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Harvard Dining Services Suspends Business With SodaStream

The April decision was reported this week by the Harvard Crimson

by
Marina Bolotnikova
December 18, 2014
Harvard Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. (Wikimedia Commons)

Harvard Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. (Wikimedia Commons)

Harvard University Dining Services is under fire for its decision to quietly stop doing business with SodaStream, an Israeli company that currently operates in the West Bank, earlier this year.

Members of the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee expressed concerns last fall that SodaStream water dispensers in some Harvard dining halls could be offensive to students in light of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has mobilized activists on campus. Following meetings with the students and university administrators, the University’s dining services, known as HUDS, which serves the majority of Harvard undergraduates, decided in April that it would no longer purchase equipment from the company.

The rest of the Harvard community didn’t find out until Wednesday, when The Harvard Crimson, Harvard’s campus newspaper, reported the change. Harvard President Drew Faust was unaware of the policy before The Crimson’s report, and has requested a university investigation into the decision.

Harvard Hillel is working on an official response to the decision, Harvard Hillel Undergraduate President Sam Fisher wrote in an email. HUDS Managing Director David Davidson could not be reached for comment Thursday morning.

Jewish students at Harvard have raised eyebrows not just at the decision, but also at how it was made—quietly, with little input from the Harvard community other than the students who had raised concerns about SodaStream. Students reported having no knowledge of the talks or the decision until it was publicized in The Crimson this week, more than eight months later.

Certainly, HUDS has no obligation to conduct a referendum on student opinion before making purchasing decisions. But if its goal was to avoid alienating students with a stake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, suspending ties with an Israeli company on political grounds would likely only make matters worse. Intentionally or not, HUDS’ decision falls squarely within the controversial Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.

The SodaStream decision seems particularly incongruous considering Harvard’s resistance to boycotts of Israel in past, like President Faust’s condemnation of the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli universities. It’s also difficult to explain HUDS’ decision given SodaStream’s October announcement that it would move its main factory from a West Bank settlement to a city in Southern Israel by mid-2015.

Following a statement from University Provost Alan Garber Wednesday that Harvard’s purchases “will not be driven by…highly contested matters of political controversy,” though, it appears the SodaStream suspension may not last much longer.

Marina Bolotnikova is a recent graduate of Harvard College and an editorial writer for The Toledo Blade. Follow her on Twitter @mbolotnikova.

Marina Bolotnikova is a recent graduate of Harvard College and an editorial writer for The Toledo Blade. Follow her on Twitter @mbolotnikova.

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