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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wikileaks: Libyan anti-semitic campaign against Marks and Spencer

From The Guardian:
A Marks & Spencer store in Tripoli was subjected to a "repugnant anti-semitic" smear campaign by the Libyan government in an attempt to force its closure, according to US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks.

The row became so violent that US officials were warned by Libyan government contacts that at least one high-ranking businessman backing the franchise could be murdered in a faked car crash.

Attacks on the British retailer by Libyan officials "at the highest levels" risked causing irretrievable damage to bilateral ties with the UK, the US embassy in Tripoli warned Washington in 2008.

The memo described the "ongoing drama surrounding efforts by the UK government and investors to keep open the Marks & Spencer retail store in Tripoli, and a campaign by some Libyan government officials to close it."

M&S opened the Tripoli store – its first in Africa – in April 2008 and the franchise is still operating today. But after its launch the store was subjected to what the cable described as "persistent anti-Semitic rhetoric" by the Libyan government. There were accusations that M&S was a "Zionist entity" with Jewish origins, that supported Israel and "the killing of Palestinians".

The store was temporarily closed by Libyan authorities at least twice, and employees were repeatedly taken in for official questioning and put under "close scrutiny" by security officials who, the ambassador warned, were used as a "strongarm adjunct in this political play".

...Marks & Spencer told the Guardian: "M&S is a secular organisation embracing all cultures, nationalities, races and religions. We do not support or align ourselves to any countries, nations, states, governments, political parties or religious bodies."
And history repeats itself. From Al Masry al-Youm, last week:
This international BDS movement has campaigned against multinational corporations that do business with Israel and/or have close ties to the Zionist movement, including Starbucks, Marks & Spencer, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and Nestle, amongst others. Marks & Spencer in particular has been the target of a burgeoning BDS campaign in the UK and Ireland since 2006.

In Egypt, the boycott campaign against Marks & Spencer commenced in November. The campaign's website, dubbed "Stop Marks & Spencer in Egypt," lists 15 reasons why Egyptians should boycott the soon-to-open department store.

"We’re calling on Egyptians to boycott because we know that it is easier and less risky to abstain from purchasing products than it is to engage in activism and street protests,” campaign organizer Salma Shukrallah told Al-Masry Al-Youm. "We are specifically targeting Marks & Spencer because it is one of the primary corporations that support the Zionist movement.”

Shukrallah went on to say that the Jewish owners of the store chain had been involved with Zionism since the early 20th century, "decades before the establishment of the Zionist Entity [Israel]."

"We are not campaigning against Marks & Spencer because its owners are Jewish, but rather Zionists,” she stressed. “Nonetheless, accusations of anti-Semitism are typically leveled against the BDS movement by supporters of Zionism."

Marks & Spencer failed to reply to Al-Masry Al-Youm's questions by email regarding the corporation's historical links to Zionism and its position on BDS campaigns targeting the store’s new Egypt operations. The company’s customer-service section did, however, send a standard reply to activists’ enquiries, which read as follows:

“At M&S we do not support or align ourselves to governments, political parties or religious bodies. Despite this, we are sometimes asked to boycott products from various countries for a number of political, moral and social reasons.”

“Israel is one of over 70 countries we source our products from. It is important that we visit each factory or supplier location to check that our quality and ethical standards are maintained. As we are not able to do this in the West Bank or Golan Heights areas, we are not sourcing goods from there.”

“We do not feel that we should impose any specific views on our customers. All our products are clearly labeled with the country of origin or production to enable customers to make their own informed choice about what they wish to buy.”

The first Marks & Spencer store is to scheduled to launch operations in early 2011 in Dandy Mall, located on the Cairo-Alexandria desert highway. A larger branch is also scheduled to open in the Cairo Festival City shopping mall by spring 2012.