American peace activists from CODEPINK protesting against Dead Sea AHAVA in Tel Aviv (Photo: Activestills)
The Jewish Daily Forward has released their annual list of the top 50 American Jews who “made the most significant impact on the news in the past year.” But the publication’s profile of the North American CEO of Israeli beauty products company Ahava has a glaring omission: there is no mention of the illegal Israeli settlement where Ahava’s main factory is located.
Elana Drell-Szyfer, the general manager and CEO of Ahava in North America, is highlighted favorably in this Forward profile:
Drell-Szyfer has relaunched the company’s Dead Sea mineral–based skincare brand and, in less than two years, doubled its North American sales and increased its presence in major department stores. This September, she took the reins of Ahava’s global marketing. (The company, which started on a kibbutz near the Dead Sea, now sells in more than 30 countries.)
Drell-Szyfer, 43, grew up in a Conservative Jewish family in New Jersey, where her parents placed a premium on education and religion. After graduating from Columbia University and earning an MBA from New York University, she worked her way up via Chanel, Avon, L’Oreal and Estee Lauder. Ahava wasn’t the obvious next step, but it was the right one.
“It was a very interesting opportunity because of my own interests in Israel and Jewish philanthropy,” Drell-Szyfer said (she sits is on the board of the Women’s Philanthropy Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest New Jersey), “and also because I could run an entire business.” The unexpected bonus? “There’s an intermingling between business life, personal life, Jewish life, family life,” she said, something important to a boss who wants to spend time with her three daughters.
While the Forward mentions the “kibbutz near the Dead Sea,” that’s where they stop. But that “kibbutz” is an illegal settlement over the Green Line that illegally exploits Palestinian natural resources.
The settlement’s name is Mitzpe Shalem, and is located in the occupied Jordan Valley, on the shores of the Dead Sea. Mitzpe Shalem is where Ahava’s factory, tourist center and sales promotion are located. The company is also linked to settlements by way of its owners. As I wrote for AlterNet in 2010:
37 percent of the company is owned by Mitzpe Shalem, an illegal settlement located in the eastern West Bank; another 37 percent by the private investment fund Hamashibr Holdings, which also is a major shareholder in two companies that export produce made in settlements; 18.5 perent by the U.S.-based Shamrock Holding, owned by the Roy E. Disney family of Walt Disney fame, and which is a shareholder in a company that manufactures electronic detection systems that are used on the West Bank separation barrier; and 7.5 percent by the West Bank settlement of Kalia.
What’s more is the fact that the company is breaking international law by exploiting Palestinian resources. A recent publication on the company by the Israeli group Who Profits?, a project of the Coalition of Women for Peace, reports that Ahava is illegally exploiting Palestinian mud. Although the Israeli High Court has validated the practice, excavating the natural resources of occupied Palestine is illegal under international law.
All of these facts about Ahava have led to an international boycott campaign directed at the company. In the U.S., CODEPINK’s Stolen Beauty project has spearheaded the effort–and the Forward has even covered the boycott campaign multiple times. (In response to the Forward profile of Drell-Szyfer, the Stolen Beauty campaign has encouraged Twitter users to send messages of protest to the Forward.)
It’s true that the profiles are short snapshots of influential American Jews. But one sentence mentioning, at the very least, the controversy around Ahava’s settlement business would suffice. The Jewish Daily Forward, a generally excellent publication, is well aware of the facts about Ahava. They shouldn’t be complicit in the whitewashing of the ugly truth about the beauty company.