French Cosmetic giant L’Oréal fired hijab-clad Muslim model, Amena Khan on Monday following revelations that Khan posted several anti-Semitic memes and rants on social media. Most of the postings were from the summer of 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, while Israel was in the midst of a difficult counter-insurgency campaign aimed at stopping indiscriminate Hamas rocket fire and destroying Hamas terror tunnels that the group hoped to use in the commission of mega attacks against Israelis.
L’Oréal had initially hired Khan to feature in an ad campaign for hair products. Khan attempted to frantically delete the damning tweets but soon learned to her chagrin that what’s posted on the internet stays on the internet like a stubborn rash that won’t go away.
In a statement, Khan said that she “deeply regret[ted] the content of the tweets,” and decided to step down because she didn’t want to serve as a distraction from the positive aspects of L’Oréal’s message of inclusivity. L’Oréal released its own message stating that it agreed with Khan’s decision to step down.
Reading between the lines, it’s easy to discern that Khan’s decision to step down was anything but voluntary. L’Oréal fired her and had no choice in the matter. The backlash against L’Oréal was instantaneous, and the company had its reputation to protect, and of course, the bottom line.
Khan’s tweets were indeed vile and rabidly anti-Semitic. She called Israel a “sinister state” and an “illegal state.” She accused Israel of committing genocide, massacres and deliberately targeting children for murder, and for good measure, added rape and torture to the mix. She then went on to compare the Israel Defense Forces with Nazi henchmen. When another twitter user pointed out the absurdity of the comparison by utilizing biting sarcasm, Khan ignored the pointed criticism and doubled down on her absurd comparison.
No one is punishing Khan for criticizing the Israeli government or its policies. No country on earth should be exempt from criticism. But often times, Israel’s shrillest critics, many of whom are deeply anti-Semitic, cross the line veering squarely into overt Jew-hatred. Khan clearly crossed that line with her inflammatory and patently absurd rhetoric.
Famed human rights activist and refusenik Natan Sharansky postulated a simple test, called the 3D Test, to determine whether criticism of Israel crosses the line. If the criticism demonizes Israel by comparing the nation, its government and its armed forces to Nazis, that constitutes antisemitism. If the criticism delegitimizes Israel by questioning Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, that constitutes antisemitism. If the criticism subjects Israel to double standards, whereby only Israel is criticized and nations or entities committing far more egregious transgressions are insulated from criticism, that constitutes antisemitism. The United States State Department incorporates elements of this test into its definition of antisemitism.
Under the 3D paradigm, Amena Khan clearly crossed the line and in fact, violated all three at once. She compared Israel to Nazis thus engaging in demonizing calumnies. She called Israel and “Illegal state” thus questioning the legitimate right of Israel to exist. Finally, she directed scathing criticism against Israel while ignoring Hamas transgressions – indiscriminate rocket fire, cynical exploitation of human shields, terror tunnels – and even acted as an apologist for the terror group’s activities.
The double irony is that L'Oreal, maker of Lash Architect 3D Mascara, hired a bigoted individual who was guilty of practicing 3D antisemitism to feature prominently as the company’s representative in its inclusivity and diversity ad campaign. It goes without saying that a figure as odious as Khan would make for a rather poor spokeswoman, a PR disaster.
L’Oréal’s past is sullied with the stench of antisemitism. Its founder, Eugène Schueller, was deeply anti-Semitic and despite the fact that his country was conquered and occupied by Germany, was an admirer of Nazism and Hitler. But his pro-Nazi attitudes went beyond admiration. He actively collaborated with the Nazis supplying paint for the Reich’s naval fleet and forging a close relationship with a German official named Helmut Knochen. Knochen was responsible for rounding up French Jews for deportation and murder and following the war, named Schueller as one of his “voluntary collaborators.”
But it would be unfair to blame L’Oréal for the sins of its past. In fact, L’Oréal currently has a major presence in Israel, and with its headquarters in Netanya, its logistics center in Cesarea, and its plant in Migdal HaEmek, employs some one-thousand Israelis. More importantly, while L’Oréal can be accused of negligence for failing to perform the requisite background checks, it acted appropriately when the offending tweets came to light and terminated its relationship with Khan in relatively expeditious fashion.
The lesson for large companies with reputations to protect like L’Oréal is obvious; have your HR people exercise some simple due diligence before taking on a high profile hire. The lesson for Khan and those of similar ilk is equally obvious; learn to break the chains of mindless hate and ignorance, and if you’re incapable of doing so, don’t broadcast your vile, xenophobic ignorance to the world via social media because your words will undoubtedly come back to haunt you.