Amazon under fire for allowing sale of Nazi paraphernalia
Son of Holocaust survivor accuses Amazon of 'profiting from hate'
Mark Schwartz said he was shocked and disgusted to discover Amazon is making money off what he calls "hate items" by allowing third-party vendors to sell the merchandise on its website.
"Imagine going down to your neighbourhood mall, you walk into a shop and you see Nazi flags hanging down and Nazi paraphernalia and they are selling it. What would you think? Would you shop there? Would you be upset? Amazon is online but it's the same thing.... I couldn't believe they were selling these kind of items."
Schwartz's father is a Holocaust survivor. At the age of seven he was caught in the Nazi's roundup of Hungarian Jews and taken to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany.
"He survived the concentration camp. He survived the systematic extermination of the Jewish people ... so to see these symbols that mean such horrible things is devastating," said Schwartz.
The first item he saw on Amazon was a Nazi flag. Surprised, he looked further, and found other items.
He complained to Amazon and got an email back saying it understood the sale of the Nazi flag was "not acceptable" and would forward the concern to another department that would "remove the item from the website."
"It popped right up on my email, a picture of the flag again … with price $12.90 Canadian, free shipping. I was absolutely flabbergasted. They not only didn't take it off, they re-sent it to me almost to kick me right in the face with it," he said.
That's when he contacted Go Public.
"I thought this is a good way to get this out. Amazon didn't really care that they were selling or profiting off Nazi paraphernalia. As one of their valued customers I no longer shop on Amazon which is too bad. I liked shopping on Amazon but I can't because they did this. I told my friends on Facebook, boycott Amazon," Schwartz said.
Go Public contacted the company's head office in Seattle to ask why it allows the sale of the Nazi items. It responded with a brief written statement saying it "won't be commenting" on the story.
Since Go Public's investigation, some of the Nazi paraphernalia was removed from both the Canadian and US Amazon websites.
Complaints ignored since 2013
Go Public has learned Schwartz isn't the only person who has been trying to get Nazi items removed from the Canadian Amazon website.
According to B'nai Brith, a large international Jewish service organization, it raised the issue in a letter to Amazon's founder and CEO Jeff Bezos in 2013, but nothing changed.
"To say the least, it's very disturbing that this sort of hate material is still available online for sale," said Michael Mostyn, the CEO of B'nai Brith Canada.
"By contributing to more materials that are easily accessible to youth in our country that promote intolerance, promote hatred, ideologies that regular Canadians view as toxic, it's not helpful, it's harmful."
B'nai Brith Canada does an annual audit tracking the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada.
Mostyn said the organization recorded 1,627 anti-Semitic incidents last year, the largest number in the 30-year history of the audit and a 28 per cent increase over the year before. 2015 numbers aren't yet available.
Surge of anti-Semitic messages online
B'nai Brith attributes much of the increase to the surge of anti-Semitic messages online. Mostyn believes there is a direct correlation between the sale of Nazi items and anti-Semitic acts.
"Our audit has shown that anti-Semitic words or imagery, particularly in an online social media world we live in today, inevitably leads to anti-Semitic incidents," he said.
Mostyn notes certain items, like pro-ISIS paraphernalia, are not available on the U.S. or Canadian Amazon sites. He wonders if the company is censoring some sales but not others.
"I think Canadian consumers expect a lot more from groups like Amazon to fulfil their corporate, ethical and moral responsibilities in sales to consumers."
Amazon's online policy doesn't specifically address the sale of what some consider hate propaganda.
"Amazon has to immediately develop a proper policy and guidelines to deal with these issues," Mostyn said. "Consumers in Canada are not interested to see hate propaganda available freely online and victims of racial discrimination and genocide, in some cases, do not want to be re-victimized by having these hate items available online to just anybody that's searching for it."
B'nai Brith has started a petition to get Amazon to remove the items.
Canada has no legislation specifically restricting the ownership, display, purchase, import or export of Nazi flags. Sections of the criminal code do prohibit the use of these kinds of flags to "communicate hatred in a public place."
In the U.S., the public display of Nazi flags is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
However, in some countries, such as France, it is illegal to display Nazi flags, uniforms and insignia in public, unless for the purpose of a historical film, show or spectacle. Germany has also banned the use of Nazi symbols.
Amazon 'dumb as rocks,' marketing prof says
Lindsay Meredith, a professor of marketing at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, said Amazon's refusal to address the issue could be bad for business and the company's reputation.
"You could get away with that arrogance in the old days; don't try it now or you will get a public backlash that will spin your head," Meredith said, referring to the potential for a negative response on social media.
"[It's] dumb as rocks.… The real problem here is you have a global international brand. Are you really going to sacrifice potential boycotts?"
Meredith said it's unlikely Amazon is making a lot of money from the sale of Nazi products that would warrant that kind of risk.
"This has the potential to become explosive. There are a lot of people with a lot of grandparents who fought in the war, a lot of people who reach back and respect the veterans that won't take kindly to this," he said.
Amazon had to deal with another Nazi-related controversy in New York recently. The company agreed to pull a Nazi-themed ad campaign after subway riders and some public officials complained.
The company had covered subway cars with images of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan to advertise its television series The Man in the High Castle.
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