Pro-Israel shoppers defy Ahava products boycott call

Best sales weekend Maryland store has ever seen.

Ahava (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
WASHINGTON – A call to boycott Israeli-made Ahava products in a Maryland beauty supply store backfired last week when pro- Israel activists countered by purchasing the shop’s entire Ahava inventory.
When the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington found out that the pro-Palestinian group Sabeel DC had organized a protest and boycott call at Ulta in Silver Spring last Saturday, the organization sent out an action alert urging supporters to visit the store and buy Ahava.
“They cleaned the shelves out. It was the best Ahava sales weekend the store has ever seen. They had to order an expedited shipment” afterward, said Arielle Farber, director of Israel and International Affairs for the Community Relations Council. “The greater Washington community is not going to stand for this campaign to delegitimize Israel.”
Rona Kramer, a Maryland state senator, was among those answering the Community Relations Council call. When she heard of the boycott, she though “it’s a good opportunity for the community to show its support for Israel.”
Though in the midst of a re-election campaign, Kramer pushed back her schedule to hit the store on Saturday morning. When she got there at 10:15 a.m. the store had already sold out of many Ahava lines, but she managed to tally up a $200 bill.
It was the first time she had ever bought Ahava products, a brand that uses Dead Sea minerals in hand creams, body lotions and other beauty products. “I’ve been using them since I bought them and they’re wonderful,” she said.
Faith McDonnell, another area pro-Israel activist, was moved to show up on Saturday morning because she figured many members of the Jewish community wouldn’t be able to come due to observance of Shabbat.
“There were a lot of Christians who were standing with the Jewish people and Israel on this,” McDonnell said.
In its literature announcing the event, the Sabeel DC Metro chapter that organized the action said it was held on Saturday morning to take advantage of the large crowds attending a farmers’ market held by the store.
Paul Verduin, who cocoordinated the Saturday event and was one of 12 participants, said he wasn’t disappointed by the outcome, which saw Ahava sales boosted.
“We operate under the concept of witness. We’re trying to testify to the fact that Ahava is one of the products being sold in the US claiming to be an Israeli product when it is made in the West Bank,” he said, saying that Sabeel is a nonviolent organization that seeks a “just peace” between Israelis and Palestinians.
In his letter announcing the boycott, Verduin described Ahava products as “made by West Bank settlers from natural resources stolen from the Palestinian people.”
In a statement on the subject, Ahava countered that “the mud and materials used in Ahava cosmetics products are not excavated in an occupied area. The minerals are mined in the Israeli part of the Dead Sea, which is undisputed internationally.”
Further, it states that Mitzpe Shalem, a West Bank kibbutz where Ahava products are produced, “is not an illegal settlement.”
Ahava North America CEO Michael Etedgi told The Jerusalem Post that despite boycott actions in California, New York and Texas as well as in Washington, DC, business has not suffered, nor has he heard from any company that plans to stop selling Ahava as a result.
“None of our retail partners are thinking about it, and we have a complete and open dialogue with them about the situation,” he said. “I’m happy and they’re happy. They’re trying to put the political issue aside.”
But he added, “I’m not saying it’s not disruptive or annoying... No one wants to have people demonstrating outside their front door.”
Carrie Lannon, Ulta’s director of public relations, said in a statement that “Ulta selects the products that its stores carry based strictly on products’ sales and customer interest. Ulta does not take a position on or get involved with politically charged issues in relation to the merchandise that it offers in its stores.”
Still, Verduin said that his Sabeel chapter intended to carry on with its efforts.
“We will continue this until the occupation stops,” he said.
The Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center is a Christian liberation theology organization based in Jerusalem. It was founded by a Palestinian Anglican priest, Rev. Naim Ateek, the former canon of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem, and is an official partner of the Presbyterian Church USA.