John Lewis store rounds on Israel boycott campaigners

Company says Palestinian statement on Ahava was false and misleading

By Robyn Rosen, January 20, 2011
Attacks on stores stocking Ahava products have become global. This one was in San Francisco last week

Attacks on stores stocking Ahava products have become global. This one was in San Francisco last week

The department store John Lewis has accused an anti-Israel campaign group of sending "false and misleading" information after it published a triumphant press release linking the company's withdrawal of an Israeli cosmetics brand with the boycott campaign.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) sent an email to its mailing list on Friday claiming John Lewis was "now refusing to stock" Ahava products.

It said: "John Lewis' decision signifies yet another victory for the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Consumers are refusing to buy goods from companies profiting from Israel's illegal occupation."

It quoted a letter from managing director, Andy Street, which linked the company's policy on working conditions to its decision to stop stocking the products.

But, in fact, the decision to stop selling Ahava products was made in 2008 after a decline in sales, and a spokeswoman insisted that it had been "purely a commercial decision.

"John Lewis has seen no evidence of any external campaign having an impact on sales of this product range," she said. "I can confirm that the PSC wrote to Andy Street to ask firstly about whether we had ceased to sell Ahava products and secondly our stance on ethical sourcing.

"Andy responded to confirm that we no longer sell Ahava products, a decision which had been taken and implemented well before he received the PSC's letter. This was based solely on the performance of those products.

"In addition, Andy outlined John Lewis's responsible sourcing policy.

"This information is entirely unrelated to the decision to cease stocking Ahava products. However, the person who wrote the PSC's press release put the two elements together to create a false and misleading quote. We continue to stock products sourced from Israel."

The spokeswoman said the company would be writing to the PSC but would not go into detail about what further action it would take.

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, welcomed the clarification. He said: "We find it disappointing, albeit unsurprising, that the PSC has attempted to manipulate a commercial decision in an attempt to promote its distasteful campaign of demonisation against Israel. "

In February 2009, John Lewis was inundated with complaints from customers who thought it was considering a boycott of Israeli goods after Mill Hill Synagogue's Rabbi Schochet had wrongly assumed that a customer had asked whether the company stocked Israeli goods, in order to boycott it.

The Canadian retailer, Hudson's Bay Company, which has 600 stores, has also announced it has stopped stocking Ahava for "commercial reasons".

But a spokesman strongly denied any link to the "aggressive" boycott campaign.

It urged shoppers to buy the new Ahava products out later this year.

Last updated: 2:12pm, January 20 2011