I write to commend President Faust’s decision to investigate the unilateral action of the Harvard University Dining Services to boycott SodaStream products.
I have visited the SodaStream factory and spoken to many of its Palestinian-Arab employees, who love working for a company that pays them high wages and provides excellent working conditions. I saw Jews and Muslims, Israeli and Palestinians, working together and producing an excellent product that is both healthy and economical.
The SodaStream factory I visited was in Ma’ale Adumim—a suburb of Jerusalem that Palestinian Authority leaders acknowledge will remain part of Israel in any negotiated resolution of the conflict. I was told this directly by Palestinian president Mohammad Abbas and by former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Accordingly, although the factory is in an area beyond the Armistice lines of 1949, it is not really disputed territory. Nor does it pose any barrier to a two-state solution. Moreover, Israel offered to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians in late 2000 and early 2001 and in 2008, but the Palestinian Authority did not accept either offer. Had these generous offers been accepted, the dispute would have ended and Ma’ale Adumim would have been recognized as part of Israel. So the Palestinian leadership shares responsibility for the continuation of the conflict and the unresolved status of the area in which SodaStream operates. Punishing only Israel—and Israeli companies—for not resolving the conflict serves only to disincentivize the Palestinian Authority from accepting compromise solutions.
The students who sought the boycott of SodaStream invoked human rights. But it is they who are causing the firing of more than 500 Palestinian workers who would like to continue to earn a living at SodaStream. As a result of misguided boycotts, such as the one unilaterally adopted by the Harvard University Dining Services, SodaStream has been forced to move its factory to an area in Israel where few, if any, Arabs can be employed. This is not a victory for human rights. It is a victory for human wrongs.
I have no doubt that some students and other members of the Harvard community may be offended by the presence of SodaStream machines. Let them show their displeasure by not using the machines instead of preventing others who are not offended from obtaining their health benefits. Many students are also offended by their removal. Why should the views of the former prevail over those of the latter? I’m sure that some students are offended by any products made in Israel, just as some are offended by products made in Arab or Muslim countries that oppress gays, Christians and women. Why should the Harvard University Dining Service—or a few handfuls of students— get to decide whose feelings of being offended count and whose don’t?
In addition to the substantive error made by HUDS, there is also an important issue of process. What right does a Harvard University entity have to join the boycott movement against Israel without full and open discussion by the entire university community, including students, faculty, alumni and administration? Even the president and provost were unaware of this divisive decision until they read about it in the Crimson. As Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 wrote, “Harvard University’s procurement decisions should not and will not be driven by individuals’ views of highly contested matters of political controversy.”
Were those who made the boycott decision even aware of the arguments on the other side, such as those listed above? The decision of the HUDS must be rescinded immediately and a process should be instituted for discussing this issue openly with all points of view and all members of the university community represented. The end result should be freedom of choice: those who disapprove of SodaStream should be free to drink Pepsi. But those who don’t disapprove should be free to drink SodaStream.
Alan M. Dershowitz is Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus, at Harvard Law School.