Choice facing consumers following UN settlement database: Support war crimes or hold companies to account

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Yesterday, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a list of 112 business enterprises — 94 Israeli and 18 international — that have ties to illegal settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory. The list is a database that will be updated.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu predictably went on Hasbara overdrive, tweeting:

Whoever boycotts us will be boycotted. The UN Human Rights Council is a biased body that is devoid of influence. Not for nothing have I already ordered the severing of ties with it.

And more:

It was also not for nothing that the American administration has taken this step together with us. In recent years, we have promoted laws in most US states, which determine that strong action is to be taken against whoever tries to boycott Israel.

And more:

Therefore, this body is unimportant. Instead of the organization dealing with human rights, it only tries to disparage Israel. We strongly reject this contemptible effort.

One might wonder why a release of such a list, does not promote boasting, rather than condemnation, if Israel believes these settlements are legal (and can’t wait to annex them in the context of Trump’s ‘deal of the century’)?

Indeed, Yesha Council, the main body representing Jewish settlers, responded with an insistence that the companies were “working to strengthen the economy in the area and are contributing to peace more than the UN has done in all its years of operation” (alas, they also threw in the usual ‘antisemitism’ charge, saying that the list had “clear antisemitic features”).

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bechelet actually did leave a whole lot of leeway in her accompanying statement, saying that she is “conscious this issue has been, and will continue to be, highly contentious”. In addition, the UNHCR stated that “the report makes clear that the reference to these business entities is not, and does not purport to be, a judicial or quasi-judicial process”, as well as that “while the settlements as such are regarded as illegal under international law, this report does not provide a legal characterization of the activities in question, or of business enterprises’ involvement in them”.

But these cautious qualifications only underline the potential strength of this list. The UNHCR doesn’t have to make condemnatory statements, it doesn’t even have to say a word about what these companies need to do, not even state explicitly that they are involved in a criminal enterprise. Ordinary people can do the math easily: Bachelet’s mentioning that settlements are “illegal under international law” spells it out just fine.

There is an immense body of international law deeming the whole Israeli settlement enterprise, including East Jerusalem, as a “flagrant violation” of international law, as per UNSC 2334 of 2016. These are war crimes. Actually, Bachelet’s qualification that the issue is “contentious” is an interpretation that is rather apologetic. The law is clear, and only Israel has defied it in its own laws, where the US under Trump has recently come to flagrantly violate international law in its endorsement of Israeli crimes. It should not be considered “contentious”, that criminals violate the law – their violation does not make the law “contentious”.

So while Bachelet is being over-cautious and almost apologetic, the list speaks for itself. It is based on the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and the list is saying: here are those who are defying the law.

Against that, Israeli Hasbara has to make its case. And the expressions we’ve seen are only confirming that the Hasbarists are desperate and feel this is a losing case.

As Netanyahu himself points out, Israel has been working hard internationally, to promote legislation that targets those who boycott Israel. The logic of “whoever boycotts us will be boycotted” is the essence of this. The American public has so far not managed to substantially counter this obvious violation of its First Amendment, and indeed just over half of US states have passed such unconstitutional anti-boycott legislation. Aside from the US, France is a leading European country in terms of such anti-boycott criminalization, under the notion that it is ‘antisemitic’.

But the logic of abetting criminality, abetting war crimes, should be rather unambiguous. It is common sense, that you do not engage in it. Companies on the list such as Airbnb have either waxed emotional and made contradictory statements about the “complex and emotional” issue, or chosen silence like Booking.com. Yet human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been scrutinizing these companies and exposing their ties to the Israeli colonialist venture. The fact that these companies have not yet cut their ties and only attempted damage-control, suggests that the economic and PR price that they pay internationally is not yet high enough to offset the profit they make from the war crimes.

The UN list represents a heightening of the exposure, thus an upping of the pressure upon these companies to withdraw their illegal ventures.

The publishing of the list also comes at an unwelcome time for Israel: Trump has just published his “plan” which is ostensibly supposed to lead to “peace and prosperity” for Israel and Palestine, but is widely recognized as a consolidation of Israeli colonialist gains and annexations, as well as a final consigning of Palestinians to a set of Bantustans. Not peace, and not prosperity, except advantage for the colonial masters. The ‘plan’ involves a blue-stamping of Israel’s control over about a third of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley (its bread-basket), East Jerusalem and the hundreds of illegal settlements. The UN list risks putting that plan in even worse light, and risks portraying the companies involved as cunning collaborators in the destruction of Palestine and Palestinian lives – which they are.

So now it’s the UN list of companies vs Israeli Hasbara – literally meaning “explaining”. Now, Israel can “explain” away, why colonialism is actually for the benefit of the oppressed, although they are robbed of their human rights, as Yesha does. Yet Netanyahu’s statements show just how futile he really thinks such boasting is. He immediately resorts to threats. The boasting is about how he’s managed to get others to help him in the bullying. And of course, the ultimate weapon in this fight is always ‘antisemitism’, that good old trick. Now, the ordinary consumer is simply faced with the choice: Support war crimes, succumb to Israeli bullying, or be a conscientious person who takes corporates to task for their violations. Your choice. The UN list vs Hasbara.

H/t Dave Gaskell, Ayala Levinger

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Jonathan, thanks for this clear analysis of the long-delayed UN announcement.
I am struck by Netanyahu’s explicit confession that he is corrupting US domestic policy:
“In recent years, we have promoted laws in most US states, which determine that strong action is to be taken against whoever tries to boycott Israel.”
I’m afraid we’ll have to report him for an egregious violation of IHRA.

“that the list had “clear antisemitic features”

This accusation is clearly racists.

Real antisemitism: Listing companies for the only reason that they are run by Jews.
Jewish racism: Listing companies, because of their ties to illegal settlements, allthough they are run by Jews.

“Instead of the organization dealing with human rights, it only tries to disparage Israel.” – Benjamin Netanyahu How do you argue with someone as twisted as Bibi? Dealing with human rights is exactly what BDS proponents, and those simply pointing out Israel’s awful trampling of human rights, do, but he just essentially calls “dealing with human rights” the ‘disparaging of Israel’. Well, Bibi (not a term of endearment for my part), if your country has… Read more »

The guy in the dock normally states he’s “not guilty”, even in the face of egregious crimes.