Growing up in Israel in the 1980s, Coca-Cola was the beverage of the everyday. Coke was what you reached for when you got back home from school. It was what you were served with Shabbat dinner. It was synonymous with soda, second only to water in the pantheon of drink. But it wasn’t what we yearned for: That honor was reserved for Pepsi.
Except for those of us fortunate enough to travel abroad, none of us had ever tasted Pepsi, as the company, succumbing to the Arab League’s boycott of Israel, did not make its goods available in the Jewish state. Absence made the heart grow fonder: Pepsi, we told each other in hushed voices over recess sometime in the fourth or fifth or sixth grade, was so much better than Coke. Like all mythical creatures, it was comfortably both one thing and its diametrical opposite: Sweet and not-so-sweet, bubblier and flatter, richer in sugar and, somehow, healthier for you. One lucky friend, whisked away to London for a week one summer break, even brought back an empty can he’d enjoyed while abroad, placing it on his desk the way big game hunters mount their trophies.
Then came 1992, when, following the Madrid peace conference a year earlier, Pepsi magically appeared in our quarters. It was promoted by an ad campaign that featured the evolution of the species, from Cro-Magnon man to Homo erectus to Homo Pepsicus, that proudest and most evolved of creatures, never in doubt as for what to drink. Pepsi, the ads confidently declared, was the choice of a new generation. And, for a while, it was.
To the surprise of no one who had ever sipped from the red, white, and blue can, Pepsi turned out to be no magical elixir. When the allure of the forbidden wore off, most of us reached right back for our Cokes, giving no more thought to the boycott and its impact on our lives.
Until this week, that is: Learning that PepsiCo had agreed to purchase Israel’s SodaStream for $3.2 billion brought a huge smile to my face. SodaStream, you may remember, is a constant target of the BDS movement, and Israel’s detractors have been hounding the company for years. Scarlett Johansson was ostracized for being the company’s spokesperson, and, in 2015, SodaStream was forced to shut down its factory in Mishor Adumim, which the BDS inquisitors hailed as a victory but which did little but cost a few hundred Palestinians their well-paying jobs.
Now, 26 years after its own experiment with economic censure failed spectacularly, Pepsi delivered another blow to advocates of boycotting Israel by paying a mint for one of the companies said boycotters revile the most. We’ve come full circle, another useful reminder that ingenuity and industriousness will always triumph over the angry shouts of narrow-minded bigots who have nothing to offer the world but their impotent, malicious wrath.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.