member of the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee, expressed disappointment with HUDS’ statement Thursday, writing in an email that he was “devastated that HUDS has rejected the progress that was made last semester” on the SodaStream issue.

“A lot of people maybe think it’s just a soda machine, it’s not a huge deal, it shouldn’t be politicized, but for a lot of students at Harvard, this is a huge deal that’s significantly related to their experience at the University,” he added.

Still, earlier Thursday, students from several Jewish and pro-Israel organizations criticized HUDS’ original decision to suspend purchases from SodaStream, arguing that their groups had been left out of the decision-making process.

“Our main reaction was frustration, or I guess disappointment, over the fact that we were not included in the conversation that had happened, even though it is an issue that is close to our hearts,” said Samuel M. Fisher ’15, the outgoing president of Harvard Hillel.

—Check TheCrimson.com for updates.

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at meg.bernhard@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @Meg_Bernhard.

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