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Urban Outfitters, a popular American clothing store, on Thursday halted sales of a range of keffiyehs, the traditional Arab headdress, which it had been marketing this month as fashionable "anti-war woven scarves."
The firm's CEO, Dick Heyne, e-mailed a pro-Israel activist who had complained about the items earlier this week to stress that the company had not intended "to imply any sympathy for or support of terrorists or terrorism" in selling the keffiyehs and was pulling them.
The scarves, also sold on-line, were priced at $20 in several different color combinations as part of Urban Outfitters' Spring Fashion women's accessories range. "Due to the sensitive nature of this item, we will no longer offer it for sale," a notice on the Web site stated. "We apologize if we offended anyone, this was by no means our intention."
A manager at an Urban Outfitters on 6th Avenue in New York City close to the West Village, who wished to remain anonymous, said the item had been the "number one selling scarf."
The keffiyeh has bounced in and out of American and European fashion trends since roughly the 80s, when women draped them from their necks. But in the last few years the headdress, mostly associated by Americans with the Palestinians and especially the late Yasser Arafat, has reached a height of popularity. An article in the Los Angeles Times titled "'Terrorist Chic' and Beyond," published in April, 2006, featured the keffiyeh as the ultimate in fashionable military gear seen as chic in hip circles across America and Europe.
Many young Americans and Europeans, especially on college campuses, wear the headdress around their necks as a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinians. Increasingly, too, it has become a symbol of resistance in general, invariably featuring at anti-war rallies. It is also widely worn in many cities.
"I just found it amusing that the keffiyeh as a fashion item has become so ubiquitous that it is being sold at a store known for producing the trendiest items," said Daniel 'Mobius' Sieradski, a contributor to Jewschool, a popular Jewish blog. "It's amusing because on one level the Palestinian cause has become very popular, but as it gains popularity it gets watered down."
Jews and Muslims alike had been quick to respond to the Urban Outfitters "anti-war scarves" through their respective blogs with skepticism, anger and amusement.
Earlier this week, Sieradski posted an entry on Jewschool entitled "Strangely familiar 'Anti-War Scarves' now at URBN near you!" where he mocks the selling of keffiyehs as a fashion accessory: "Well, the keffiyeh just got 10 times more passe and 10 times more trivialized, thanks to Urban Outfitters (proprietors of the once famed money grubbing Jew T-shirts) who are now selling a variety of different colored keffiyehs as - get this - anti-war scarves."
(The T-shirt reference was to the company's sale last year of shirts, playing into the Jewish American Princess stereotype, that read "Everyone Loves a Jewish Girl" and featured sketches of shopping bags and dollar signs. At the time, the Anti-Defamation League protested and the designs were changed.)
Last week, Kabobfest, an online forum for Arab-Americans, posted this entry about the UO keffiyehs: "With a great deal of discomfort and a tad bit of pissed-off-ness, I regret to (re)inform the KABOB-o-sphere that Palestine has officially become a trendâ€¦That's right folks, for a mere $20.00 (or 75.0127 Saudi Riyal) you too can jump on the socially stupid hipster-doofus bandwagon by rocking your very own "Anti-War Woven Scarf!" (available only at Urban Outfittersâ€¦ or..err..uhâ€¦ the Middle East)."
Another blogger, who writes under the name Moi, pointed to another item inspired by the keffiyeh labeled "Damsel Batik Fine Rib Henley" being sold for $28.00 that closely resembles the pattern of the Arab headdress.
Complaints from at least one Jewish organization may have played a part in Urban Outfitters' decision to pull the scarves from their stores.
On Monday, Stand With Us, a pro-Israel advocacy organization, sent letters of complaint to members of the board of directors of Urban Outfitters as well as to company stockholders, with photos of Hamas wearing the keffiyeh and performing a Nazi salute.
"It seems odd that something that has been so publicized as a scarf used by terrorists would be picked up as an anti-war scarf," said Allyson Rowen Taylor, associate director of Stand With Us, who told The Jerusalem Post she spoke on behalf of herself, not the organization. "I don't think it's an innocent choice. It's either pure ignorance or someone in the buying department with a political agenda against Israel and Jews."
Urban Outfitters' CEO Hayne responded to Taylor with an e-mail that said: "I had not seen the scarf to which you refer but be assured that no one in our organization intended to imply any sympathy for or support of terrorists or terrorism. I have been told that the item in question is being removed from sale. Thank you for bringing this to my attention."
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