SodaStream International, the Israeli manufacturer of sparkling water makers, is offering jobs to 1,000 Syrian refugees in its newly opened plant in the southern Israeli town of Rahat.
SodaStream and Rahat can absorb 1,000 individuals, or up to 200 families, and provide them with an opportunity to build a new life in Israel, pending Israeli authorities' approval, according to a news release issued by the company.
Israeli authorities are unlikely to grant approval to such an initiative, given that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected all the proposals brought up for Israel to take in Syrian refugees.
SodaStream made international headlines last year after being targeted by the international boycott movement for operating a plant in the West Bank. Despite claims that it was providing work for hundreds of Palestinians and promoting co-existence with Jews and Arab working there together, the company eventually gave in to pressure and moved its facility out of the West Bank. Actress Scarlett Johannson was hired by the manufacturer as a presenter in an international damage control campaign.
"It's hard not to see this plan as part of the company's efforts to improve its image," wrote the financial daily Calcalist on Sunday. In response to a question by the paper, SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum said the announcement was designed to put pressure on the government to rethink its stance on offering asylum to Syrian refugees.
"As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I refuse to stand by and observe this human tragedy unfold right across the border in Syria," Birnbaum was quoted as saying in the news release. "Just as we have always done our best to help our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the West Bank, the time has come for local business and municipal leaders to address the Syrian humanitarian crisis and take the initiative to help those in need. We cannot expect our politicians to bear the entire burden of providing aid for the refugees."
Rahat is a city of 55,000 and the largest Bedouin city in the world. Some 30% of the 1,100 workers in SodaStream's nearby factory are residents of the town.
"We enjoy a progressive, urban lifestyle in Rahat; however, we haven't abandoned our culture and our tribal traditions," said Rahat Mayor Talal Al-Krenawi in the SodaStream news release. "Human dignity and hospitality are core values in our culture and we will not allow indifference to the suffering of others. In this first stage, we will be able to receive 1,000 refugees, and then through ongoing collaboration with SodaStream, we plan to help more. Our hope is that the government will then support our joint effort."