German Department Store Backtracks, Apologizes for Removing Settlement Goods From Shelves

Reversal of decision comes shortly after Netanyahu called on Germany to intervene in what he described as 'boycott.'

The KaDeWe department store in Berlin.
Dreamstime

A German department store that came under fire for removing Israeli settlement goods from its shelves reversed the decision and apologized on Sunday, shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the store for its conduct.

In a statement, the Berlin-based KaDeWe, the largest department store in Europe, said its decision to not sell settlement products was too hasty and insensitive.

"We regret that this wrong behavior of the KaDeWe Group led to misunderstandings and would like to apologize for this," the department store said. 

The department store said the earlier decision applied to eight Israeli wines that would be back in the store as of Sunday.

The store's statement contradicted a previous statement posted on its Facebook page, which claimed that the products were removed as part of a routine inspection of foodstuffs.  "Different period tests are standard tasks especially in our foodhall," the previous statement read. "During those period tests we normally take the articles out of the assortment for a short time. Afterwards we get them back in our shelves immediately. In this case it will of course be the same."

Regarding the Israeli products, the statement said: "The KaDeWe offers an international assortment and we are very proud of it. Of course our assortment contains many products from Israel The KaDeWe stands for cosmopolitanism and internationality. We reject any form of discrimination and intolerance. Of course we continue with great pleasure to offer a large assortment of Israeli products at the KaDeWe."

The statement also contradicted remarks made by the store's spokesperson in an interview with Der Spiegel, published Friday, in which she said that the products removal was meant to correct their labels in accordance to the new EU guidelines. 

In a cabinet meeting earlier Sunday, Netanyahu criticized the products' withdrawal, noting that KaDeWe "department store was under Jewish ownership, the Nazis took it."

"Absurdly, this department store is now labeling products from communities in Judea, Samaria and the Golan, and now we have been informed that they have removed them from the shelves. A boycott for all intents and purposes."

The prime minister called on the German government to intervene. "We vehemently protest this step, which is unacceptable morally, practically and historically," he said. "We expect the German government, which has opposed the marking of these items, to take action on this serious matter."

The department store's decision to remove settlement products from its shelves was first reported Saturday on Der Spiegel. The development came in the wake of the European Union's decision to label products from West Bank settlements and the Golan Heights. In an interview with the magazine, the store's spokeswoman, Petra Fladenhofer said: "Only after fixing the labels, we'll return the products to our shelves."

The lavish KaDeWe department store was opened in 1907. It occupies 60,000 square meters and eight floors, and houses 2,000 stores selling hundreds of thousands of products.

In 1926, the store was sold to a Jewish-owned company, Herman Tietz. The company renovated and expanded the store, but in 1933, after the Nazis rose to power, it was forced to sell the store to German owners.

The current owner of KaDeWe is a privately-held Thai firm named Central Group.

KaDeWe's decision to withdraw the Israeli products from its shelves went against the position of Germany’s ruling party. Earlier this month, the CDU/CSU party spoke out against the European Union’s new labeling guidelines for goods made in Israeli settlements.

The labeling guidelines "might not bring advantages in consumer protection,” Jürgen Hardt, the party's foreign policy spokesman said. “In this case there foremost is a danger of a stigma. An anti-Israeli movement might exploit the decision and put it to use on anti-Israeli campaigns.”