LOCAL health retailer Wellness Warehouse yesterday dismissed speculation that it had succumbed to pressure from pro-Palestinian lobby groups and had stopped stocking products manufactured by Israel’s Ahava Cosmetics.

Civil rights lobby group Open Shuhada Street claimed at the weekend that the health retailer had made a commitment to stop stocking Ahava products after a "successful" protest by group members and University of Cape Town students.

Earlier this year, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies issued a notice to compel traders not to label products originating from occupied Palestinian territories as "made in Israel", prompting a furious reaction from the Israeli government. The notice, which got the thumbs up from the Cabinet, could hamper Israeli companies wanting to do business in SA and also negatively affect large local retailers that stock merchandise from Israel.

Open Shuhada Street had been calling on the South African government to issue the notice. The main targets of the lobby group’s campaign were SDV Pharmaceuticals and Wellness Warehouse, which distribute Ahava products that carry a "made in Israel" label, when in fact they are produced by Dead Sea Laboratories in an "illegal" Israeli settlement in the West Bank, known as Mitzpe Shalem.

"The manager of Wellness Warehouse has confirmed to us that their store has discontinued and removed all Ahava cosmetic products from their shelves. Open Shuhada Street together with our allies have been engaging with Wellness Warehouse for over two years now to respect the Palestinian call for boycott," group committee member Zackie Achmat said at the weekend.

However, Wellness Warehouse CEO Sean Gomes yesterday dismissed the claim by Open Shuhada Street, saying "it was not the case".

Muhammed Desai, spokesman for pro-Palestinian lobby group Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in SA, said the lobby groups would continue with their protests in a bid to rid the industry of Ahava products.

"They (Wellness Warehouse) are coming under pressure … for the regional manager to make a commitment then change it says a lot about the company. It is simple, protests will start again," he said.

South African Zionist Federation spokesman Ben Swartz said yesterday that if Wellness Warehouse had stopped stocking Ahava products, it would have alarmed the pro-Israel lobby in SA, "and it would have been a great concern for all other freedom-loving South Africans in that it would seem that the intimidation tactics of pro-Palestinian fringe activist groups have scared a business in the public sector from selling products of Israeli origin".

"Of even greater concern is the fact that retailers of Israeli goods are being singled out for victimisation and intimidation purely based on the fact of them selling Israeli goods — this is outrageous and we condemn it in the strongest terms possible."