Norway’s King Harald was placed in an awkward position during a reception for the outgoing Israeli President, Shimon Peres, as part of the 90-year-old’s official visit to Oslo earlier this week. Peres presented the King with two bags of Ahava skincare products, produced in an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank.
“It is incredibly arrogant and puts the king in an embarrassing situation,” Stein Guldbrandsen, a member of the powerful Fagforbundet trade union’s committee, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Thursday. “Ahava are products Israel gets out of the occupied area, and which takes out natural resources and runs production in violation of international law.” Norwgian beauty chain Vita used to stock Ahava products, but pulled them from sale last year. The palace’s only comment was that the products would be added to the official gift register.
Relations between Norway and Israel have been fraught, and Peres’ visit was seen as an attempt to smooth over tensions now that the pro-Israel Progress Party is part of the Conservative-led government. In 2012 Fagforbundet and the labour movement’s humanitarian organization, Norwegian People’s Aid (Norsk Folkehjelp), released a report detailing Norway’s oil fund investments in 51 international and Israeli companies which directly or indirectly supported the occupation of the Palestinian territory. The report encouraged consumers to boycott products, including Ahava. Norwegian authorities have no official position on businesses stocking products produced in Israeli settlements, but many have voluntarily withdrawn such wares.
During a press conference, Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Peres announced that Norway and Israel would build stronger and closer trade ties. Guldbrandsen argued Israeli products to be sold in Norway needed to be appropriately labelled, showing they were produced in Israel and not the occupied territories.