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Liberal rabbis Lippman and Bachman urge Brooklynites to buy products from Occupied West Bank!

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This is amazing. Next Tuesday evening, several groups will be picketing Ricky’s NY, a cosmetics store in Brooklyn Heights that sells Ahava products, which are made in the occupied West Bank from minerals that belong to Palestinians. Nancy Kricorian of Code Pink, one of the organizers (along with Brooklyn for Peace, Jews Say No, and Jewish Voice for Peace), writes:

We have a sound permit for Tuesday [from 5:30-6:30 p.m.], and some people will be wearing monster masks that go with signs saying “Occupation is an Ugly Business/Don’t buy Ahava products at Ricky’s NY.” The long-expected pushback started when we took the campaign to Brooklyn. Last month the counter-protesters included Hasids in black suits, some Hebron-settler-style young men wearing clown wigs, and Orthodox women who emerged from the store triumphantly clutching the Ahava products they had just purchased. Their chant was “Not One Inch.”

There’s another factor in the Brooklyn protest. Last summer in the Brooklyn Paper, two liberal Brooklyn rabbis, Rabbi Andy Bachman of Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope and Rabbi Ellen Lippman of Kolot Chayeinu took on Code Pink and urged Brooklynites to buy products made in the Occupied Territories! There were several rabbis signing the letter, but Bachman and Lippman stand out because they have such status in the progressive community. Bachman hosted Rashid Khalidi at his synagogue, and Combatants for Peace (though I’m told the map in his Hebrew school shows no Green Line for the Occupied Territories– true, Rabbi?). Lippman is on the board of Rabbis for Human Rights (and despite her human rights concerns, she has warm n fuzzy feelings for Israel as “that grand experiment in Jewish self-determination”).

What’s amazing about their letter is the acceptance of the occupation, and the declaration of Area C as somehow Israel’s territory! The rabbis:

CODEPINK ignores the history and legal status of Mizpeh Shalom, where the Ahava products in question are manufactured. In fact, Mizpeh Shalom is an Israeli Kibbutz founded in 1970 in an uninhabited area alongside the Dead Sea, near the southern boundary of the West Bank. According to the Oslo II accords, signed in 1995 by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Mizpeh Shalom is part of “Area C”, a huge section of the West Bank over which Israel, again by joint agreement, was granted full control, except over Palestinian civilians.

As Rabbis, we pray and work for an end to the insecurity of Israelis and the sufferings of Palestinians. This will not come about through movements which are one-sided, and which would rather demonize and blacklist, rather than focus on effective, realistic political change.

Meanwhile, we encourage you to purchase Ahava products at Ricky’s, and to contact Dom Costello, Ricky’s CEO, [number deleted], and by leaving a comment at (click on “log in” and then “contact us”). Tell Ricky’s that you expect them to give Israeli products the same access as those of any other democratic, law abiding country.

Last summer, Brooklyn For Peace (BFP) renewed its call to boycott Ahava products and made clear the status of Mitzpe Shalem.  

The abuse that probably poses the greatest threat to the possibility for peace between Israelis and Palestinians has been the constantly expanding settlement of Palestinian lands by Israelis who, with the backing of their government, take control of an area and its resources. Contrary to the rabbis’ letter, Ahava products are, in fact, produced through unlawful appropriation of resources of the Occupied West Bank by a settlement located in the Occupied West Bank, under a partnership with organizations that profit from and fund the settlement of the West Bank. Specifically, Ahava’s manufacturing facility is located in Mitzpe Shalem, which is located in the West Bank. Two West Bank settlements (Mitzpe Shalem and Kalia) own 44.69% of the stock in Ahava—Dead Sea Laboratories Ltd, according to certificates from the Israeli Registrar of Companies. Another 37% of Ahava is held by Hamashbir Holdings, an investment fund that also invests in the export of agricultural products from West Bank settlements.

What is the applicable law? As the Israeli High Court of Justice acknowledged in a 2005 decision, the West Bank is “held by the State of Israel in belligerent occupation.” Consequently, as the Court stated, the legal regime that applies there is determined by public international law regarding belligerent occupation, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Thus, all of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including Miztpe Shalem and Kalia, exist in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Under the Convention, the only legitimate interests and duties of the occupying power concern the security needs of the people in the home territory of that power and the needs of the people being occupied. Settlement and expropriation of resources by civilians from the home territory are not lawful activities, and serve no security purpose for Israel.

The consequences of the illegal settlement of the West Bank are not theoretical. Apart from the day-to-day hardships that the settlement infrastructure has created for Palestinians and the persistent violent harassment of Palestinians by settlers, the settlements are perhaps the single greatest obstacle to peace.

The letter from the Brooklyn rabbis seeks to muddy the status, and therefore the role, of Mitzpe Shalem in obstructing peace. The letter correctly states that Mitzpe Shalem is located in what the now-defunct Oslo Accords had designated as Area C, the area in which all the illegal settlements are located. While the Oslo Accords initially placed that area under Israeli military control as part of a phased transition to Palestinian control, the Accords never transferred sovereignty over Area C to the Israeli government, as the 2005 High Court decision demonstrates. In any event, the transfer of Area C was blocked in 2000, by the Israeli government under the leadership of the current Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, and the Oslo process came to an end. To suggest that Mitzpe Shalem is not illegal because it may someday be part of some future agreement is, at best, wishful thinking. The West Bank remains Occupied territory; the settlements remain illegal; there can be no peace agreement as long as Israel continues its settlement project. Mitzpe Shalem remains an obstacle to peace, not part of the solution.

The rabbis criticize the boycott movement for not taking a position on “positive attempts to resolve the decades old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. . . .” In fact, our Ahava boycott campaign is precisely a positive attempt to remove one of the greatest obstacles to peace–the illegal settlement of the West Bank–and to restore a commitment to international law and respect for human rights. There can be no positive move toward peace without a commitment to law and human rights. The rabbis’ misguided call to support Israel by buying these illegally produced products for the profit of illegal settlements is antithetical to any call for peace or justice. And there can be no peace without justice.

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