Pret a Manger: Reimann family succumbs to anti-Semitism

Pret a Manger credit: Shutterstock
Pret a Manger credit: Shutterstock

Despite founding the Landecker Foundation to fight anti-Semitism and atone for its Nazi past, the Reimann family has caved in to BDS demands to keep Pret a Manger out of Israel.

Behind food and coffee franchise Pret a Manger, which has decided to cancel its decision to open branches in Israel, is the second-most wealthy family in Germany.

The wealth of the Reimann family, which owns the food, cafe, luxury goods and fashion concern JAB Holdings, which acquired a majority stake in Pret as Manger in 2008, is estimated at more than €34 billion. As in most cases when it comes to old German money, it has a dark history. Albert Reimann and his son, who ran the family business (which grew out of the chemicals industry) during World War II, were passionate Nazis, members of the party from its inception, SS supporters who also employed thousands of slave laborers.

The reason we know all this is that, a few years ago, the heirs of the Reimanm family, which mostly keeps a low profile - some are Albert's illegitimate children and some are adopted children - announced the establishment of a historical review committee to examine what happened in the company during those years. This has become  common practice in large German corporations and the rich families that own them. They hire history professors from Germany or Israel, give them a generous budget, unlimited access to the company's archives, issue a comprehensive report that presents the crimes, long after their perpetrators have passed away, and undertake a media mea culpa. In the case of the Reimann family, this included the establishment of the Alfred Landecker Foundation to fight anti-Semitism and raise awareness of the Holocaust.

Force majeure or surrendering to BDS

In Germany, calling for a boycott of Israeli businesses has no public legitimacy. While in the UK, Belgium and other European countries the BDS movement has gained momentum due to the war in Gaza, and campaigns to boycott Israeli businesses no longer link activity outside the green line to the call for divestment, in Germany this is still not the norm. The past still resonates strongly in the Federal Republic of Germany, and it is hard to ignore identification between the calls from the Nazis in the 1930s, "Don't buy from the Jews", and contemporary calls, "Don't buy from the Zionists," which circulate on social networks with increasing frequency. The German government also determined in a historic decision that activity by the BDS movement calling for a boycott of Israeli businesses is anti-Semitic.

Yet here is one of the main companies in the JAB portfolio, owned by a German family, this week actually announcing what could be interpreted as a "surrender" to BDS activists, on the grounds that the war affects its ability to enter Israel and constitutes force majeure. This is according to the announcement by Israeli company Fox-Wizel Group (TASE: FOX), which signed an agreement for Pret a Manger's franchise in Israel. Considering projected Israeli growth and the relatively stable state of the economy and the shekel, it is difficult to see what has changed on the ground since the announcement of the partnership in 2023, apart from the fierce campaign launched by BDS supporters against Pret a Manger since the start of the year. Insurance issues, as cited by the company in response to the media, can be resolved with a little determination and budgets. After all, European airlines fly to Israel as usual and so do many international business representatives.

What has changed, on social media and on the streets of London, is that the company has become associated with slurs about "Israeli apartheid" and "profit from murdering Palestinians." Activists have stormed branches and stolen sandwiches in the name of the Palestinian resistance in Chicago and New York, and displays with artificial blood were placed in front of branches in London. The BDS movement has celebrated the announcement about Pret a Manger's Israel cancelation.

Charitable foundation to fight anti-Semitism

It is of course a legitimate step, if no binding agreement has been signed, to decide that the situation has changed and that that the risk of mass picketing outweighs the potential for profits. But what is particularly disturbing in the current case of the Reimann family is the pretense of clean hands by the German company. After historical research on its Nazi past, the family decided in 2009 to establish a charitable foundation. The Alfred Landecker Foundation has so far donated millions to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, more than €10 million to the Hebrew University, and also promised to contribute to education and awareness of the history of the extermination of the Jews and the fight against anti-Semitism in Europe. The Foundation's website, in capital letters, announced this week that its aims, among other things, are to deal with the past and fight anti-Semitism. The Foundation recently announced its participation in a European initiative to monitor anti-Semitism, which has surged in Europe since October 7.

Thus, one hand of the family contributes to the fight against anti-Semitism in Europe, while the other hand is de facto surrendering to an anti-Semitic boycott campaign. This makes it difficult to take seriously promises about fighting anti-Semitism. Ultimately, cold business calculations play a more significant role, it seems, while announcements of activity against hatred of Jews and anti-Semitic criticism under the guise of criticism of Israel stand out as mere empty words.

If this is how a company behaves that promises to atone for its past in the form of support for learning the lessons of the Holocaust, it is hard to imagine better behavior by other international companies on business with Israel.

The Alfred Landecker Foundation referred "Globes" to JAB Holdings for a response to this article. So far, no response has been forthcoming.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on June 3, 2024.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2024.

Pret a Manger credit: Shutterstock
Pret a Manger credit: Shutterstock
Twitter Facebook Linkedin RSS Newsletters גלובס Israel Business Conference 2018