While M&S has long been boycotted by many, consumers are now calling for the closure of M&S branches in the Middle East.
Marks & Spencer found itself in the eye of a storm after releasing a Christmas advertisement perceived by many as having anti-Palestinian subliminal messages, as millions of Palestinians in Gaza face genocide at the hands of Israel.
The initial clip showed a woman with blue eyeliner that many speculated to be the occupation’s flag, smirking as she looked at invitation cards she had set aflame. The campaign was soon followed by an image related that depicted hats, mirroring the colours of the Palestinian flag, being consumed by flames.
The captioned hashtag, “#LoveThismasNotThatmas,” further aggravated people, who saw it as a thinly veiled reference to Hamas, the Palestinian resistance group.
In a bid to address the mounting criticism, Marks & Spencer took down the contentious post from their official Instagram account.
Shortly after, the British retail giant released a formal statement addressing the matter.
“Today we shared an outtake image from our Christmas Clothing and Home advert, which was recorded in August. It showed traditional, festive coloured red, green, and silver Christmas paper party hats in a fire grate,” it said.
“While the intent was to playfully show that some people just don’t enjoy wearing paper Christmas hats over the festive season, we have removed the post following feedback and we apologise for any unintentional hurt caused.”
However, the backtrack on the campaign appeared to be too little too late for many. Consumers took to social media platforms to voice their disapproval, pointing out that this could not simply be brushed aside as subliminal messaging.
“They enjoy the money of the people of the Gulf, but they insult and burn the Palestinian flag without caring about the countries in which they make their wealth. This would not please the free or the honourable,” tweeted Alaa Hamdan.
Historical ties to Zionism and Israel
For those familiar with the history of Marks & Spencer, this controversy might not come as a shock.
The company’s roots trace back to connections with Zionism and Israel. When Simon Marks took the reins as chairman in 1916, he made several commercial changes, but his most significant move was to bring aboard his childhood friend, Israel Sieff, as company director.
Their bond extended beyond the realms of business and ventured deep into Zionist activism. Sieff, having been influenced by Chaim Weizmann since 1913, partnered with Weizmann and Marks to play a pivotal role in the events leading up to the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
However, the connections didn’t end there. Rebecca Sieff, Israel Sieff’s wife and Simon Marks’s sister, was instrumental in founding WIZO, the Women’s Zionist Organization, in 1920.
Lord Marcus Sieff, a long-standing Chairman of M&S, further underscored the company’s commitment to Israel in his book, ‘Management: The Marks & Spencer Way.’
He wrote about one of M&S’s primary objectives being to foster the economic development of Israel.
M&S was also instrumental in bringing Israeli goods to the British market, according to Barry Kosmin of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research.
Lawrence Joffe, writing for the Jerusalem Report, pointed out that M&S introduced Israeli avocados to Britain and relied heavily on Israeli manufacturers for various products.
The company’s purchases from Israel, as stated by Richard Sheldon, head of M&S operations in Israel, stood at a staggering $233 million every year.