The Dead Sea Salt Mafia
A New Zealand mall made headlines when it booted out an Israeli cosmetics kiosk for aggressive tactics earlier this summer, but the US has been investigating fraud and illegal employment for years.
‘You, yes, you, my friend, come here for a second, let me show you some amazing products made from Dead Sea minerals. Give me your hand, come on, it’s OK, just a second, just let me see your hand and I’ll show you what these moisturizers can do.”
Young Israelis hawking skin care products, ostensibly made from minerals from the Dead Sea, have become a common sight in malls around the world. They grab customers passing by their kiosks and coerce them into buying overpriced cosmetics, many in an attempt to make money as quickly as possible to fund post-army travels.
But the aggressive maneuvers utilized by the Israeli salespeople, coupled with the fact that many of them are working illegally, have roused the suspicions of the FBI, US Homeland Security, embassies around the world trying to combat labor fraud, and journalists who are uncovering questionable sales tactics.
The issue came to a head in New Zealand earlier this summer, where a Dead Sea Spa kiosk in an Auckland mall was accused of swindling an elderly lady and forcing her to buy $5,000 worth of cosmetics. According to Campbell Live, the New Zealand Channel 3 TV program that first aired the story about the elderly woman, Dead Sea Spa had also charged an autistic man $4,400 for cosmetics in a half hour period, though $1,000 of the charges were not connected to products. On a separate occasion, a saleswoman sold $17,000 of products to a man with short-term memory loss who could not remember purchases he made just minutes earlier.
The reports exposed a dark underbelly of Israelis pursuing work around the world at mall kiosks and carts. In addition to aggressive and predatory sales tactics, the kiosks often skirt legal issues, evading local taxes and employing Israelis who do not have proper working permits.
The leaked cable explains the process through which companies advertise online and in newspapers in Israel — promising exorbitant salaries in the range of $1,500-$3,000 per week — and coach participants how to lie in their tourist visa applications for the USA. “The fact that working and receiving a U.S. salary is illegal on B1/B2s [visas which prohibit working] really does not bother them,” the cable continued. “From their perspective, ‘not many Israelis are caught.'”
When the Israelis arrive at their destination, their employer crowds them into a house with other kiosk employees to cut down on rent. They are forced to work shifts of up to 12 hours, sometimes 7 days a week, and receive only commissions from what they sell. A Wikileaks cable from 2010 noted that few Israelis made decent money, since employers often failed to pay fair wages and there was no way to enforce that because the workers themselves were illegal. The cable noted in a few cases some Israelis actually end up in debt. “After adding in other expenses, they ended up having to pay their employer money when they left, earning nothing, contrary to what was promised,” the cable stated.
The embassy in Tel Aviv also speculated on further “financial shenanigans” that the companies could be involved in, such as money laundering, tax evasion, crooked lawyers, and paying their workers under the table.
https://www.timesofisrael.com/dead-sea-product-hawkers-skirt-law-decency/ (archive.is is down for me)