(JTA) – A New Zealand professor riled the local Jewish community by comparing Israel’s SodaStream to a German company that used Jewish slave labor during World War II.
In a letter to New Zealand’s Waikato Times on Nov. 28, University of Auckland sociology professor Scott Poynting equated the Israeli firm, which employed Palestinians, with IG Farben, which exploited Jews in the Monowitz concentration camp in the early 1940s.
“Thank you for explaining in your article how SodaStream generously provided work for Palestinians (Waikato Times, November 26). I understand that IG Farben provided work for large numbers of Jews. Not that I have anything against Germans, mind you,” Poynting wrote.
Two rebuttals to Poynting’s note were published in the Waikato Times a few weeks later.
David Zwartz, former head of the New Zealand Jewish Council, wrote that it was an example of “Holocaust inversion” that “trivializes” the genocide.
“The German [company] employed slave labor at Auschwitz to manufacture synthetic petrol and rubber during World War II. The Israeli one makes soda syphons, pays its Palestinian workers double common wages, and provides medicare,” Zwartz wrote.
The second published response came from Paul Moon, a history professor at the Auckland University of Technology.
“Not only was the historical context of the analogy faulty, but the tacit reference to the millions of Jews killed during the era of the Third Reich was appalling,” Moon wrote.
University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon released a letter apologizing for the “considerable distress” caused by Poynting’s letter, the news website Stuff reported. McCutcheon noted: “Professor Poynting’s appointment with the University of Auckland concludes on 30 June 2016.”
Poynting was already set to retire in June. New Zealand’s Tertiary Education Union said that Poynting was not “speaking as an academic” in the letter.
The New Zealand Jewish Council released a statement expressing disappointment with the way the University of Auckland handled the situation.
“The New Zealand Jewish Council would have expected the University of Auckland to publicly distance itself from the views of Professor Poynting, as other universities have done in similar situations,” council chairman Geoff Levy and president Stephen Goodman wrote.
According to his profile on the university website, Poynting’s academic interests include the study of “‘Othering’ of Muslims in the ‘West’ since 9/11,” “Islamophobic Hate Crime” and “State Crime.”
Over 500 Palestinian workers lost their jobs when SodaStream last year moved one of its factories from the West Bank to Israel’s Negev amid a campaign by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.