Dead Sea
Dead SeaIsrael news photo: courtesy of Ahava Cosmetic

A coalition of prominent British academics and cultural figures on Tuesday accused the Natural History Museum in London of helping to break international law by leading a research project with Ahava – Dead Sea Laboratories, the British daily Independent reported.

The coalition is claiming Ahava is located in an “illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank,” according to the report. The Ahava plant is located in a kibbutz on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea.

The members of the coalition sent a letter to The Independent in which they condemned the museum - which is the fourth most visited in Britain - for its research collaboration with Ahava.

The museum is co-ordinating NANORETOX, a European Union-funded project which looks at any risks to human health and the environment posed by so-called nanoparticles - microscopic engineered materials which scientists are developing for multiple uses from cancer treatment to double glazing.

In their letter, the 21 signatories, including the biologist Sir Patrick Bateson, president of the Zoological Society of London, and leading intellectual Sir Jonathan Miller, claim that the Natural History Museum’s connection with Ahava-DSL means that it is “co-ordinating an activity that breaks international law.”

“[Ahava-DSL] extracts, processes and exports Palestinian resources to generate profits that fund an illegal settlement,” the letter reads. “Israel’s settlement project has been held... to break international law. Organizations which aid and abet this process may well themselves be found to be in violation.”

The signatories add, “We find it almost inconceivable that a national institution of the status of the Natural History Museum should have put itself in this position. We call on the museum to take immediate steps to terminate its involvement in [the project] and to establish safeguards that protect against any comparable entanglement.”

The Natural History Museum told The Independent in response that Ahava-DSL was chosen from a listed of scientific partners approved by the European Commission and suggested that any decision to boycott the project could be a challenge to “academic freedom”.

Professor Ian Owens, the museum’s director of science, was quoted by The Independent as having said, “We work within the legal and policy boundaries established by politicians and policy makers, and would not participate in any academic or educational boycotts that could restrict academic freedom.”

A pharmacy chain in South Africa recently faced a boycott threat over its decision to sell Dead Sea skin care products.

An Arab woman who visited a branch of the Dis-Chem chain and noticed the products made sent a letter of complaint to the company, claiming the products come “from a country whose human rights violations replicate Hitler’s Nazism.”

Dis-Chem would not remove the products and the company’s CEO told the woman that likening Israel’s supposed human rights violations was a “a scurrilous slur that you have clearly chosen to employ in order to give maximum offence.”

He added:

"If it is your intention to boycott Israeli products, you need to be consistent if your gesture is to have any meaning. I hope you don’t use an Intel chip in your computer with which you probably wrote your e-mail because it was invented in Israel.

“I hope that you stay in good health because if you need preventative surgery against a heart attack, you will have to boycott the procedure because guess what? The stent was invented in Israel!

“Likewise, I hope you are never prescribed any patch for diabetes, to deliver medication and other drugs. If you are an asthmatic you may have to use a new type of inhaler (Spin) invented in Israel. So please check!

“Israel has given the world the system of drip irrigation which is being widely adopted in SA with water shortages like many countries. Should you boycott all fruit and vegetables grown by this method? The list that Israel has given the world is very lengthy. Check very carefully before you boycott"

Other boycotts of the popular Ahava have been attempted in the past. In one such attempt, a pro-Arab group in Canada called for a boycott of the popular products, saying the company “is economically linked to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.”

An earlier similar attempt in Brooklyn actually achieved the opposite and managed to boost the company’s business.

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