Scan the brightly-colored tubes and pots of face creams, shampoos and other products labeled “Yes to Carrots” and you’ll find no mention of “Israel.”
But that wasn’t always the case. The cosmetics – found in drug stores across the United States and in two dozen other countries – used to be clearly marked “Made in Israel.”
Indeed, just a few years ago the company’s founders were proud of their Israeli roots and the fact that their products were made in the Negev (Naqab) region town of Arad using Israeli organically-grown carrots and mud from the Dead Sea.
Now, however, the company, Yes To, Inc., which also makes products containing tomato, cucumber and blueberry extracts all under the “Yes To…” brand, claimed in an email:
We did start the company in Israel and quickly moved to the US. We are currently based in San Francisco, which has been great given the large start-up scene here. Currently, all products are manufactured here in the USA.
But how open is Yes To, Inc. really being about its ongoing connections with and manufacturing in Israel?
After The Electronic Intifada made inquiries, the company appears to have hidden relevant information from its website that indicates ongoing production in Israeli-controlled territories including possibly the occupied West Bank.
And is the company’s effort to downplay its ties to Israel an attempt to avoid a consumer boycott as part of the Palestinian campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS)?
“Reasons of Zionism”
“Yes To Carrots” started as a brand manufactured by Sea of Life, an Israeli firm owned by Uri Ben-Hur, that makes cosmetics using Dead Sea mud. In the mid-2000s two Israeli entrepreneurs, Ido Leffler and Lance Kalish bought the brand and partnered with Ben-Hur.
“Excited by the combination of beta Carotene and Dead Sea mud,” the Israeli business publication Globes reported in 2008, “Leffler and Kalish decided to buy the product and build it as a leading brand” (“Carrot power,” Globes, 2 October 2008).
It was clear that Leffler and Kalish were interested in building a global Israeli brand from acts such as sponsoring the Israeli netball team (though the company is now listed on the team’s website as a “previous sponsor”).
After Leffler and Kalish came on the scene, Yes To, Inc. needed funds to meet their ambitious plans. “The company’s original interest was to raise the funding from Israeli institutional investors for reasons of Zionism,” Globes reported.
In the end, the Israeli investment bank Poalim Capital Markets raised $14 million for Yes To, Inc. from US “institutional investors” through its partner William Blair, a US investment bank.
Poalim’s Roy David told Globes that the big Israeli investors weren’t sufficiently visionary: “They didn’t understand what it meant to be a company that was already selling at 6,500 sales points.” David compared Yes To, Inc. to Dead Sea products maker Ahava which, Globes said, “is sold at a few thousand sales points only.”
Ahava is the Israeli Dead Sea cosmetics company that has in recent years become synonymous with increasingly successful boycott actions particularly because of its manufacturing in illegal West Bank settlements and its pillaging of natural resources from occupied Palestinian territories.
From 2006, Globes said, Yes To, Inc. “became an international company,” but all its products were “still made at the original factory in Arad” owned by Uri Ben-Hur.
From Israeli pride to Israeli shame
Despite sending detailed questions to Yes To, Inc. about the company’s relations with Israel, all they sent was the brief statement above. However it is possible to track the company’s gradual effort to erase its Israeli ties from public view.
In October 2008 – around the time of the Globes article – the Yes to Carrots website still proudly declared, “Yes To Carrots™ is headquartered in Tel Aviv, Israel. Our US headquarters are located just north of Chicago in Libertyville, Illinois.”
Today, the website only says, “The Yes To, Inc. headquarters are in gorgeous San Francisco, California, USA.”
In April 2009, the company blog highlighted a testimonial from a customer named “Denise” who spoke about giving a pot of Yes to Carrots cream to her girlfriend:
She was like OOOHHH that smells good! She went on to read the ingredients and was truly impressed. The biggest thing was that from our spiritual perspective, we are glad to support Israel…
So from the company’s point of view, buying its products was to be legitimately seen as a political act. Those are examples of pride in Israel that cannot be found in more recent updates to the website.
Today, for example, the website’s “Our Story” page says almost nothing about the company’s real story – because that would presumably involve mentioning Israel.
Hiding information about source of Dead Sea mud
Although Yes To, Inc. did not respond to The Electronic Intifada’s question about when manufacturing was supposedly moved out of Israel, the company’s representative in New Zealand, Countdown Communications, sent this statement from Lance Kalish in response to inquiries from John Minto of Global Peace and Justice Auckland, in November:
Yes To Inc is incorporated and headquartered in San Francisco in the USA, and majority owned by US private equity firms. All Yes To products have been produced exclusively in the USA since 2010 for Yes To Inc, in facilities in California, Vermont, and New Jersey, and no products are manufactured in Israel. Yes To has also never been the target (to our knowledge) of any political, trade or BDS actions that you refer to, having been distributed throughout the world in over 25 countries for the past 6 years.
Kalish’s statement clearly indicates the company’s awareness of BDS, and that while carrots and cucumbers might sell, Israel doesn’t.
The company did not respond to a follow-up inquiry about where the Dead Sea extracts are sourced from and processed.
The Dead Sea – a lake renowned for its extremely salty and mineral rich water – is bounded on its western shore by the West Bank which was occupied in 1967 and in which Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law, and parts of historic Palestine on which Israel was established in 1948, and on its eastern shore by Jordan.
But shortly after The Electronic Intifada made the inquiry, the “ingredients” page on the company website listing “Dead Sea silt” as an ingredient in several products was removed, now yielding only “Error 404 - Page Not Found.”
Anticipating this, The Electronic Intifada made a screenshot of the full page as it appeared on 20 December 2012, the day the follow-up inquiry was sent.
The Electronic Intifada was able to document numerous other examples of pages on the company website that were scrubbed of references to the “Dead Sea.”
However, not all references have yet been removed. A 27 January 2009 entry on the company blog features a testimonial from a customer called Briana Jackson who wrote:
Anyway, the Dead Sea mud sold me because I’m an ancient history geek and that’s where the Dead Sea Scrolls came from haha.
The Dead Sea Scrolls came from Qumran, a region near the Dead Sea in what is now the occupied West Bank.
The listing of Dead Sea silt or mud is also on product packaging seen and documented by The Electronic Intifada in Chicago-area stores – something that cannot be so easily deleted.
Unless Yes To, Inc., can confirm that it has stopped sourcing and processing Dead Sea minerals in territories controlled by Israel including the occupied West Bank, it is reasonable to assume it continues to do so, and that its statements to The Electronic Intifada and to Minto are inaccurate, and it is attempting to conceal this inaccuracy by hiding information.
Other ties to Israel
The company’s other ongoing ties to Israel also remain murky. Kalish’s statement to Minto said the company is majority owned by US private equity firms, but did not say who the other owners are.
The Sea of Life website claimed on 23 May 2012 that, “Uri Ben Hur have [sic] sold is shares in yes to inc, [sic] the deal will be completed may 30 and will be announced on major American media.”
However, no such grand announcement appears to have been made. So at least until mid-2012, Ben-Hur was a shareholder.
Why Ben-Hur may have sought to sell his shares is also unclear, but his businesses have a history of problems. In June 2011, Ben-Hur’s Arad factory burned down in a nighttime fire.
A search of Israeli legal records indicates that Ben-Hur is the target of legal actions by a number of former business partners for nonpayment of bills.
Ben-Hur was convicted in February 2012 of flagrant violations of labor laws where he required employees to work during their weekly day of rest. He was personally fined almost $7,000 and given the option of 60 days in prison in lieu of payment.
Conference for Israeli occupation profiteers
This is an annual business convention that, “features leaders of significant businesses that were founded in Israel, have R&D operations in Israel, do business in Israel, or represent investors in Israeli companies. Speakers represent the spirit of the inventiveness of the Israel market.”
Two of the Israel Conference’s prominently featured “partners” are none other than Ahava and SodaStream, both subject to international boycott campaigns for among other things manufacturing in Israeli settlements that are illegal under international law.
Other participants have included Raanan Horowitz, the CEO of Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems’ US subsidiary as a “featured speaker.” Elbit Systems makes weapons that have been used in war crimes by Israel against Palestinians –especially in Gaza – and Lebanon, officials of the Israeli government, and representatives of anti-Palestinian advocacy group StandWithUs.
Elbit Systems is also one of the Israeli companies recently dumped by New Zealand’s national pension fund for its role in building the Israeli wall annexing West Bank land, that was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004.
Israel is not good for your skin
Whatever ongoing connections Yes To, Inc. has with Israel that the company is trying to hide, its executives apparently have no problem associating their brand with occupation and war crimes profiteers of all kinds.
It appears as though Yes To, Inc. just won’t say No To Israeli Apartheid, even if the company has moved its headquarters to “gorgeous San Francisco.”
But Yes To, Inc.’s efforts to downplay its Israel ties – and its pre-emptive removal of much, if not all, of its manufacturing to the United States – are indicators of the growing power of the BDS movement and the toxicity of Brand Israel.
With thanks to Dena Shunra for additional research.