Mass retailers like Nordstrom and Macy’s stock the Ahava skincare line, touting its age-reversing Dead Sea “minerals.” Pro-Palestine advocates aren’t buying, though. They claim that Ahava, which makes its products in the occupied West Bank territory, is flouting international law.
Some women will go to any lengths to enhance or extend the shelf-life of their beauty. But some products have caused an outcry for reforms in the makeup industry over the years, as in the case of animal testing. Similarly, Ahava skincare products — made in the Palestinian-occupied West Bank territory — have been drawn into an ethical controversy involving goods made by Israeli companies.
CODEPINK, a female-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement advocating peaceful protests against militarism and injustice, runs a campaign called Stolen Beauty that specifically targets Ahava.
CODEPINK asserts that Ahava’s products “actually come from stolen Palestinian natural resources … and when you buy Ahava products you help finance the destruction of hope for a peaceful and just future for both Israelis and Palestinians.”
By the assertion of CODEPINK, as well as dozens of international aid groups and academic organizations, including the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, a company like Ahava makes products on Palestinian land that is illegally occupied by the Israeli military. Many such companies employ local Palestinians who are paid lower wages than their Israeli counterparts, and those Palestinian employees have to negotiate a number of checkpoints just to get to work. Peace groups like CODEPINK describe the situation as Apartheid.
“CODEPINK targets Ahava beautify(ing) products because of Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories’ blatant violations of international law,” Nancy Kricorian, CODEPINK’s New York representative and coordinator for the Stolen Beauty Campaign, told MintPress News on Wednesday.
“Ahava’s factory and showroom are located in the illegal settlement of Mitzpe Shalem in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” Kricorian continued. “The settlements of Mitzpe Shalem and Kalia are co-owners of the enterprise and are subsidized by the company’s profit. Ahava labels its goods ‘product of Israel’ when, in fact, they are made in the Occupied West Bank.”
Ahava is also targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) Movement, a composite of various international civil rights groups who lobby for businesses and governments to stop engaging Israel in all forms until the state complies in providing equal rights to Palestinians. They also call for the Israeli government to enforce the cessation of settlement development in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
“Ahava has become the poster child for the evils of Israel’s occupation profiteering,” Kricorian said. “Most times when there is a discussion about Israeli settlement goods, Ahava is mentioned, and many times photos of their products are used for illustration. We know that Ahava is not in profit, we know that they have had difficulty finding recapitalization because of the avalanche of bad publicity they have received because of the national and international boycott campaign.”
Indeed, Ahava has received some bad publicity, but the anti-Ahava advocates have also garnered negative attention for the extremes to which they take their activism.
Last month, Britain’s high court denied an appeal by several pro-Palestinian demonstrators who were previously found guilty of trespassing inside an Ahava store in London, according to a report by the Times of Israel.
“The four were convicted by a district judge in 2011 for chaining themselves to a concrete block inside an Ahava store in Covent Garden,” the Times of Israel reported. “They argued their actions were in protest of Ahava aiding and abetting a war crime, namely illegal settlement construction in the West Bank; that the goods were a product of that war crime; that the company was deceiving British tax authorities by labeling its products as Israeli products, and that the cosmetics were misleading to customers because they were labeled as coming from the ‘Dead Sea, Israel.’”
Kricorian, however, said this wasn’t a setback.
“It is unfortunate that the court upheld the conviction, but the discussion in the courtroom made Ahava’s illegal practices quite clear,” she said. “It was only because Ahava manufactures cosmetics and not munitions that the court found that the blockade of the store was not preventing a greater harm. But the illegality of the company’s practices were not challenged.”
Meanwhile, CODEPINK has been challenging the Israeli lobby in the United States about illegal practices.
On Feb. 25, an anonymous member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), America’s largest pro-Israel lobby, contacted Medea Benjamin, a cofounder of CODEPINK, and “threatened to sue the organization for posting a satirical version of an AIPAC policy conference promotional video on YouTube,” MintPress reported.
This incident didn’t put AIPAC in a good light. It’s been an uphill battle for the Israeli government, and even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that the BDS Movement wouldn’t deter his government. Their acknowledgements — on social media, no less — signaled that the anti-settlement advocates are at least being heard. And companies like Ahava are feeling the effect, they argue.
Last year, the German magazine Der Spiegel, garnered a chilly response from Ahava. The piece was about the European Union’s move to crackdown against illegal settlement goods.
“The company refused to answer detailed legal questions,” according to the report.
It did, however, get a statement from Ahava, which said, “Ahava works in coordination with the German authorities, the European Commission and under the law.”
“But the apparent calm was feigned. Ahava immediately informed the Israeli Embassy in Berlin about SPIEGEL’s reporting,” the report continued.
Maybe Ahava just needs a good brand ambassador. That was the strategy for SodaStream, which is also produced in the West Bank. SodaStream recently clinched a high-profile contract with Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson, who was also working as an ongoing goodwill ambassador for international aid group Oxfam. When controversy erupted over the potential conflict of interest, Johansson chose SodaStream.
The BDS Movement was somewhat deflated by what they viewed as the starlett’s unethical decision and Oxfam’s hesitation to sever ties with her from the onset of the controversy. The pro-settlement lobby was emboldened, and in the end, SodaStream came out the victor.
The CODEPINK advocates, however, don’t believe Ahava will emerge as victoriously as SodaStream.
“In a report published in March 2009 in the Hebrew-language business paper The Marker, 21% of Israeli exporters say that they have been directly hurt by a boycott of Israeli products since the beginning of 2009,” according to a Stolen Beauty report.
Figures like this keep protesters involved in the BDS Movement going. Whether Israeli firms like it or not, it is sure to remain a pesky thorn in their sides, even if the BDS Movement doesn’t come close to bankrupting them through sanctions and boycotts.
Codepink Ahava Protest in Tel Aviv, Israel