It's not clear what Walmart (WMT) or Amazon (AMZN) were intending when they listed a child-sized Israeli Army soldier's uniform as a Halloween costume, but inciting a social media controversy probably wasn't the goal.
Critics are claiming the retailers are sending the wrong message by selling the costume, which features olive-green pants and jacket with Hebrew writing, as well as red beret. Neither Walmart nor Amazon immediately returned a request for comment.
The costume is stirring up strong feelings among critics on social media, including Alternet.org writer Max Blumenthal, the son of journalist and former political aide Sidney Blumenthal, who wrote on Twitter, "Walmart is promoting occupation and the killing of innocent children this Halloween." On Amazon, the costume is sparking a host of one-star reviews, with customers calling it "propaganda" and "disgusting."
The retailers are selling the costume as a fun option for children just as violence between Palestinians and Israel's government has been mounting. Despite an agreement brokered over the weekend by the U.S., violence between Israelis and Palestinians continued on Sunday and Monday, according to The Washington Post, which cited "lethal reprisals" from Israel in response to Palestinian attacks.
As of Tuesday morning, Amazon had more than 100 reviews of the costume, with most of them giving the item one star and highlighting their views of Israeli military practices.
"Israeli soldiers kill, maim, torture and kidnap men women and children daily, how can you promote or sell a costume that is related to dehumanizing practices of oppression and criminal warfare?" one reviewer wrote.
While the costume has landed in the middle of a controversy over Israeli-Palestinian actions, the retailers may simply be trying to appeal to demand for children's military-style Halloween costumes. Amazon, for instance, points customers to a number of other military-themed costumes for children, including a "camo trooper" with a skull face mask that shows a child about to lob a grenade. A Navy Seal costume on the site shows a child in camo face paint, holding a knife in an attack pose.
Most of the military costumes are depicted as worn by boys. To be sure, there are military costumes for girls, but like the boys' costumes, they tend to veer into well-worn gender stereotypes: top military-themed girls costumes sold by Amazon include "cutie cadet" or a "major flirt."
Boys are often shown images that glorify war, presenting violence as a socially acceptable method of resolving a conflict, according to an Unesco publication called "Male Roles, Masculinities and Violence." Given the wave of mass shootings in the U.S., some are asking whether there's a problem with how American culture glamorizes male violence, on top of debate about the country's gun laws.
Whatever your view of military-themed costumes for kids, Walmart doesn't appear to be winning this Halloween when it comes to culturally sensitive costumes. It's also selling what's billed as the "Sheik Fagin nose," which is a latex nose with an exaggerated hook shape. The name presumably refers to Charles Dickens' villain Fagin, a portrayal that's been considered anti-Semitic.
Some other costumes this Halloween are stirring up controversy, including one based on the American dentist who killed Cecil the Lion. The bottom line is that some retailers may not care much about cultural sensitivities when it comes to chasing that bottom line.
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