Ivan Saltzman, the chief executive of pharmacy giant Dis-Chem, is embroiled in an ugly spat with a Durban woman over the retailer’s decision to sell Israeli-made skin care products.
The spat began when Fathima Moosa visited the Westwood Mall branch of Dischem and noticed that they were selling Dead Sea products made in Israel.
She later submitted an online letter of complaint, asking them to remove the products on the basis that Israel’s “human rights violations replicate Hitler’s Nazism”.
After Dis-Chem’s initial response that the products were not going to be removed, Moosa demanded that her e-mail be forwarded to top management.
Twenty days later, Saltzman responded to her personally, telling her 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”.
The spat which has since seen the Islamic Media Review Network get involved with an open letter to Saltzman now threatens to turn into boycott of Dis-Chem by pro-Palestinian groups in SA.
Saltzman said he wrote the letter in his personal capacity and said Dischem would continue selling products from Israel and Muslim countries.
On November 24 in an online letter to Dis-Chem, Moosa wrote: “As a South African who lived under oppression, I was very upset to see that your store imports products from a country whose human rights violations replicate Hitler’s Nazism.
“Please consider removing Israeli products from your shelves.”
Dawn de Klerk, group customer consultant at Dis-Chem, wrote back telling her that a director at Dis-chem said they would not remove the product.
Moosa wrote back saying she was disappointed with Dis-Chem and asked that her e-mail be forwarded to the director.
“It is very easy for us to rise to the defence of those who are from our brethren, but the nobler response is to do what’s right, even if its the unpopular choice,” she wrote.
On December 14, Saltzman responded her initial letter saying that the crimes of the Nazi regime involved the deliberate mass murder of millions of civilians, largely Jews, was a matter of planned policy.
“Is this really what Israel is doing? Obviously not – in fact, it does completely the opposite. Israel goes to extraordinary lengths to minimise civilian casualties and has been extremely successful in this regard.
“Palestinian (or for that matter Lebanese) casualties have been a tiny fraction of what they would have been if Israel had truly adopted a Nazi-like extermination policy, given the massive military capability it has at its disposal,” Saltzman said.
“In fact, it is very easy to identify the true modern-day Nazis in the Middle East. They are found in the ranks of such murderous extremist groupings as Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestine Islamic Jihad (amongst others), all of which regard the mass murder of Israeli Jews as the noblest goal their followers can aspire to,” he said.
Saltzman said that if Moosa chose to boycott Dis-Chem it was her decision.
“However, 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 what you boycott,” he said.
Saltzman said he would continue selling the Dead Sea range.
Salim Vally, spokesman of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in SA, said it was shocking for the chief executive of a major company to make such “outrageous statements”.
In a statement, the Media Review Network and the Muslim Judicial Council said it was “deplorable and completely unacceptable” that Saltzman justifies his company’s business ties with Israel by comparing Israel’s human rights violations with violations in other Middle Eastern countries.
Mary Kluck, chairwoman of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, said importing politics from the Middle East to SA was counter productive.
“We believe in constructive dialogue; we don’t believe that boycotting anything is going to be constructive,” she said.