Letter from Linda Frank to Tara Darrow, Nordstrom’s Director of Public Relations

February 4, 2010
A consumer calls out Nordstrom for ostensibly valuing social responsibility while simultaneously supporting the Israeli occupation.


Dear Tara,

Thanks for your voicemail last Friday regarding my request for Nordstrom to honor the global boycott of the Ahava products that are supporting Israel's illegal occupation/apartheid. As I mentioned to you in my voicemail of Monday, I want to respond to your message that there were no plans to change the Nordstrom relationship with Ahava. Based on what I've most recently learned from the Nordstrom website, it looks like removing Ahava products will be in Nordstrom's interest as well as the interest of human rights worldwide.

I've been a Nordstrom shopper since I came to the Northwest fifteen years ago, and I'm very pleased to learn that Nordstrom values social responsibility. So do I. Several years ago I pulled my money out of the stock market because I was so alarmed at the growing practice of CEO's firing thousands of workers and in turn taking massive bonuses and golden parachutes for themselves. I do not want to make money off people losing their jobs. One of the things my rabbi taught was that providing jobs was one of the best things you could do for others. I think that's universally true.

I also believe it's critical to stand up for people who have little or no power to protect themselves. That's why, when I learned in 2001 how the Israeli government was dispossessing Palestinians of their land, their livelihoods, and their lives, I took 15 months unpaid sabbatical from my six-figure income to stand up for Palestinian rights and freedom. I was equally motivated to defend the tenets of Judaism I'd come to learn and love. The two defenses are, for me, synonymous. 

I'd like to call your – and Linda's (I'm cc-ing her to this email) attention to the fact that one of Nordstrom's Social Responsibility guidelines calls for accurate labeling of products. From the Nordstrom website:

All products must be accurately labeled and clearly identified as to their country of origin.

Ahava does not accurately label its products. From one of the links on CodePink Women for Peace's stolenbeauty.org website, Nancy Kricorian wrote:

"Ahava products are labeled as ‘Product of Israel,' but according to international law, including the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions, the West Bank cannot be considered to be part of the State of Israel. This misleading labeling makes it difficult for consumers to identify the actual source of the products they are purchasing." 

I think you'd want to know there was discussion last month in the British Parliament regarding Ahava's fraudulent labeling. Here is an excerpt from a speech by MP Dr. Phillis Starkey posted (and edited) on the UK site Jews for Justice in Palestine: "I now turn to a specific case relating to cosmetics in which it seems to me that even more blatant fraud is occurring. Cosmetics, particularly from Dead Sea products, are very significant imports into the UK; there were 417 consignments of beauty and skincare products in 2009. I want to focus on Ahava, a firm that is part owned by two co-operatives based at Mizpe Shalem and Kibbutz Kalia. Both are in the occupied Jordan valley and both are on the EU list of settlements. The products that Ahava produces are based on Dead Sea mud, which is extracted at both those sites and processed at Mizpe Shalem. There is no evidence of any other production facilities and certainly none within Green Line Israel, although the head office is near Tel Aviv.

The Ahava website and product labels clearly give the postcode at Mizpe Shalem and then say "Israel", which is an incorrect description." See Full text of the debate. 

Additionally, the Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen has also called for an investigation into Ahava's mislabeling of their products as coming from "Israel."

Though it's not obvious from coverage in the US media, according to the 4th Geneva Convention of international law, all of Israel's settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal.

And most if not all US administrations have considered Israel's illegal settlements "a" (if not "the") major obstacle to peace in the region. You can read some of the opinion on the illegality of Israeli settlements from previous Adminstrations on the Churches for Middle East Peace website.

If you'd like to get a sense as to how adversely Israel's settlements affect life for Palestinians, there are several goods sources, among them B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories: "As part of the regime, Israel has stolen thousands of dunams of land from the Palestinians. On this land, Israel has established dozens of settlements in which hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians now live. Israel forbids Palestinians to enter and use these lands. The existence of the settlements causes many violations of Palestinians' human rights, such as the right to housing, to earn a living, and freedom of movement. The sharp changes Israel made to the map of the West Bank make a viable Palestinian state impossible as part of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination."  Also 

And for more as to how the settlement matrix (e.g. the "Jewish-only" bypass roads, the hundreds of checkpoints throughout the West Bank, the separation wall/fence/barrier) harms Palestinians and the prospects for peace. 

When I learned that Oxfam's spokesperson Kristin Davis was being used by Ahava as a spokesperon, I wrote to Oxfam to share my concern. I'd been a longtime Oxfam supporter and felt the Oxfam good name was being tarnished by the dual representation. Oxfam immediately wrote me back to say that they'd suspended their relationship with Kristin Davis until the conflict of interest was resolved. I shared my correspondence with Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of CodePink as well as Global Exchange (I had traveled to the besieged Gaza Strip last March with Medea and a CodePink International Women's day delegation that included Alice Walker and about 58 others). Thanks to CodePink's tenacity and outreach skills, the flack ended up on Page 6 of the New York Post. Kristin Davis is no longer Ahava's spokesperson.

My request for Nordstrom to remove Ahava products from its stores and website is therefore twofold: for Nordstrom to abide by its own Social Responsibility guidelines regarding product labeling; and, to honor the Palestinian-led call for an international boycott as a nonviolent way to bring an end to Israeli apartheid/occupation/siege.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu years ago condemned Israeli apartheid. 

Nelson Mandela said, "We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians." 

The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC) has released a report confirming that Israel is practicing both colonialism and apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). 

Since there is such a dearth of accurate information about Israeli apartheid, as well as of the situation overall concerning Israel's decades-long occupation of Palestinian land and lives, I would be amenable to giving you both as much information and as many resources as you would like. I would also be amenable to creating a PowerPoint presentation that I could bring to your office, or I could simply come in to speak with you and other executives if you would like for me to do that. 

I look forward to your response, and hope to hear news that you'll be removing Ahava from your shelves.


Linda Frank