Abigail Disney, a descendant of one of the Disney Company founders, said Monday that she is renouncing her share of the family's profits in the Israeli cosmetics company Ahava, saying it is engaged in the "exploitation of occupied natural resources."
Disney said she will donate the profits and a sum equal to the worth of her shares to "organizations working to end this illegal exploitation." Disney, 52, a filmmaker and businesswoman, is the granddaughter of Roy O. Disney, who co-founded The Walt Disney Company with his brother Walt.
Her move, however, has more of a symbolic significance than a financial one. Shamrock Holdings, the family firm in which she is a partner, has invested heavily in Israel, as evidenced by the wide-ranging activity of its Israeli affiliate, Shamrock Israel.
According to various media reports, Shamrock has invested some $400 million in Israeli companies, about a fifth of its capital. Among its holdings is an investment worth at least $12 million in Ahava, which is based in Kibbutz Mitzpe Shalem on the Dead Sea shores, outside Israel's pre-1967 borders.
After informing her family and partners in the firm of her decision, Disney released the following statement:
“Recent evidence from the Israeli Civil Administration documents that Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories sources mud used in its products from the Occupied shores of the Dead Sea, which is in direct contravention to provisions in the Hague Regulations and the Geneva Convention forbidding the exploitation of occupied natural resources".
“While I will always hold my colleagues and coworkers in the highest regard, I cannot in good conscience profit from what is technically the ‘plunder’ or ‘pillage’ of occupied natural resources and the company’s situating its factory in an Israeli settlement in the Occupied West Bank," Disney said.
“Because of complicated legal and financial constraints I am unable to withdraw my investment at this time, but will donate the corpus of the investment as well as the profits accrued to me during the term of my involvement to organizations working to end this illegal exploitation.”
One of Israel's best known brands overseas, Ahava makes skin care products derived from Dead Sea mud and mineral-based compounds from the Dead Sea. It has stores in Israel, Germany, Hungary, the Philippines and Singapore.
Disney's reference to "evidence from the Israeli Civil Administration" relates to a letter received from the Civil Administration by the "Who Profits From the Occupation" research project. In the letter the Civil Administration confirmed that the military government had issued a permit to Ahava allowing it to take mud from the area adjacent to the Dead Sea captured by Israel in 1967. Disney did not reveal how large her stake is or the sum of the profits that had accrued to her from the investment in Ahava.
Until two months ago, Disney had been deputy chairman of Shamrock Holdings, which was founded in 1978 by her father Roy E. Disney. The firm bought a 17 percent stake in Ahava in 2008, which was worth $12 million at that time.
Ahava representatives said that the purchase was aimed at helping Ahava make foreign investments, specifically forging business connections in the United States.
Shamrock also has a stake in the Teva Naot footwear company, which is located in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem, and in the Orad company, which makes, among other things, control and monitoring technology for the separation barrier running through the West Bank.
Disney, who has a PhD. in English from Columbia University, began making documentary films in 2007. Her first was about the struggles of women in Liberia against the warlords in their strife-torn country in an effort to stop the civil war there.
She was also part of the team that produced a five-part series for the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service called “Women, War and Peace,” which was aired late last year. The series deals with the changes in war theaters since the end of the Cold War, on the one hand, and on the other with the role of women in war-torn societies that are struggling for peace, in countries like Bosnia, Afghanistan, Colombia and Liberia.
In the details given to the media about the series’ creators, it said “[Disney’s] longtime passion for women’s issues and peacebuilding led her to producing these films".
Together with her husband, Pierre Hauser, Disney is also co-founder and co-president of the Daphne Foundation, a foundation that makes grants to grassroots, community-based organizations working with low-income communities in New York City and describes itself as “progressive and seeking social change.”
According to the American group Stolen Beauty, which has called to boycott Ahava products, this profile of Disney conflicts with her previous involvement with investments Shamrock made in those areas captured by Israel in 1967. The group says its staffers were the ones who presented Disney with the findings regarding Israel’s use of natural resources on the West Bank.
Stolen Beauty’s activity in the United States and elsewhere has helped make Ahava cosmetics one of the first mentioned in any discussion of products that are produced in settlements or in industrial zones operated in settlements but are marked “Made in Israel.”
This is the full version of this article. A shortened version, edited for the print edition of Haaretz, was also published.