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Zara head designer under fire over anti-Palestinian remarks

Vanessa Perilman's messages to Palestinian model attract outrage and puts fast-fashion chain under pressure
Many are calling for an international boycott of Zara stores (AFP)

Vanessa Perilman, the head designer of global fast-fashion chain Zara’s women’s department, has come under fire after a Palestinian model shared messages she sent him containing inflammatory comments. 

Last week, Qaher Harhash, who is from occupied East Jerusalem, shared direct messages Perilman had sent to him on Instagram responding to posts he had made about Palestinians suffering injustice. 

“So your point is that you are trying to show that Israel is a horrible evil country that does terrible things to Palestinians?” she wrote.

“The people in my industry know the truth about Israel and Palestine and I will NEVER stop defending Israel… Maybe if your people were educated then they wouldn’t blow up the hospitals and schools that Israel helped to pay for 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'

- Vanessa Perilman, Zara head designer

The comments come a month after Israel waged an 11-day war with the Hamas movement, during which Israeli airstrikes killed at least 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, and Palestinian rockets left 11 dead in Israel.

Some of Perilman's messages to Harshash have been decried online as Islamophobic.

She wrote: “Also I think it’s funny that you’re a model because in reality that is against what the Muslim faith believes in and if you were to come out of the closet in any Muslim country you would be stoned to death.”

Middle East Eye has attempted to reach Perilman, Zara and Harhash for comment.

Perilman has since deleted her Instagram account amid the backlash and widespread calls for a formal apology from herself and the company, which has also been condemned for not explicitly condemning her remarks.

The hashtags #boycottZara and #zaramustapologise have gained momentum in recent days, calling for people to stop shopping there. Zara has stores across the Middle East and North Africa, including in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Kuwait and Algeria. 

Though Zara is yet to issue a formal statement, it has replied to individual complaints, noting that the remarks were not made on an account officially belonging to the company.

“As soon as this situation was brought to our attention, we opened an internal investigation to address it properly. From what we know through our research, her immediate and spontaneous apology was accepted and so the misunderstanding was clarified and closed on Wednesday,'' one email read. 

Before deleting her social media accounts, Perilman apologised to Harhash in direct messages which the Palestinian model also shared on Friday.

Perilman said that she has received an onslaught of threatening messages and apologised for how the situation got "out of control".

“I am literally receiving death threats about my children… I’m not ignorant, I’m just fed up with everyone saying terrible things about Israel,” she said. 

“It’s just so many people have been super mean at work and saying terrible things about Jews that I took it out on you and feel really, really bad… I even know the Hadids well and I cannot believe I wrote that,” she added, referencing the Palestinian models Gigi and Bella Hadid, who are outspoken advocates of the Palestinian cause.

Harhash said he has not accepted the apology, labelling it half-hearted because she said she wanted him to "understand the Israeli perspective".

Perilman has since deleted her LinkedIn and social media accounts following the condemnation online. However, records show that she previously worked as the head designer for fashion companies Inditex and Revolve.

Harhash, who has worked with brands such as Vogue Ukraine and Versace, has used his Instagram account to raise awareness of the forced displacement of Palestinian residents in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. 

"If Zara wants to make a statement with me, the statement needs to say that they stand with the indigenous people and are against what is happening in Chinese concentration camps in Xinjiang," he said on Instagram.

"They also need to address the Islamophobia which is predominantly ignored in European society… Also, a campaign where they feature Palestinian designers who are incredibly talented should take place as a way to support the Palestinian fashion scene."

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.