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Ikea in hot water for releasing catalog without women

After a public backlash over the catalog aimed at Orthodox Jews in Israel, the Swedish furniture giant has issued an apology. Ikea has previously come under fire for airbrushing women out of its Saudi Arabian catalog.

Ikea Israel apologized for issuing a catalog featuring solely men and boys and no women. "We realize that people are upset about this and that the publication does not live up to what IKEA stands for, and we apologize for this," executive Shuky Koblenz said in a statement on Thursday.

The Israeli branch of the Swedish furniture retailer had released the catalog in addition to the regular Ikea catalogue, which features both men and women, in an attempt to attract ultra-Orthodox Jews as customers. 

Roughly 10 percent of Israel's 8.6 million citizens are ultra-Orthodox Jews, who follow a strict interpretation of Jewish laws. Women are expected to dress modestly in long skirts and sleeves. Many ultra-Orthodox Jews consider showing pictures of women immodest and against religious law.

Ikea Israel

The cover of the "regular" Ikea catalog in Israel featured a diverse group of men and women

The male-only catalog featured ultra-Orthodox models (wearing sidelocks and kippah hats) and highlighted items in demand among ultra-Orthodox families, such as bookshelves carrying extensive collections of books on Jewish law, and folding tables and beds meant to accommodate visitors during big family gatherings on Jewish holidays.

Online newspaper "Times of Israel" reported that the brochure "sparked a wave of reactions online", ranging from comments such as "Where did the mother go in this picture?” to remarks such as "I didn't know there are single-parent families in the Haredi sector too.” (Haredi is the Hebrew term for ultra-Orthodox.) 

No Lesbians in Russia

This is not the first time Ikea has gotten into hot water over its choices on whom to include in its promotional material.

In 1994, the company broadcast an advertisement featuring a gay couple in the US, prompting religious conservatives to boycott the company.

While Ikea's marketing tends to offer an idealized glimpse of diversity, casually featuring gay and mixed-race couples, the company has also adjusted its promotional materials to fit more conservative markets.

In 2012, Ikea came under fire for airbrushing women out of their catalogs for the Saudi Arabian market. Back then, the furniture maker released an apology very similar to its response in Israel, saying "We should have […] realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalogue is in conflict with the Ikea Group values". "

In 2013, the company was criticized by LGBT activists for omitting a story about a lesbian couple from the Russian edition of its in-store magazine. A company spokesperson justified the measure, saying that article might have broken Russia's law prohibiting positive portrayals of gay people as "gay propaganda".

mb/kl (AFP, dpa)

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