The Body Shop, a British-based retailer of personal care products, is apologizing for a 2002 human rights award it gave to a Palestinian group. The action comes after a Los Angeles-based boycott campaign caught the attention of The Body Shop and Jewish leaders.
Jewish activists began the boycott effort after learning of the retailer's 2002 honoring of the National Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced and for a 2001 Day for Palestine fundraiser in the United Arab Emirates. The Body Shop had been coming under increasing scrutiny since the broad e-mail campaign began in August. However, the retailer has no plans at this time to withdraw the award.
The award shows that The Body Shop favors the Palestinian side in the Middle East conflict, said David Frankenthal, a Los Angeles computer consultant who runs an online activist group called Join The Boycott, which previously called for boycotting newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times over news coverage of Israel.
The Body Shop created the biennial Body Shop Human Rights Award in 2000. The National Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced was one of four 2002 recipients to share the award's $300,000 prize. The group advocates the Palestinian "right of return," widely seen in the Jewish community as destructive to the Jewish state. The group's documents denounce the founding of "the Israeli state, gained with the support of international Zionism and imperialist forces."
Body Shop officials initially sent activists standard e-mail responses stating that the Palestinian group was being honored with the $75,000 prize for being one of the "best examples of peaceful grass-roots activism on the issue of housing."
The online boycott campaign also caught the attention of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). In a Sept. 20 letter to ADL National Director Abraham Foxman, Adrian Bellamy, Body Shop International executive chairman, said the retailer would be taking "as balanced an approach as possible" on future company honors.
The Body Shop told activists in e-mails that it "supports the integrity of the award jury and the robustness of the selection process." But Bellamy later wrote to Foxman that the awards jury "did not consider the broader issue of a right of return' for all Palestinian people living outside Israel, or any individual opinions that may have been expressed on this broader issue by members of the National Committee [for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced]."
"We have not promoted a broader agenda for a 'right of return' for all Palestinians nor rejected Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state," stated Bellamy's letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Jewish Journal.
Frankenthal said he obtained at least 1,000 signatures of people willing to boycott Body Shop stores. Following the online uproar, the retailer removed images of the awards and its Palestinian honoree from its Web site.
"The Body Shop has been reviewing the future of the Human Rights Award over the last few months," Bellamy wrote to the ADL. "We sincerely apologize if we have caused offense in making this award."
Foxman said he was pleased with the retailers' plan to fix its awards system, but he did not agree with the online activists' call for a Body Shop boycott.
"We do not call for boycotts," said Foxman, who also credited the Jewish activists' campaign, because it got The Body Shop's attention. "They realized that what they were doing was misinterpreted."
The e-mail campaign also called for a boycott because of a June 2001 Body Shop event in the United Arab Emirates. There, the chain's seven stores sponsored the A Day for Palestine fundraiser, with each store's one-day revenues being donated to a Palestinian-allied charity.
The fundraiser was not a pressing issue to ADL leaders. A Body Shop spokesman told The Journal that the event was done by franchise retailers in the United Arab Emirates, which, as local franchisees, can create their own charity events without approval from Body Shop management.
Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), has some local ties to The Body Shop at Sherman Oaks Fashion Square. The store carries JFS brochures and pink-and-white laminated hot-line cards for its Family Violence Project, part of the Body Shop's commitment to U.S. domestic violence programs.
Paul Castro, JFS executive director, said The Body Shop's U.S. arm has donated between $200-$300 to JFS in the past 18 months. When Castro learned about The Body Shop's honoring of the Palestinian group, he said, "We're clearly going to have to re-examine it [the donor relationship]. The relationship has been sort of casual. They've been supportive of the work we have done." n
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