French government partners with Israeli settlement profiteer

A store display in the Shufersal Deal store in Gilo, a settlement in the occupied West Bank, on 2 February, stated that a promotion by the Israeli supermarket chain is a “partnership with the Embassy of France.”

The French government is giving high-profile backing to an Israeli company that profits from settlements built on occupied Palestinian and Syrian land in violation of international law.

This month, Israel’s biggest supermarket chain Shufersal is sponsoring So French So Food, which it bills as a “Festival of scents and flavors from France.”

The event is co-organized by the Institut Français, the French government’s cultural arm, and Shufersal. It is also sponsored by the city of Toulouse.

During the month, Shufersal is heavily promoting French products in its stores.

Shufersal’s marketing materials and store displays for So French So Food state that the campaign is a partnership with the French embassy.

The Electronic Intifada has confirmed that these displays are being used in Shufersal stores in West Bank settlements.

The promotion will also bring more than two dozen French chefs and artisans to Israel. It aims to help French companies, whose executives will travel to Israel as part of the event, to export their goods.

But by backing this initiative, the French government will also help boost the profits of a company that operates extensively in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights.

Settlement profiteer

On its website, Shufersal lists store locations in the West Bank settlements of Ariel, Maaleh Adumim, Gilo and in the Gush Etzion bloc.

A banner posted on Facebook by Shufersal, an Israeli supermarket chain with extensive business in settlements, advertising the So French So Food festival “in partnership with the Embassy of France.”

According to the research group Who Profits, one of Shufersal’s convenience store chains, Yesh, has branches in a number of other settlements.

Shufersal also distributes products manufactured in West Bank settlements under its own brand. These include goods from the settlements of Imanuel, Mishor Adumim and the Barkan Industrial Zone.

In May 2015, Shufersal launched its own line of branded dairy products manufactured in a settlement in Syria’s Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, according to Who Profits.

Photos taken by an Israeli citizen this week and provided to The Electronic Intifada, prove that the France-backed promotion is taking place inside West Bank settlements built in violation of international law.

The images show store displays in the Shufersal Deal store at 17 Tsviya ve Yitzhak Street in Gilo that explicitly state that the promotion is a “partnership with the Embassy of France.”

Contradicting French policy

A French diplomatic source told The Electronic Intifada that the “partnership between the French embassy in Israel and Shufersal exclusively concerns the promotion, in Israel, of French products and of our gastronomy, on the occasion of the French gastronomy week.”

“It certainly does not constitute a support of colonization, a subject on which the French position is clear and constant,” the source added.

The fact is, however, that the promotion is taking place inside West Bank settlements, which France does not consider to be “in Israel.”

France was one of the leading forces behind the recently announced European Union requirement that settlement goods no longer be labeled “Made in Israel.”

And while the French government’s rhetoric says one thing, its promotion of a major settlement profiteer would appear to violate its own longstanding policies, as well as constituting an endorsement of Israel’s gross violations of Palestinian rights.

In 2014, France warned its citizens and companies against doing business with Israeli settlements in occupied territories. The government said that firms could face legal action tied to “land, water, mineral and other natural resources” as well as “reputational risks.”

Indeed, the French companies that are participating in the So French So Food promotion might find that their reputations suffer as well – but as a result of the French government’s actions.

They include advertising firm JCDecaux, French vodka brand Grey Goose and Toulouse chocolatiers Bello & Angeli, among others.

“Profiting from Israel’s theft”

In a landmark report last month, Human Rights Watch called on all corporations to completely end their business activities in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem.

“Settlement businesses unavoidably contribute to Israeli policies that dispossess and harshly discriminate against Palestinians, while profiting from Israel’s theft of Palestinian land and other resources,” Arvind Ganesan, the director of the business and human rights division at the New York-based group, said. “The only way for businesses to comply with their own human rights responsibilities is to stop working with and in Israeli settlements.”

According to Human Rights Watch, companies like Shufersal are fundamental to the settlement enterprise: they make the settlements more viable by providing jobs, paying taxes to settlement municipalities and by providing services and infrastructure to settlers.

Over the last two years, a number of international pension funds have divested completely from five major Israeli banks, because of their activities supporting Israeli settlements.

These decisions are significant because they establish the precedent that the banks’ settlement-related business cannot be separated from their other activities.

The same case can be made regarding Shufersal, which operates a network and supply chain that fully integrates its settlement-based retail and manufacturing activities. Therefore, by promoting and partnering with Shufersal, the French government is complicit in the settlements it claims to oppose.

In its report, Human Rights Watch also called for government sanctions on Israel over the settlements.

But the French government appears to be heading in the other direction.

While smearing, threatening and repressing its own citizens who advocate for Palestinian rights, France is embracing a major settlement profiteer in the name of the French people.