Ecostream: This is a betrayal - Israeli firm would not take on boycotters

By Jonathan Goldberg, July 10, 2014
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Whatever doubts some may have had about the viability of opening a shop in Brighton in 2012 to sell their products, it was refreshing to hear assurances from the SodaStream management at the time that "we have no intention either to be the next Ahava in the UK or to close our store - we will not back down".

How depressing, then, that less than two years later they have done exactly that, and without putting up any proper fight.

The forces of the BDS movement, of course, busily picketed the shop and organised noisy demonstrations from the day it opened.

Counter-demonstrations were vigorously maintained by Sussex Friends of Israel, consisting mainly of idealistic young Jewish people. There was a great deal of noise and excitement around the shop over this period, some bloody noses, and some police prosecutions against both sides for offending against the Public Order Acts.

What deserves to be more widely known is this: at an early stage, SodaStream were told by the organisation of which I am a director, the UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI), headed by barrister Jonathan Turner, that they had an excellent case to obtain a civil injunction and an exclusion zone from the High Court to prevent the demonstrators from disrupting their business.

The precedent was Oxford University, which in a series of important cases between 2004 and 2006, had obtained such injunctions against animal rights protestors who tried to prevent the university from building a medical testing laboratory.

Apparently on no better ground than wanting to avoid the legal costs, however, SodaStream did nothing and let the demonstrations continue. The result is the disaster which is now apparent to all.

They have let us all down. The BDS people are crowing all over the press and internet about their victory. It is a defeat for Zionism and Israel, and in my view, a betrayal of those young people who trooped there loyally to counter-demonstrate.

What Israeli shop will dare open in the UK again, after first Ahava - the beauty product store that closed in London in 2011 after boycott protests - and now SodaStream?

Nor does the Israeli embassy emerge from this saga with any credit. Would it have been too much to expect, particularly after Ahava, that they would have had in place a top-notch UK legal team ready to protect Israeli businesses? In fact, they were no help at all.

It was left to us at the UKLFI to do our limited best, and we were ignored. The English common law would have provided the remedy had it been invoked, as it should have been. It was all so predictable, and, gallingly, it was all so avoidable.

Jonathan Goldberg QC is a leading London barrister

Last updated: 6:45pm, July 10 2014