A Brief Chronology of the Marks & Spencer – Israel Relationship

Islamic Human Rights Commission

July 2001

BRIEFING: A Brief Chronology of the Marks & Spencer – Israel Relationship


When he became chairman in 1916, Simon Marks made a number of commercial changes. But his greatest brain wave was to take on his boyhood friend Israel Sieff as company director. The Marks-Sieff partnership went beyond business, into Zionist activity. Sieff had supported Zionism since meeting Chaim Weizmann in 1913. Together with Weizmann, Marks and Sieff helped set in motion the train of events that culminated in the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The following year Israel Sieff headed a Zionist commission, and then served as Weizmann’s secretary at the Versailles Conference. Sieff’s wife (and Simon’s sister) Rebecca helped found WIZO, the Women’s Zionist Organization, in 1920, and ran it for 20 years with Vera Weizmann. And the Daniel Sieff Institute, set up in memory of his son who had died, served as the base when the Weizmann Institute of Science was set up in 1948 (extract from Lawrence Joffe, ‘End of a Jewish Saint’, Jerusalem Report, 5 June 2000)

Indeed, in a book on M&S, Lord Marcus Sieff – long time Chairman of M&S – wrote that one of the fundamental objectives of M&S is to aid the economic development of Israel (Management: The Marks & Spencer Way, Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1990).


Barry Kosmin of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research thus recalls the firm’s once legendary bonds to the Jewish community: “M&S was prominent, even essential, to Anglo-Jewry from the 1960s through to the 1980s … partly because of its strong historical links with Zionism; and partly for its success in getting Israeli goods to the British marketplace…” (cited in Lawrence Joffe, ‘End of a Jewish Saint’, Jerusalem Report, 5 June 2000)

These firm bonds to the Zionist regime, based on the fundamental objective of aiding the economic development of Israel (Lord Marcus Sieff), have continued unimpeded into recent times.


Lawrence Joffe writes for the Jerusalem Report, that “Still, M&S continues its ‘special relationship’ with Israel at the shop floor level. It was M&S which introduced Israeli avocados to Britain. Scientifically bred crustacea from Israel fill the famous M&S prawn with mayonnaise sandwich, the UK’s top seller in the late 90s. M&S still relies heavily on Israeli manufacturers – suits from Polgat, underwear from Delta Galil and lingerie from Triumph. Richard Sheldon, head of M&S operations in Israel, says the firm’s Israeli purchases amounted to $233 million last year. And M&S is maintaining its Israeli connection: This summer it’s due to open up five outlets, selling men’s underwear and lingerie, in Golf Kitan stores around Israel, two years after it closed down a cooperative retailing venture with the Hamashbir department store chain.” (Jerusalem Report, 5 June 2000)

Thus, as far as trade with Israel is concerned, M&S supports Israel with approximately $233 million in trade every year (Jerusalem Report, 5 June 2000) Indeed, according to one report, M&S sales of Israeli imports last year amounted to £240 million (Jewish Chronicle, 8 December 2000). Other reports have given even higher figures. For instance, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) in New York reports: “The clothier bought about $325 million worth of merchandise from Israel last year. That figure includes products produced in Jordan and exported via Israel.” (Richard Allen Greene, ‘British store shrugs off boycott threat from Muslims’, JTA, 13 December 2000)

The British Israel Chamber of Commerce, another Zionist trade organisation with overlapping membership, has held meetings at the M&S store in Baker Street (Jewish Chronicle 20 October 2000). So much does Israel appreciate the firm’s support that it was included among several British businesses honoured in London by the Israeli Ambassador to England for their commercial support of Israel. The JTA reported that “The Israeli ambassador to England recently honoured Marks & Spencer for the company’s continued support of Israel.” (JTA, 13 December 2000. Also see Jewish Chronicle, 24 November)

Additionally, a spokeswoman for M&S stated that “We are a global player and we support many countries, including Israel.” She emphasised, moreover, that: “We have a history and a background with Israel that we are very proud of.” (JTA, 13 December 2000) Indeed, more recently another M&S spokesperson explicitly confirmed that “We are as close to Israel as we have ever been” (Jewish Chronicle, 22 December 2000). This is highly disconcerting, considering the fact admitted by former M&S Chairman Lord Marcus Sieff, that one of the aims of M&S is to aid the economic development of Israel (Management: The Marks & Spencer Way, Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1990).

In other words, M&S’ support of the Zionist regime remains as strong as it ever was. It is thus clear that M&S is, if not the leading, one of the leading commercial supporters of Israel in Britain.