IkeaFlash 90

The Israeli branch of Swedish furniture giant Ikea has apologized for issuing a catalogue aimed at haredi customers containing no images of females.

The catalogue was a first such attempt to reach out to the haredi community, which makes up around 10 percent of Israel's population and lives in compliance with a stringent interpretation of Jewish laws.

Ikea, however, does take its religious customers into account within its Israeli branches.

Its cafeterias feature only a strictly kosher (mehadrin) menu and an Arutz Sheva staff member who went shopping at Ikea Rishon Letzion during the yeshiva break (bein hazmanim), found it filled with haredi and religious Zionist shoppers, many of them with their children. Haredi and religious Zionist families were on line at the cafeteria and many of the men took part in a large minyan for evening services (maariv) located right next to the eating area.

For reasons of modesty, images of women and girls are not to be found in haredi newspapers and magazines, and are frequently removed from advertisements aimed at that community.

The male-only catalogue, featuring haredi models, was published in addition to the regular brochure.

According to the Ynet news website, the male-only catalogue highlights items in demand among haredi families, which tend to be large, such as bunk beds and bookshelves to handle extensive collections of Judaic works.

The reasonable prices also are attractive to large families where incomes tend to be low.

The catalogue cover shows an haredi man gazing into an open book standing next to a bookshelf packed with Jewish scriptures and a large silver menorah, with two boys playing on the carpet nearby.

"Designed especially for you," read the Hebrew words below the large blue "IKEA."

Ynet said reactions to the catalog included "confusion, sarcasm and incredulity."

A spokeswoman for Ikea in Sweden stressed that their brand "stands for equal rights."

"We find that the local publication from Ikea Israel does not live up to this," she said, noting that "the franchisee in Israel takes this seriously" and will "safeguard that future publications are in line with what our brand stands for."

Shuky Koblenz, chief executive of Ikea in Israel, said they issued a "customized" brochure in February aimed at the haredi religious sector "in an attempt to reach this minority community in Israel."

"We realise that people are upset about this and that the publication does not live up to what Ikea stands for and we apologize for this," he said in a statement.

"We will make sure that future publications will reflect what Ikea stands for and at the same time show respect for the haredi community," he said.

Ikea, with nearly 400 stores in 48 countries worldwide, has three branches in Israel and is planning to open two more in the next few years.