Fashion retailer Zara condemns anti-Palestinian comments made by designer

Fashion retailer Zara on Tuesday condemned anti-Palestinian comments made by one of its senior designers after the remarks spurred calls for a boycott of the Spanish apparel line on social media.

Vanessa Perilman, Zara’s head designer for its women’s department, got into an online argument with model Qaher Harhash, who is Palestinian, over his advocacy for the people in Gaza.

“Maybe if your people were educated then they wouldn’t blow up the hospitals and schools that Israel helped to pay for in Gaza,” Perilman wrote to Harhash on Instagram over direct message on June 9.

“The people in my industry know the truth about Israel and palestine and I will NEVER stop defending Israel and people like you come and go in the end,” Perilman wrote. “Israelis don’t teach children to hate nor throw stones at soldiers as your people do.”

In an interview from Berlin on Wednesday, Harhash said he was initially stunned that someone with so much influence in fashion like Perilman would engage with him in such a coarse manner.

“I went into their profile, and I saw that it said she’s the senior women’s designer at Zara,” Harhash told NBC News. “So I was like, I backed up, I thought to myself, like first of all, I just don’t want to mess with, with anyone you know.”

Harhash posted screenshots of Perilman’s messages to his Instagram stories, which then went viral. Posts demanding Perilman be disciplined and calling for a boycott of Zara were liked tens of thousands of times on social media.

In a statement to NBC News on Tuesday, the company that owns the Zara brand, Inditex, said it “does not accept any lack of respect to any culture, religion, country, race or belief.”

“Zara is a diverse company and we shall never tolerate discrimination of any kind,” the company continued. “We condemn these comments that do not reflect our core values of respect for one another, and we regret the offense that they have caused.”

The company did not mention any plans to discipline the designer.

Palestinian model Qaher Harhash.Courtesy of Iconic Management

Perilman appeared to backtrack after her initial comments went viral, writing to Harhash that she was sorry. “Well I guess it goes back to the old saying my grandmother said which is ‘anger is the beginning of bad judgement,'” she wrote in direct messages that Harhash also shared on Instagram. “I am so so sorry. I really hope you can forgive me.”

Perilman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Harhash urged those in the fashion industry to stand up against anti-Palestinian sentiment.

“We usually see brands standing against anti-Semitism, but we it’s also time we see brands standing against anti-Palestinianism,” the East Jerusalem born and raised model said. “And that’s something that should be addressed.”

Whole buildings and many homes in the Gaza Strip were either damaged or destroyed during the 11-day conflict between Israeli forces and Hamas in May.

At least 243 Palestinians in Gaza and 12 Israelis were killed during these escalations, according to officials. What began with clashes that first erupted months ago in Jerusalem boiled over into a conflict that spread far beyond the city’s ancient walls — leading to a wave of civil unrest within Israel and protests across the world.

Harhash said Zara could use this opportunity to reach out to Palestinians and the greater Muslim community.

“When it comes to Zara, however, what I would really hope for is that they make a statement that is not only directed towards me, but also a statement that is directed towards Muslims that they’ve offended, Palestinians that they’ve offended,” he said Wednesday.

“I think that’s something that’s really important, because they could apologize to me, and I could accept that, but then there’s a load of audience — like a huge amount of Arabs and Muslims — that are offended by what they’ve said.”

David K. Li contributed.