Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) had stopped buying soda machines and water fountains made in Israel — the equipment was used in the school's cafeterias, but was eliminated based on the ongoing battle between Israel and Palestine. Harvard's administration, however, strongly disagreed with this decision, according to Steve Annear of the Boston Daily, and has reversed the ban.
"Harvard University's procurement decisions should not and will not be driven by individuals' views of highly contested matters of political controversy," Harvard Provost Alan M. Garber said in a statement sent to Boston. "If this policy is not currently known or understood in some parts of the University, that will be rectified now."
The confusion began when HUDS officials made an agreement to discontinue purchasing products from a vendor that had recently been acquired by SodaStream, which is located in the West Bank, a part of Israel and home to millions of Palestinians and the center of ongoing conflict. The carbonation machines have been a target of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) because of its manufacturing plant in the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim.
As reported in The Crimson, student members of the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee and the Harvard Islamic Society told HUDS that some undergraduates might be offended by the machines from SodaStream. At that point, the business relationship between HUDS and the manufacturers was ended.
However, when the article was published in The Crimson, HUDS reversed its decision.
"As President Faust has indicated to members of the Harvard community who have made inquiries, she and I both learned of this issue from today's Crimson," Garber said in a statement. "She has asked staff to get to the bottom of how these conversations started, and to learn more about where matters currently stand."
HUDS spokesperson Crista Martin admitted that their procurement decisions should not have been made based on matters of political controversy. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz wrote in an op-ed article for the Jerusalem Post arguing that students should have boycotted the use of the machines rather than calling for an end to business between HUDS and SodaStream, adding that economic boycotts should be limited only to use against "the most egregious violations of human rights."
SodaStream has moved its location following protests, but says the move is "purely commercial." SodaStream will be located inside Israel and retain its employees, although, when their jobs are relocated they will face 60 mile commutes, reports Fox News.
"We are offering all employees the opportunity to join us in Lehavim and, specifically, we are working with the Israeli government to secure work permits for our Palestinian employees," SodaStream Chief Executive Daniel Birnbaum said.
The controversy became more visible when celebrity Scarlett Johansson was pushed to choose between her endorsement of the company and her position with Oxfam International, a "humanitarian aid organization." Johansson went with SodaStream and defended the company's record of employing Palestinians, reports Fox News.
This is not the first time that Harvard's dining hall has taken a political stand. In 2013, HUDS stopped purchasing Barilla pasta after the company vowed never to use gay families in its ads. Because of the Barilla incident, a Palestinian Solidarity Committee spokesperson called the reversal of the SodaStream controversy "contradictory." Gail Sullivan, writing for The Washington Post, says SodaStream is one of the largest employers of Palestinians with about 900 workers. These workers may lose their jobs because of the move.
The West Bank unemployment rate is estimated at 22%.