The Bonus Book of the Week is “Bitter Scent, The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis and the Arab Boycott” by Michael Bar-Zohar, published in 1996.
The complicated history that led up to the situation which monster-sized international health-and-beauty-aids company L’Oreal faced in 1989 was most ironic. It dated back to the start of WWII, when two future executives of L’Oreal and Francois Mitterand (future president of France) became good friends, Nazi collaborators– pro-Vichy propagandists and sabotage-plotters, and then, when the tide of the war changed in 1943, allies of the Allies.
In March 1989, Jean Frydman (Israeli and French citizen, Jew, and former member of the WWII French Resistance,) was vice president of Paravision, his film distribution company. Unbeknownst to him, he resigned from the board of directors of Paravision in a fait-accompli by L’Oreal executives. He was ousted in absentia because he had business dealings in Israel.
Various business entities had significant financial interests in others, among them, Paravision, L’Oreal (based in a Paris suburb) and its international subsidiaries, Columbia Pictures, Nestle and Coca-Cola. L’Oreal executives felt the need to comply with a troublesome policy called the “Arab boycott” — considered ethically repugnant by non-Arab industrialized nations. L’Oreal executives were willing to go through a tremendous amount of trouble (most of which they didn’t anticipate) to comply with the boycott to enhance their business interests, but also arguably, because they were anti-Semitic.
The boycott imposed by the Arab League began in 1948 to financially strangle Israel by banning companies that did business with Israel, from doing business with any Arab countries. L’Oreal needed to get Frydman out of the way so it could say it did no business with Israel. But besides, there was a big-name cosmetics company called Helena Rubinstein located in Israel, with which L’Oreal was affiliated. The Arabs were pressuring L’Oreal to dispose of that asset as well, before it allowed lucrative trade with their side.
When Frydman was gobsmacked by his fellow executives and learned that top people at L’Oreal (including its founder) had been Nazi collaborators, hilarity did not ensue. Instead, an orgy of litigation, fishing expeditions, political machinations, palace intrigue, and of course, a propaganda war did.
Read the book to learn the details of this suspenseful, sordid story.