Boycott roundup: Ahava products off the shelves, for now

Boycott activists protest the sale of Ahava products at a US store (Steve Rhodes).

Canadian and United Kingdom solidarity activists have scored recent victories towards deshelving cosmetics made in an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East (CPJME) reported that on 11 January, Canadian retail chain The Bay dropped Ahava products from its stores. Ahava cosmetic products are made from materials from the Dead Sea in the West Bank, assembled in the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Shalem, and are labeled “made in Israel.”

The company itself is partially owned by Mitzpe Shalem and another settlement, Kalia. An international campaign focusing on the boycott of Ahava products has been making waves across Europe and North America over the last two years.

CPJME stated that The Bay dropped Ahava products because they had not “been meeting expectations,” and that the company had “quietly informed” its customers who had objected to the store stocking Ahava products that they would not continue to do so (“The Bay drops controversial AHAVA products,” 13 January 2011).

However, two days later, The Bay (known also as HBC), issued a joint statement with Canada-based Jewish groups who had immediately protested the retail chain’s decision. The move to drop Ahava products was “solely for commercial reasons,” and that “at no point did political considerations enter into” the decision, the statement claims (“The Bay drops Ahava, but not because of boycott,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency,” 14 January 2011).

The announcement adds that Ahava products will be rebranded and will be back on shelves across Canada by this spring. The Bay “neither subscribes to nor endorses politically-motivated boycotts of merchandise from countries with which Canada has open and established trading relationships, including Israel,” the statement says.

The Stolen Beauty campaign, which has been a key organizer of international boycotts of Ahava products, released an action alert this week encouraging boycott supporters to thank HBC, regardless of its future plans and reasons for stopping its sales of Ahava. “Your message of thanks is crucial as right-wing, pro-occupation groups berate and pressure The Bay to reinstate sales of Ahava,” the alert stated (“Thank you for dropping Ahava products!”).

Nevertheless, The Bay’s decision followed a similar move by British retail chain John Lewis, which had publicly announced on 7 January that it has stopped stocking and selling Ahava products.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign issued a press release welcoming John Lewis’ decision, and reprinted part of a letter drafted by the company to the activist group (“John Lewis stops stocking Ahava products in Britain,” 14 January 2011).

Andy Street, John Lewis’ managing director, wrote: “As a socially responsible retailer, John Lewis takes very seriously the treatment of workers and their working conditions. We expect all our suppliers not only to obey the law, but also to respect the rights, interests and well-being of their employees, their communities and the environment … In relation to your specific enquiry about Ahava Dead Sea products, I can confirm that John Lewis has ceased stocking these particular products.”

Sarah Colborne, director of operations with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, stated that Ahava and other companies that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation are being sent a clear message by consumers.

“Although governments, including our own, are failing to end Israel’s violations of international law and human rights, we can all take action by refusing to buy Israeli goods and joining the movement for [boycott, divestment and sanctions],” Colborne said. “The [Palestine Solidarity Campaign] will continue to ensure that companies which profit from Israel’s occupation pay the price for their complicity in Israel’s crimes.”

Meanwhile, across the world, solidarity activists continue to campaign with the Palestinian-led call for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Ireland artist join boycott pledge

The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) announced that two hundred Irish artists have signed onto its Israel boycott pledge, with singer-songwriter Dylan Walshe joining as the latest signatory.

IPSC launched its national campaign in August 2010 in an effort to encourage Irish cultural workers to “avail of any invitation to perform or exhibit in Israel, nor to accept any funding from any institution linked to the government of Israel, until such time as Israel complies with international law and universal principles of human rights (“Irish artists’ pledge to boycott Israel reaches 200 signatories,” 13 January 2011).”

Walshe joins high-profile Irish artists who have committed to the boycott, such as actor Stephen Rea and musician Christy Moore. Raymond Deane, IPSC Cultural Boycott Officer and contributor to The Electronic Intifada, stated in the press release that “[a]s the Israeli state becomes ever more racist, expansionist and oppressive, we have seen the growth in its isolation by international civil society through the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”

Deane, who is also a composer and himself a signatory to the pledge, added, “[t]he success of this boycott pledge is indicative of wider feelings toward Israel, both in Ireland and around the world. Indeed, similar pledges and initiatives are being organized in many other countries.”

Boycott of Israel Philharmonic’s US tour urged

Palestine-based activists with the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) issued a statement on 16 January calling for US solidarity groups to boycott the upcoming American tour of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, scheduled for February (“Boycott the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra on its US Tour!,” 16 January 2011).

PACBI said the orchestra is scheduled to perform in Palm Beach, New York, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. “We urge activists to continue the principled tradition of activists in New York and Los Angeles in 2007, when they protested the [orchestra’s] appearance in their cities,” states the press release.

“As befits an institution that identifies with the Israeli state, the [Israel Philharmonic] proudly announces its partnership with the army under a scheme whereby special concerts for Israeli soldiers are organized at their army outposts,” PACBI adds. “The orchestra has lent itself to the official Israeli propaganda campaign titled Brand Israel, which aims to divert attention from Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights to its artistic and scientific achievements.”

PACBI encourages boycott activists in the US to protest and boycott the orchestra’s concerts, saying that as long as it continues to partner with the Israeli government in “planning, implementing and whitewashing war crimes and international law violations,” Israel’s cultural establishment “cannot be exempted from the growing boycott movement.”

Israeli activists initiate boycott campaigns

Activists with the Israeli group Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call From Within (BFW) drafted a letter to British Telecom (BT) on 18 January, calling for the company to cut ties with the Israeli telecommunications company Bezeq International (“Boycott From Within’s letter to BT,” 18 January 2011).

In January 2010, BT incorporated Bezeq International, a subsidiary of Bezeq Israel, into its Global Alliance. The Bezeq corporation provides telecommunication services to illegal Israeli settlement colonies in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Thousands of British customers of BT have already joined a campaign calling for the companies to cut ties.

“We are saddened and dismayed by your company’s complicity in severe breaches of international law and the violation of human rights through your relationship with Bezeq International, and call on you to end this relationship at once,” states the activists’ letter. “By partnering with Bezeq, [British Telecom] is supporting the infrastructure which enables illegal Israeli settlements, built in violation of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, to exist,” the letter adds.

“We maintain that such willful blindness to Israeli crimes is not only immoral, but is also in contrast to [British Telecom’s] fiduciary responsibility to its investors, as it may put the company’s high-regard in the international community at risk.”

Meanwhile, BFW activists say they helped play a key role in the recent decision by French pop star Vanessa Paradis to cancel a planned concert in Tel Aviv.

After the group drafted a letter urging Paradis and her partner, American film icon Johnny Depp, to cancel their upcoming visit, the singer announced on 15 January that her performance was cancelled.

The Israeli daily Haaretz reported that insiders close to the star claimed that Paradis “acceded to calls to cancel the show made by Palestinian solidarity groups” (“Did pop star Paradis cancel Israel concert over politics?,” 16 January 2011).

BFW activists have launched a similar campaign directed at American singer Macy Gray, who this week posted on her Facebook page that she was considering canceling her performance in Tel Aviv due to Israel’s “disgusting” treatment of Palestinians.

“I’m getting alot [sic] of letters from activists urging/begging me to boycott by NOT performing in protest of Apartheid against the Palestinians,” Gray posted on her page.

Activists with BFW stated that “[c]oming to perform in Israel has become a political act, a statement of support for the State of Israel’s ongoing crimes and human rights violations. It is also an act against a rapidly growing nonviolent, human-rights based civil society Palestinian movement (“Macy Gray, Performing in Israel is Already Political - Stand for Human Rights and Cancel!”).”