Rabbinical Letter to Presbyterian Commissioners: On Stolen Beauty

Rabbinical Letter to Presbyterian Commissioners: On Stolen Beauty, June 30th, 2012

June 30, 2012

Dear Presbyterian Delegates,

We are writing as Jewish clergy to show our support for Overture 15-2 “On Boycotting Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories and Hadiklaim (an Israeli Date Growers Cooperative).” You have an opportunity to stand for human rights, peace and justice by supporting the overture to boycott Ahava cosmetics, which are made in a factory on occupied land with illegally sourced natural resources. We applaud your initiative with this overture and want to communicate our support as Jewish leaders who also work for justice and peace for the people of Israel and Palestine.

You may face criticism from some claiming to represent the Jewish community for your principled stand, but we believe there is a plurality of opinion on this issue within our community. There is, in fact, a growing movement within the North American Jewish community calling for the boycott of settlement products as a means to end Israel's oppressive occupation.

Many Jewish leaders, we among them, are horrified by the ongoing confiscation of Palestinian land, the destruction of Palestinian cisterns and wells, the bulldozing of entire communities, and the violence of settlers who target Palestinians and their property for almost daily attacks. Members of the Jewish community are increasingly voicing support for nonviolent popular resistance against these misdeeds, including the kind of cautious, targeted boycott that the Presbyterian Church is preparing to undertake. For example, in June, 2012, former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset and World Zionist Organization leader Avraham Burg declared his support for settlement boycott in an article in the Independent (http://ind.pn/NpbCab). Former Israeli Foreign Ministry director Alon Liel made public his boycott of settlement goods and support for South Africa's new “plan to ban ‘Made in Israel' labels for imported products from the West Bank, protesting what he calls Israeli complacency about the occupation.” (http://bit.ly/MqPjl6) In March 2012, Jewish-American professor at the City University of New York Peter Beinart published a New York Times op ed, entitled “To Save Israel, Boycott the Settlements” (http://nyti.ms/Nf2PUA).

Despite claims to the contrary, a principled stand for dignity, justice and equality for all in Israel and Palestine is not anti-Semitic. To boycott settlement goods is not anti-Semitic. To criticize Israeli government policy is not anti-Semitic. In fact, holding Israel to account for its violations of international law is the responsibility of all people of faith, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim or any other creed.

Why boycott Ahava? Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories (www.ahava.co.il) is a privately held Israeli cosmetics company that manufactures products using minerals and mud from the Dead Sea. The Hebrew word “Ahava” means love, but there is nothing loving about what the company is doing in the Occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank. The company's main factory and its visitors' center are located in the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Shalem in the Occupied West Bank. Ahava products are labeled as of ‘Israeli origin,' but according to international law, the West Bank cannot be considered to be part of the State of Israel. 44% of Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories stock is collectively owned by the settlements of Mitzpe Shalem and Kalya. Because of this, Ahava sales mean a direct financial gain for Israel's illegal settlement project in occupied Palestinian territory.

Public pressure against illegal settlement goods in general and AHAVA in particular has increased during the past three months. In April Vita, a major retail chain in Norway, announced that it would no longer stock Ahava products. In early May the United Methodist Church voted to boycott illegal Israeli settlement products including Ahava. In mid-May the South African Minister of Trade announced that Ahava in particular and settlement products in general would no longer be allowed the “Made in Israel” label. Denmark followed suit with a similar announcement one week later. A few days later Migros, a Swiss retailer, said they would begin labeling settlement goods as products of “Israeli settlement zone West Bank.” There was an excellent blog post on TIME covering much of the labeling row, and most of the press coverage about the settlement goods controversy featured Ahava as the poster child.

In June the Israeli research organization Who Profits released a new report entitled “Ahava: Tracking the Trade Trail of Settlement Products.” All this is to say that the push to hold Ahava accountable for its violations of international law is snowballing.

The overture notes, “The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is no stranger to calling for boycotts, both nationally and internationally, because corporate practices violated the human rights, and even threatened the lives of peoples being exploited… We call upon the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to remain consistent in its historical witness against human exploitation for the sake of power and profit anywhere that may occur in the global community.” Boycotting Ahava follows the righteous tradition of the church. We hope that you will show your support for international law and human rights by voting to boycott Ahava. As Palestinian Christian Jean Zaru stated, “You cannot pray for peace and invest in violence.”

(Partial list of signers includes the names below. to add your name.)

Rabbi Joseph Berman, Boston MA
Rabbi Hillel Cohn, Congregation Emanu El, San Bernardino, CA
Rabbi David J. Cooper, Piedmont, California
Cantor Michael Davis, Evanston, IL
Ari Lev Fornari, Rabbinical Student, Boston, MA
Maggid Andrew Gold, Congregation Kol HaLev, Santa Fe, NM
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Stony Point, NY
Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun Magazine www.tikkun.org
Rabbi Brant Rosen, Evanston, IL
Rabbi Alissa Wise, San Francisco, CA

  • For more information on Ahava, visit stolenbeauty.org
  • To read the comprehensive report on Ahava and for more information on the manufacturer and its involvement in the occupation, visit “Who Profits from the Occupation?” (A project of The Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace)