Three days ago, the UN released a long-awaited list of companies that have ties to illegal settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory.
One may have thought that Israeli politicians on the Zionist left, who at least pretend to have a concern for the illegality of settlements and that elusive “two-state solution”, would welcome the exposure of those complicit in it. But that was hardly the case.
Haaretz editorial yesterday:
But the most surprising response came from the chairman of the Labor-Gesher-Meretz joint ticket, Amir Peretz, who said “We oppose boycotts, and outrageous and superfluous UN decisions. We’ll work in every forum to repeal this decision.” When even a ticket that ostensibly represents the left joins the chorus of condemnations, it’s clear that the line between sovereign Israel and the occupied territories has been almost completely obscured.
So that’s the Zionist left. You can imagine how it is just a bit further right. Centrist Blue White party leader Benny Gantz stated that UN Office of the High Commission of Human Rights (OHCHR) “has lost all contact with reality.” His Blue/White co-leader, Yair Lapid, said that the UN office is “commissioner for terrorists’ rights”, threatening that “when we form a government, we’ll work against them with all our might, with no qualms”.
Noa Landau of Haaretz pointed out how the UN’s menace transcended partisan politics:
The prize, however, goes to President Reuven Rivlin. The very president who tries so hard to project a statesmanlike, tolerant, balanced image said that the list is a “shameful initiative reminiscent of dark periods in our history.” In other words, publishing an international database about businesses that operate in the settlements – which is illegal according to international law and UN resolutions – is just as bad in Rivlin’s eyes as the Holocaust. It should be pointed out that this list isn’t even accompanied by any actual sanctions or boycotts, much less gas chambers.
The wall-to-wall support for West Bank settlements voiced in Israel on Wednesday in response to the UN human rights office’s release of a list of businesses operating in the settlements shows that the annexation everyone is talking about these days has actually happened de facto long ago.
Any understanding offered for the list from the Zionist left had to be muted. Meretz, which has joined forces with Labor-Gesher on their right for the March 2 election, has basically allowed Labor leader Peretz to represent their bloc in his condemnatory statement. Yet some were “uncomfortable” with it, as Haaretz reported in Hebrew:
Sources in Meretz told “Haaretz” that Peretz’s formulation of the statement caused in them uncomfortability, but that on the background of the joint election campaign, they preferred to avoid expressing themselves publicly on the matter.
Haaretz notes that Mossi Raz (former Secretary General) from Meretz is apparently the only senior Meretz leader who anyway expressed himself publicly, on Twitter:
Meretz supports boycotting goods from the settlements which are part of the occupation economy. This is a moral position which distinguishes between legitimate Israel and the occupied territories. This position still stands.
On the other hand, Haaretz quotes an anonymous Meretz source saying that “Meretz opposes BDS and international boycotts on Israel”, and another one who said that “the problem with the list that the UN published is that it’s not about settlement products, but rather the whole Israeli business sector: Bank Leumi, Bank Hapoalim…”.
Bingo! Inadvertently, the list touches upon a central issue that these ‘liberal-Zionists’ seek to avoid. Let’s just look at those banks:
Bank Hapoalim B.M., Bank Leumi Le-Israel B.M., Bank of Jerusalem Ltd., Mercantile Discount Bank Ltd., Mizrahi Tefahot Bank Ltd. – all the major Israel banks are involved.
Why on earth would anyone want to avoid looking at this reality?
In 2015, Ben Caspit reported in Maariv (Hebrew):
CONCERNS ABOUT EUROPEAN BOYCOTT: [ISRAELI] BANKS PREPARE FOR A “FINANCIAL-NATIONAL TSUNAMI”… The banks are in panic following a document produced by the research institute facilitating the EU. According to its recommendations, the union must boycott Israeli banks involved in financial activity in the occupied territories.
Caspit cited senior Israeli bank officials on this:
“One way or another”, officials in the Israeli banking system say, “it’s necessary to understand what will happen here on the day that it will be decided to ‘credit mark’. When you mark products it can harm part of the market here and there, but when they mark each credit that the bank gives beyond the Green Line [1967 line] and boycott that bank, the meaning of it is a property confiscation warrant on all the banks. The European banking and credit system is inextricably connected to the Israeli economy, no European bank will accompany projects in Israel, it will not be possible to receive credit in Europe and there is nothing we would be able to do about it”.
In other words, the whole of the Israeli economy is tied up in one way or another with the illegal settlement enterprise, and Israel doesn’t want this effort to reach its logical conclusion – that Israel as a whole is invested in its settlements — because the consequences may mean a “financial-national tsunami”.
The purpose of those advocating for a ‘soft boycott’, that is a ‘selective boycott’ of settlement products in isolation, is precisely to shield Israel from this tsunami. But what if that shielding means hiding the truth? What if it means that things don’t change because the main culprit isn’t targeted?
This was basically the point made by Angela Y. Davis, Chandler Davis, Richard A. Falk, Rashid Khalidi, Alice Rothchild, et al. in the New York Review of Books, concerning ‘selective boycotts’, something that ‘liberal Zionists’ Todd Gitlin, Peter Beinart, Kai Bird, Peter Brooks, Michael Walzer, Edward Witten, et al. had publicly promoted. While the former writers welcomed “the statement’s shattering of the taboo against boycotting Israeli entities that are complicit in—at least selective—violations of Palestinian human rights”, they nonetheless wondered why it could not reach a more wholesome conclusion:
Defying common sense, however, the statement calls for boycotting settlements while letting Israel, the state that has illegally built and maintained those settlements for decades, off the hook.
The issue with the banks is representative of that logic. It’s not just about avocados that are grown in an illegal settlement. The question is also, who finances the whole project, and who gives it political legitimacy?
The UN list simply highlights this reality, and some people don’t want to have the overall criminality out in full daylight. They want to live in a dream where the 1967 occupation is an aberration which needs to be addressed in separation from Israel as a whole.
Responses in US Congress
The responses in the US Congress are quite similar to those in Israel, actually. Foundation for Middle East Peace rounds up the responses. Any Democrats showing welcome or even understanding for the publishing of the list? Lara Friedman writes:
Zero. Zilch. Bubkis. As in, not a single member of Congress (so far) was willing to defend a DATABASE that does nothing more than offer a modicum of transparency that can allow American citizens to make informed choices about who they give their hard-earned money to. As in, not a single member of Congress had the integrity to reject the blatant mischaracterization of the database as a blacklist. As in, not a single member of Congress had the courage to call out the brazen, cynical conflation of settlements and Israel by those attacking the database — conflation that aligns neatly with the Trump “peace” plan and its normalization of settlements and green light for annexation. Truly a shameful performance from members on both sides of the aisle who pretend to support the two-state solution, or who maintain a pretense that facts and laws matter.
From the Israel-cheerleader Debby Wasserman Schultz (D-FL):
I strongly condemn the UN blacklisting of companies working in the West Bank. Singling out Israel furthers the discriminatory BDS movement a bipartisan House majority opposed. Rather than incite boycotts the UN should promote direct bilateral negotiations to achieve lasting peace.
And from the slightly more reserved House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA):
We are concerned that the U.N. Human Rights Council’s announcement is not in furtherance of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
How about we face the facts? Why does it have to be so complicated? That list is not an invention. It is based squarely on assessments according to international law. Why can’t we say that it is Israeli criminality that is “not in furtherance of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, rather than the UN list which merely states the obvious?
Silence. Everyone’s afraid to be labelled an anti-Semite these days.
H/t Edith Breslauer, Ofer Neiman