Harvard caterer: Politics affected decision to stop buying SodaStream

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — Harvard University Dining Services admitted it made a mistake in deciding to stop buying SodaStream equipment.

In a statement e-mailed Thursday to the student newspaper, The Crimson, dining services spokesperson Crista Martin said the service “mistakenly factored political concerns” into its 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,” Martin said.

The dining service agreed to remove SodaStream labels on existing water machines and purchase new ones from American companies after meeting in April with members of the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee and the Harvard Islamic Society, according to a report last week in The Crimson.

At the April meeting, the students expressed their discomfort with the SodaStream machines and the “potential of the machines to offend those affected by the Israel-Palestine conflict,” according to the newspaper.

After the article appeared last week, Harvard President Drew Faust requested an investigation into the decision by the university’s dining service.

“Harvard University’s procurement decisions should not and will not be driven by individuals’ views of highly contested matters of political controversy,” University Provost Alan Garber wrote in an emailed statement to the Crimson last week. “If this policy is not currently known or understood in some parts of the University, that will be rectified now.”

SodaStream has long come under fire for producing its popular line of of home carbonation machines in a factory in the West Bank. In October, the company announced it would close that factory and move it to Lehavim, in southern Israel. The move is expected to be completed by the end of 2015.

About 1,100 employees work in the West Bank plant, including 850 Arab-Israelis and Palestinians. Many of them could lose their jobs in the move.

In an op-ed published in the Crimson, Harvard professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz called for a “full and open discussion by the entire university community, including students, faculty, alumni and administration” on the subject of boycotting Israeli products.

“The decision of the HUDS must be rescinded immediately and a process should be instituted for discussing this issue openly with all points of view and all members of the university community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,” Dershowitz wrote.