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