After a highly successful Israel Apartheid Week (11-17 March) South African activists were alerted to a competition being advertised by the Spa Shop South Africa (an online shop for spa products) together with AHAVA Dead Sea cosmetics that promised customers 10 % off all Ahava products and a free hand cream during the month of March. Attempts by activists and Palestine solidarity organisations to provide factual evidence to the proprietors of Spa Shop about the boycott against Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories because of the company’s illegal practices were ignored. The Spa Shop blocked anyone discussing AHAVA on social media and repeated their statement that they “choose only ethical spa brands”.
South African activists wanting to highlight Ahava’s illegal use of Palestinian land and resources and to send a clear message to South African businesses working with the brand partnered with the U.S-based Stolen Beauty campaign. Inspired by Stolen Beauty-led online actions, including a culture jamming campaign that turned a Birchbox and Ahava marketing contest into a social media fail, South African activists organized a Twitter storm.
A Twitter storm is a coordinated action where activists post similar messages on Twitter at the same time in order to create a spike in traffic for the topic. In turn, the topic appears as a “trending” topic within Twitter which demonstrates its popularity and brings attention to the issue. This Twitter storm was called for Thursday 28th March 7 PM (SA time); at the top of the hour the hashtag #AhavaCrimes was posted and the action commenced. South Africans in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and hundreds of smaller towns were joined by Twitter users from across Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, and even Brazil. These coalition partners worked together in an effort to make the hashtag #AhavaCrimes trend on Twitter while spreading information about Ahava’s pillage of mud, fraudulent labelling, and subsidies to illegal settlements.
- People posed tongue-in-cheek questions about Ahava to the Spa Shop South Africa
- They used expressions and words particular to South African political struggles to express their outrage
- Twitter users also shared factual information about AHAVA, offering links to news articles about the boycott campaign and human rights reports about the company’s occupation profiteering.
- Some expressed their distaste for goods made from stolen resources and through the oppression of others.
With thousands of people joining in worldwide, #AhavaCrimes trended at the number one spot in South Africa for 3 hours while Ahava trended in the top ten. People using the hashtag posed questions, found answers, shared information about other retailers stocking Ahava products, and compared Israel’s occupation and land dispossession to similar experiences under apartheid in South Africa. The continued interest in the topic left #AhavaCrimes trending in the top 10 until 11:30 AM the following morning.
To the average South African, Ahava Dead Sea products are represented by forceful and sometimes-aggressive foreign salespeople scattered in malls around the country hawking expensive beauty products. Through educational efforts such as the Twitter storm and regular leafleting, South African consumers are learning about Ahava’s violations of international law, especially the war crime of pillage of occupied natural resources, and the role of settlements in the theft of Palestinian land.
The Twitter storm was only the beginning of a concerted campaign against the sale of Ahava products in South Africa. Building on the endeavors of Open Shuhada Street to pressure South African retailer Wellness Warehouse to remove Ahava from its shelves, and the inspiring initiative of the South African Department and Trade and Industry to enforce proper labeling of illegal settlement goods, a national and international coalition will continue pushing for an end to Ahava’s ugly occupation profiteering.