Dead Sea Kiosks

Soap & Co in Westfield (Stratford City).

Report/photos by Bruce, with thanks to Anne and Helen.    

If you visit a shopping centre, chances are that you’ll eventually come across a kiosk selling Dead Sea beauty products. These kiosks have attracted a lot of attention, not just for the origin of their natural resources, but also for their shady practices and coercive sales techniques that would make a snake oil salesman blush.  

Stop for just a few seconds to check the label and you’ll be approached by a young Israeli of the opposite sex, dressed in black and pawing at your hands to entice you to purchase an overpriced container of lotion. If you think they’re just being friendly, think again. Most of them work from scripts like this and this.

Kiosks stocking Dead Sea beauty products can be found in many malls run by Israeli companies who employ almost exclusively Israelis.

These kiosks are legitimate targets, as every sale supports companies who in turn support the apparatus of oppression in the racist apartheid state. Dead Sea Premier kiosks were targeted in April and July 2011 at malls in Auckland, New Zealand and in June and November, Seacret kiosks in Brisbane and Perth Australia were also targeted.

Seacret Flyer (Justice for Palestine, Brisbane)

The video below is an example of the sales tactics these companies use. Clearly this Israeli saleswoman won’t take no for an answer:

There’s uncertainty not just about the origin of any natural resources, but also about the immigration status of many kiosk workers. In December 2009, eight Israelis were arrested by the UK Border Agency in a Bristol mall and later deported. Arrests and deportations have also taken place in America, Canada and even New Zealand – where Israelis claimed to police that they weren’t being paid, but were volunteer goodwill ambassadors for the apartheid state!

In 2008, The Wall Street Journal published an insightful article entitled: Shalom, Christmas Shoppers: Israelis Sell Cosmetics, Toys at the Mall.

Unfortunately, since that exposé was published, the ‘cancer’ has spread.

A LEAKED US EMBASSY CABLE FROM TEL AVIV

The problem of Israelis working illegally at kiosks throughout America has become so serious that in January 2010, the former US Ambassador to Israel, James Cunningham sent a report to his bosses in Washington, DC entitled Dead Sea Cosmetics and Skincare Industry Fraud.

This diplomatic cable, posted on WikiLeaks, shed light on the activities of Israelis selling Dead Sea beauty products at kiosks throughout America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. It details widespread immigration fraud, worker exploitation, tax evasion, money laundering and the involvement of organised crime on a massive-scale. The original document is in a run-on format, so here’s an easy-to-read version.

The US embassy in Tel Aviv even went so far as to produce a video (below) warning Israelis of the risks of working illegally in America that is also endlessly played in the embassy’s waiting room, but it seems to have little effect, as many feel that stronger deterrents are needed.

The 2010 cable reveals that some Dead Sea cosmetic and skin care products that are labelled “Made in Israel” may actually originate elsewhere such as China, which has both ‘dead seas’ and cheap labour. One company allegedly manufactures soaps in the USA who employ illegal workers from Central America and then label the product as originating from the Dead Sea. Yet another reportedly imports soaps and lotions in bulk into Israel, where they are packaged before being exported and sold in America, taking advantage of Israel’s most favoured trading nation status to qualify for a reduced tariff on imported goods. 

Interestingly, the cable also reveals that most companies hire only those who have completed military service in the Israel Occupation Force - which of course excludes the overwhelming majority of Palestinians.

WESTFIELD

Two too many kiosks at Westfield: Onsen and Soap & Co

Westfield: Too many kiosks

A company called Gadi has kiosks at the West One Shopping Centre off Oxford Street, at Victoria Place near Victoria Station and at other locations in Central London while Southside Wandsworth centre has seen a Dead Sea Premier kiosk mysteriously come and go in only a few weeks and not surprisingly, at the Brent Cross Shopping Centre in North London, there’s a SeaSpa kiosk.

However, the lion’s share of kiosks can be found inside malls owned by the Westfield Group who manage over a hundred malls throughout America, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

At the Westfield malls at Shepherd’s Bush and Stratford, very close to the London 2012 Olympic Stadium, one can find Onsen and Soap & Co, who both use an Israeli sales force to flog their products.

When we raised the possibility that some of their tenants employ illegal workers, staff at Westfield Stratford didn’t seem too bothered, as the Australian-based group was co-founded by Zionist Frank Lowy,  a close confidant of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Westfield co-founder Frank Lowy: Veteran of the Haganah and Golani Brigade.

After arriving in Palestine from Hungry in 1946, Lowy served as a commando in the Haganah, precursor of the Israeli Occupation Force and later the notorious Golani Brigade who were very active during the Nakba, terrorising and murdering Palestinians in large numbers. In 1952, Lowy emigrated to Australia where he made his fortune building shopping centres. Now retired, Lowy reportedly spends much of his time in Israel.

A VISIT TO ONSEN

Here’s one person’s experience when stopping at Onsen’s kiosk in Westfield Stratford:

I was approached by a very friendly sales assistant named “Yoni” who told me that their products used technology and minerals that were more advanced than any other product.

Me being very cautious and aware of marketing tactics, I wasn’t at all convinced but he was extremely persistent. He wouldn’t allow me to leave until he’d show me the face peel, so he poured some of it on to my hand. It was a clear gel substance and he rubbed it around my hand and eventually it formed white and grey particles.

He told me that it was dirt and that a clean hand wouldn’t have that dirt and said if it could do that for my hand; imagine what it could do for an oily face.

However, I was aware that all the gel needed was body heat to form those particles and it was false advertising, but I just played along.

He then showed me the hydration cleanser and milk lotion cleanser and told me a bunch of facts behind the “natural” product. He then took me to the computer screen and showed me that on the Onsen website, the face peel product was US$129.95 online, but if I bought the product at the kiosk today, it would only be £60.00 or £120.00 for both products.

I thought this was an extreme rip-off for a product I had never heard of.

“Yoni” then told me: “I wouldn’t do this for everyone but I can see that you’re interested and I’m willing to offer you my personal employee discount for £30.00 a product or £60.00 for two.” (Inside I was laughing at the fact my acting skills worked). But I told him I still wasn’t interested.

At this point, I was approached by one of Yoni’s friends who tried to sell me something else. He applied some cream under my left eye and immediately he tried to convince me that he could see my skin tightening up and my eyes were less puffy and dark.

This was a complete lie because obviously the skin under my eye was still as dark as ever.

A popular consumer website, Complaints Board details a plethora of complaints against Onsen and other companies at Westfield and at other malls throughout America, suggesting that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

SOAP & CO

Companies such as Soap & Co often recruit using their own sites and Hebrew-language online noticeboards, as well as through informal social networks shortly before they complete their military service. Most Israelis who want to work overseas know its pretty easy to find a job “on the carts.”   

Here’s a Soap & Co recruitment video that promises “real money” in addition to the excitement of working in London:

272 Regents Park Road N3: The registered business address of Soap & Co. The rubbish skips outside are highly appropriate.

We visited Soap & Co’s registered address at 272 Regent’s Park Road N3 3HN in the north London Borough of Barnet ready to pose questions about their hiring of illegal workers and high pressure sales tactics.

As it turned out, the address was not that of Soap & Co, but of the auditing firm of Spencer Hyde Ltd who confirmed that they are Soap & Co’s accountants, but were not willing to divulge any further information concerning their connection with this elusive company.

So there you have it.    

It’s time the Home Office, UK Border Agency and HM Revenue & Customs take appropriate action to terminate this ‘industry’ which has an unsavoury record and proven history of flouting consumer protection, employment, immigration and tax legislation - as well as international law.

Their free ride will soon be over.

Fishing for customers at ‘Gadi’ in the West One Centre, off Oxford Street (Bond Street tube).

Another Gadi kiosk, but this time at Victoria Place, the mall above Victoria Station. Three other black-clad scam artists were out of camera shot.

Here’s the Onsen kiosk in Westfield London (Shepherd’s Bush).

And the Onsen kiosk in Westfield (Stratford City).

The Soap & Co kiosk in Westfield London (Shepherd’s Bush).

SeaSpa kiosk in the Brent Cross Shopping Centre (20 June 2012 update: This kiosk is now run by Gadi).

A visit to London’s World Travel Market

Security tight around Ahava’s stand at major UK travel exhibition

Two Israeli security operatives (circled) opposite the Ahava stand, ready to pounce on any demonstrators (or photographers) at London's World Travel Market.

Report by London BDS

Even though campaigners have been successful in closing the UK’s only Ahava shop, it would be premature to say that the campaign against the company is over, since our motto is: ‘The resistance must be continuous.’

In Wales, activists have been campaigning to rid Ahava from a local beauty salon with tactics that include leafleting, lobbying, filing complaints with Trading Standards and getting coverage in the local press.

Just last month, activists in Manchester held a demonstration inside a major beauty trade show where Ahava was exhibiting, showing the hundreds of exhibitors and visitors attending the ‘Professional Beauty 2011′ event that ‘there’s no beauty in occupation.’

And in London, Kings College students are presently campaigning to divest their university from its partnership with Ahava in an EU-funded research project.

So when we heard that Ahava was going to be exhibiting at the World Travel Market 2011, touted as ‘The Leading Global Event for The Travel Industry,’ we knew it was an opportunity to further publicise the campaign against this toxic brand and registered to attend the four-day event held at the ExCeL exhibition centre in East London’s Docklands.

Bringing along a good number of Ahava boycott campaign postcards on the day we visited, which was ironically dubbed ‘World Responsible Tourism Day,’ we found the location of the Brand Israel pavilion NOT in the Middle East area of the exhibition where you would expect, but in the EUROPE section, sandwiched between the Czech Republic and Romania.

Since when was Israel in Europe?

Under the Israeli big tent, there were about thirty-five agencies, municipalities, organisations and businesses that fuelled the apartheid state’s tourism and hospitality sectors. The larger exhibitors included the Israel Ministry of Tourism, the Jerusalem Tourist Authority, El Al airlines and the Dan Hotel chain.

There was also a refreshment and seating area in the centre serving up free Israeli wine and snacks. A noticeable number of vicious-looking, security staff dressed in ill-fitting suits and wearing earpieces hovered menacingly around, unintentionally providing the few visitors with a taste of what life for Palestinians unfortunate enough to live under Israeli occupation is like.

Free wine in the refreshment area. The busiest part of the apartheid state's pavilion.

A novel feature was a small patch of ‘Holy Land’ that visitors to the pavilion could walk on (without fear of being interrogated, detained, shot or deported).

The Israel Ministry of Tourism stand freely dispensed maps which identified the West Bank as ‘Judea’ and ‘Samaria’ and at the Jerusalem Tourism counter we collected literature advertising the 2012 Jerusalem Marathon. On a cover of a flyer promoting the event, the logo of Adidas, a major sponsor was mysteriously absent even though other sponsors logos were prominently displayed.

Another Dead Sea cosmetics company, Dead Sea Premier, who flog their dodgy products from kiosks staffed by Israelis in shopping centres, was also exhibiting. This company - just like Ahava – has a notorious background.

In December 2009, eight Premier employees who staffed a kiosk in a Bristol shopping centre were arrested (and later deported) for working illegally in the UK. And in January 2011, activists scored another BDS victory by successfully getting Premier’s kiosks removed from Irish and Scottish shopping centres.

‘More than you could ever imagine’ is Premier’s highly appropriate tagline.

Premier’s representative when questioned about the source of the natural minerals used in their products replied: “I don’t know,” despite the free samples being labelled ‘Made in Israel.’ When asked about Premier’s presence in West Bank settlements, the representative offered a brochure and left to speak to a colleague.

Dead Sea Premier: "More than you could ever imagine"

At the larger Ahava stand around the corner, the display stands were filled with a wide assortment of their stolen goods for sale, which was probably stock from their former Monmouth Street shop. The prices were crudely drawn on pieces of lined paper with a biro - something that looked very much out-of-place.

We were later to find out why.

Playing the part of a potential customer, I casually asked one of Ahava’s ambassadors if anyone had questioned the legality of their products. The representative nodded their head and in a quiet voice said, “I  know, but I can’t talk about it.

That said it all.

After walking and leafleting around the world for several hours distributing Ahava boycott campaign postcards and chatting to countless exhibitors and visitors, we attracted the attention of some Spanish and African reporters who wanted to know more about the campaign and interviewed us.

At the end of a very productive day, we paid a visit to see the organiser and asked why Ahava was permitted to exhibit and sell their illegal goods. Apparently, the sale of products at the exhibition was against the rules and we were told someone would investigate.

Unfortunately, no one was able to provide a reason why Ahava, given their notoriety, was even allowed to exhibit, but the person at the front desk did provide contact details of one Paul Nelson, Reed Exhibition’s PR Manager.

Not surprisingly, neither Mr Nelson nor anyone else from Reed ever returned our emails or phone calls.

Returning the next day to the Israel pavilion, I was pleased to see that our visit resulted in some success, as no Ahava products were being sold.

Word must have spread about our efforts, as there were more security staff at the Israel pavilion than during the previous day, along with fewer visitors. Success!

Our observations proved without a doubt that behind Brand Israel’s slick facade, something sure stinks.

This overzealous Israeli wanted this image deleted in the interests of 'security,' but this is the UK, not the West Bank.

An opportunity to safely walk on Palestinian land.

Caught! Packing up Ahava's stolen goods which are clearly visible in the boxes.

The Palestine pavilion, unlike Israel's, was in the Middle East area of the exhibition.