Berlin department store restocks settlement goods after backlash

Following criticism from Israel and Facebook users, KaDeWe says it acted ‘insensitively’ and apologizes for ‘wrong behavior’

KaDeWe, Germany's largest department store, Berlin (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, Beek100)
KaDeWe, Germany's largest department store, Berlin (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, Beek100)

An iconic Berlin department store on Sunday reversed its decision to take off its shelves Israeli settlement goods lacking special labels marking their origin, apologizing for the move and promising to restock the goods.

“As of today the 8 Israeli wines will be back in our assortment,” a statement on KaDeWe’s (Kaufhaus des Westens) website read.

“In this matter, which was about a European Union recommendation, we acted too quickly and insensitively. We regret that this wrong behavior of the KaDeWe Group led to misunderstandings and would like to apologize for this,” the statement said.

The store had pulled some Israeli goods from its shelves following a recent European Union rule outlawing “Made in Israel” tags on products made in Jewish West Bank settlements, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. New guidelines call for the products to be labeled to indicate that they are made in occupied territory.

Shoppers at KaDeWe. (CC BY-SA Kent Wang, Flickr)
Shoppers at KaDeWe. (CC BY-SA Kent Wang, Flickr)

In its statement, KaDeWe stressed the fact that it stocks over 200 Israeli products and is proud to stand for “openness and internationality.”

The action only applied to eight wines produced by Israeli vintners over the Green Line, the store said; however, in light of the fact that KaDeWe was the first major store to adopt the non-mandatory guidelines, the decision elicited harsh responses from Israeli government officials as well as social media users.

Facebook users over the weekend launched a shaming campaign against KaDeWe, accusing it of anti-Semitism, and torpedoed its online ranking.

On the KADeWe store’s official Facebook page, hundreds of users left comments in German condemning the decision to remove the products and calling for shoppers to boycott the premises.

The official page also includes a review section where users can provide feedback on the shop. By Sunday morning, there were some 2,400 one-star ratings on the page, along with comments in English and German that recalled the Nazi era, when the store was confiscated from its Jewish then-owners. The store also still had 6,400 five-star ratings.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized KaDeWe at the opening of Sunday’s cabinet meeting in Jerusalem and called on the German government to step in and put an end to what he said was a “total boycott.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government meeting in Jerusalem, November 22, 2015. (Photo by Emil Salman/Haaretz)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government meeting in Jerusalem, November 22, 2015. (Photo by Emil Salman/Haaretz)

“This department store was under Jewish ownership, the Nazis took it,” Netanyahu said. “In an absurd way, now this department store is marking products from settlements in Judah, Samaria [the West Bank] and the Golan. It started with marking products, and now we have been told that they removed the products — a total boycott.

“We protest this unacceptable step — unacceptable from an ethical point of view, substantively improper and historically invalid. We expect the German government, which came out against the labeling of products, to take action in this serious matter.”

Last week, EU envoy to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen said comparisons to World War II era anti-Semitism were unwarranted and cheapened the memory of the Holocaust.

Earlier this month the Bundestag faction of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party [link in German] rejected the EU’s initiative as “wrong,” arguing that it would likely be misused by Israel’s enemies and does not promote Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. But the government in Berlin has so far not announced whether it will implement or disregard the union’s directives.

Israeli officials have lambasted the labeling guidelines, published earlier this month, as anti-Semitic, though European official have defended the decision as a technical measure meant to streamline rules for the bloc’s 28 countries.

KaDeWe, established in 1907 by a Jewish businessman, is the largest department store in continental Europe, serving tens of thousands of customers each day. In 1927, KaDeWe was purchased by a Jewish family business enterprise and was later boycotted by the Nazis, who finally seized the store in 1933. The store reopened after World War II and has since changed hands several times. It is currently owned by a Thai company.

The economic impact of the labeling move is expected to be minimal. While the EU is Israel’s largest trade partner, settlement products account for less than 2 percent of Israel’s 13 billion euro ($14 billion) exports to Europe each year.

Once the ruling is implemented, European consumers will be able to read on the label of most products — including agricultural goods, olive oil, cosmetics and wines — if they were produced in Israeli settlements.

Israel captured the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War. It extended sovereignty to East Jerusalem, and extended Israeli law to the Golan Heights in the early 1980s, but did neither in the West Bank.

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