Brooklyn Rabbis Letter

July 23—29, 2010
Believe this letter from five misinformed Rabbis and you would think the Israelis are ‘just and noble occupiers’. In response, Brooklyn For Peace lays out the facts: Just because it’s ‘Area C’ doesn’t mean it’s legal. Settlement and expropriation are not lawful activities.


In the Brooklyn Paper July 23—29, 2010

About the Protest of Israeli Beauty Products on Montague Street

Over the second week of July, at 107 Montague Street, Ricky's, part of a tri-state chain which sells beauty products, was picketed by activists in solidarity with “Stolen Beauty”, a campaign against the sale of Israeli Ahava products because some are manufactured in the West Bank.

What is the background of “Stolen Beauty”?

“Stolen Beauty” is organized by CODEPINK, a US women's movement, as part of “BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanction for Palestine,” an international coalition. Since its founding in July 2005, BDS has helped to organize, all over the world, boycotts of Israeli intellectuals and artists, the removal of Israeli films from film festivals, divestment from Israeli companies by churches and universities, and cancellation of concerts in Israel by international stars.

BDS does not take a position on positive attempts to resolve the decades old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as the proposal for a two state solution. It singles out only one side, and one side collectively, from soldiers to scholars, for blame and punishment.

It is therefore distressing, although not surprising, that CODEPINK ignores the history and legal status of Mizpeh Shalom, where the Ahava products in question are manufactured. In fact, Mizpeh Shalom is an Israeli Kibbutz founded in 1970 in an uninhabited area alongside the Dead Sea, near the sourthern boundary of the West Bank. According to the Oslo II accords, signed in 1995 by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Mizpeh Shalom is part of “Area C”, a huge section of the West Bank over which Israel, again by joint agreement, was granted full control, except over Palestinian civilians.

As Rabbis, we pray and work for an end to the insecurit of Israelis and the sufferings of Palestinians. This will not come about through movements which are one-sided, and which would rather demonize and blacklist, rather than focus on effective, realistic political change.

Meanwhile, we encourage you to purchase Ahava products at Ricky's, and to contact Dom Costello, Ricky's CEO, at 212 352 8545 X8 or by leaving a comment at (click on “log in” and then “contact us”). Tell Ricky's that you expect them to give Israeli products the same access as those of any other democratic, law abiding country.

B'Shalom, In Peace

Rabbi Andy Bachman
Congregation Beth Elohim
Rabbi Ellen Lippman
Kolot Chayeinu
Rabbi Carie Carter 
Park Slope Jewish Center
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik
Congregation Mount Sinai
Rabbi Linda Henry Goodman 
Union Temple
Rabbi Sam Weintraub
Kane Street Synagogue
Rabbi Serge Lippe 
Brooklyn Heights Synagogue
Congregations listed for
purposes of identification only

Response from Brooklyn for Peace to Above Letter

A statement from Brooklyn For Peace In Reply to the Seven Rabbis

The July 23-29, 2010, Brooklyn Paper carried a letter signed by seven rabbis criticizing the boycott of Ahava Cosmetics as one-sided and suggesting that because the region of the West Bank where Ahava products are manufactured in an Israeli settlement is "Area C" under the Oslo Accords, therefore the area belongs to Israel. What follows is a reply from Brooklyn For Peace.

Brooklyn For Peace (BFP) renews its call to boycott Ahava products. We are returning to Ricky's on Montague Street in Brooklyn to press that chain to cease selling these illegally produced items. BFP has read the open letter of several rabbis against this boycott and, among the signatories, we recognize the names of people who have often stood up publicly for justice and reconciliation. We have asked for dialogue and discussion with the signatories we know best, not the sort of discussion in which people shout across each other, but rather, an honest exchange. However, while we await a response to our request for dialogue, we continue our campaign, because the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the horrific siege of Gaza continue unabated. As taxpayers and American citizens whose government is funding this Occupation, we feel a sense of urgency and responsibility in peaceful yet vigorous campaigns to bring pressure to bear to end the Occupation of Palestinian territory and its abuses. 

The abuse that probably poses the greatest threat to the possibility for peace between Israelis and Palestinians has been the constantly expanding settlement of Palestinian lands by Israelis who, with the backing of their government, take control of an area and its resources. Contrary to the rabbis' letter, Ahava products are, in fact, produced through unlawful appropriation of resources of the Occupied West Bank by a settlement located in the Occupied West Bank, under a partnership with organizations that profit from and fund the settlement of the West Bank. Specifically, Ahava's manufacturing facility is located in Mitzpe Shalem, which is located in the West Bank. Two West Bank settlements (Mitzpe Shalem and Kalia) own 44.69% of the stock in Ahava—Dead Sea Laboratories Ltd, according to certificates from the Israeli Registrar of Companies. Another 37% of Ahava is held by Hamashbir Holdings, an investment fund that also invests in the export of agricultural products from West Bank settlements.

What is the applicable law? As the Israeli High Court of Justice acknowledged in a 2005 decision, the West Bank is “held by the State of Israel in belligerent occupation.” Consequently, as the Court stated, the legal regime that applies there is determined by public international law regarding belligerent occupation, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Thus, all of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including Miztpe Shalem and Kalia, exist in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Under the Convention, the only legitimate interests and duties of the occupying power concern the security needs of the people in the home territory of that power and the needs of the people being occupied. Settlement and expropriation of resources by civilians from the home territory are not lawful activities, and serve no security purpose for Israel. 

The consequences of the illegal settlement of the West Bank are not theoretical. Apart from the day-to-day hardships that the settlement infrastructure has created for Palestinians and the persistent violent harassment of Palestinians by settlers, the settlements are perhaps the single greatest obstacle to peace. 

The letter from the Brooklyn rabbis seeks to muddy the status, and therefore the role, of Mitzpe Shalem in obstructing peace. The letter correctly states that Mitzpe Shalem is located in what the now-defunct Oslo Accords had designated as Area C, the area in which all the illegal settlements are located. While the Oslo Accords initially placed that area under Israeli military control as part of a phased transition to Palestinian control, the Accords never transferred sovereignty over Area C to the Israeli government, as the 2005 High Court decision demonstrates. In any event, the transfer of Area C was blocked in 2000, by the Israeli government under the leadership of the current Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, and the Oslo process came to an end. To suggest that Mitzpe Shalem is not illegal because it may someday be part of some future agreement is, at best, wishful thinking. The West Bank remains Occupied territory; the settlements remain illegal; there can be no peace agreement as long as Israel continues its settlement project. Mitzpe Shalem remains an obstacle to peace, not part of the solution. 

The rabbis criticize the boycott movement for not taking a position on “positive attempts to resolve the decades old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. . . .” In fact, our Ahava boycott campaign is precisely a positive attempt to remove one of the greatest obstacles to peace--the illegal settlement of the West Bank--and to restore a commitment to international law and respect for human rights. There can be no positive move toward peace without a commitment to law and human rights. The rabbis' misguided call to support Israel by buying these illegally produced products for the profit of illegal settlements is antithetical to any call for peace or justice. And there can be no peace without justice.

We therefore renew our call to boycott Ahava products.

September 28, 2010
Brooklyn For Peace