The KaDeWe controversy ended quickly. Just a few hours after the Berlin department store removed its Israeli wines from its shelves, it put them back. A spokesman for the retailer admitted that the store had acted rashly and with insensitivity; he said the company regretted its “wrong behavior” and apologized.
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As far as is known, this was the first case of compliance with the European Union’s November 11 directive calling on member states to label products from the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem because the EU does not recognize Israeli sovereignty there. The move to label products took shape over many years before EU headquarters in Brussels made the decision.
Along the way, there were other precedents. For example, the Horizon 2020 science research program has barred funding beyond the country’s 1967 borders. Israel responded with impressive rhetoric but actually swallowed the bitter pill and agreed to the restrictions. Hundreds of millions of euros hung in the balance.
In those years, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement was gaining strength. Product-labeling efforts were separate from the BDS campaign, but they ultimately became part of it and strengthened it.
Europe is a hugely important market for Israel; 31% of its exports go there. Of course, a shopper has to be particularly discerning to note the distinction between products made in the territories and those made within Israel’s 1967 borders. Still, the potential damage is massive.
KaDeWe’s managers made a big mistake. The department store is a symbol of the history of German Jewry. Its Jewish owner beginning in 1926, Adolf Abraham Jandorf, was forced to sell in 1933 after the Nazis took power. It’s a symbol of the tragic history of German Jewry, of the mass plunder of property.
The act thus plays a role in the intricate ties between the German people and their country and the Jewish people and Israel. The department store’s buyers should also have known that Germany is waiting patiently at the end of the line — it can’t ignore the EU decision, but what’s the rush?
Germany was already overzealous after the signing of the nuclear agreement with Iran. The ink had not yet dried and German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel was heading a delegation to Iran to explore renewing economic ties, particularly in the energy sector.
And don’t forget the flap involving Israel’s Partner Communications, which does business here under the brand name Orange, the French communications company. Orange’s chief executive announced he would cut ties with Partner. There was a public outcry and the company appeared to backtrack and apologized.
In practice, however, Orange is terminating its relationship with Partner and the use of its name. The conclusion is that if you act openly, you’ll fail, so it’s better to act under the radar. But the people at KaDeWe hadn’t heard about that.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acted quickly and condemned the department store’s decision. In my role as chairman of the Israel-German parliamentary friendship group, I approached my German counterpart, Volker Beck, who was quick to publicly express his reservations over KaDeWe’s conduct. The wine — and cosmetics — were returned to the shelves. Other businesses are following these developments and will draw the appropriate conclusions.
But the celebrating in Israel over the KaDeWe case is premature. The American Anthropological Association has since adopted a resolution boycotting Israeli universities. And every day performers are pressured not to appear in Israel. About a month ago, the BDS movement was recruited to call on chefs not to take part in the Round Tables festival in Tel Aviv.
A third intifada is gaining momentum and could affect our international standing, our economic ties with other countries, tourism to Israel and other interests. Israel may have won the KaDeWe battle, but the real war awaits.
Nachman Shai is a Knesset member for Zionist Union.