Acceding to pressure from BDS-supporting organizations, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) published a database of 112 companies operating in Judaea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem on February 12, 2020. The intention was to create a blacklist that would identify companies that Israel’s detractors could target for boycotting because their business raises “particular human rights concerns” like facilitating the construction, expansion or maintenance of Israeli settlements or the demolition of Palestinian housing and property. No such list has been produced for companies operating in any other disputed territories around the world.
The lofty idea of monitoring and promoting human rights around the world was long ago subverted by the HRC, which has become a forum for some of the world’s worst human rights abusers to escape scrutiny and direct their opprobrium almost exclusively toward one state – Israel, the only country in the Middle East that respects human rights.
In fact, the HRC has “condemned Israel more than all other nations of the world combined” without ever censuring countries such as China, Russia, Cuba and Zimbabwe” (Clifford D. May, “United Nations Human Rights Council delegitimizes Israel,” Washington Times, February 18, 2020). While Israel is routinely criticized for its behavior in the “occupied territories,” the only references by the HRC to terrorism are applied to “extremist Israelis” (Lahav Harkov, “UNHRC’s game is rigged, so Israel isn’t playing – Analysis,” Jerusalem Post, February 12, 2020).
Outraged by the bias of the council, the Trump administration withdrew its membership in 2018. U.S ambassador Nikki Haley called the HRC a “protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias,” adding the U.S. did not want to “remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights” so as not to “provide it with any credibility” (Conor Finnegan, “US withdraws from UN Human Rights Council,” ABCNews, June 19, 2018; Lauren Wolfe, “Trump’s Insidious Reason for Leaving the UN Human Rights Council,” The Atlantic, June 20, 2018).
Some have argued the United States withdrawal erased its opportunity to influence the HRC’s work, but, lacking a veto, the human rights abusers easily marshal the votes necessary to single out Israel for criticism. The decision to compile the blacklist was typical. The 32-0-15 vote on March 25, 2016, received support from Kuwait on behalf of the 22-member Arab Group, Pakistan on behalf of the 56-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Sudan, Venezuela, Algeria, Bahrain, Bolivia, Chad, Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, and Libya.
Not surprisingly, it was democracies such as the United States, Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom that opposed the blacklist (“The U.N.’s Anti-Israel Blacklist: Myths & Facts on the ‘Settlements Database,’” UN Watch, December 24, 2017).
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said: “Blacklisting companies without even looking at their employment practices or their contributions to local empowerment, but rather based entirely on their location in areas of conflict is contrary to the laws of international trade and to any reasonable definition of human rights” (Anne Gearan, “U.S. pushing to quash U.N. ‘blacklist’ of firms doing business in Israeli settlements,” Washington Post, August 21, 2017).
After political pressure succeeded in delaying the publication for three years, the list was released without any warning or consultation with Israel. Minister of Foreign Affairs Israel Katz said, publication of the “blacklist” “represents the ultimate surrender to pressure exerted by countries and organizations interested in harming Israel” and that the “Commissioner has become a partner and tool of the boycott movement” (Israel strongly condemns UNHRC Commissioner’s announcement,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, February 12, 2020)
Palestinians praised the UN and pledged to take legal action against companies on the blacklist. The Palestine National Council, called on all governments associated with the companies to “assume their legal and moral responsibilities by closing the businesses located in settlements” (Khaled Abu Toameh, “Palestinians applaud UN blacklist of businesses operating in ‘settlements,’” Jerusalem Post, February 13, 2020).
Of the 112 companies on the blacklist, 94 of them are Israeli and the other 18 from six other countries, including six from the United States (Booking Holdings, Motorola Solutions, General Mills, Airbnb, TripAdvisor, and Expedia). Stephen Daisley noted the HRC was acting as a tool of the BDS movement by “tacitly legitimizing its agenda and even doing the research for it” (Stephen Daisley, “The UN should be ashamed of its anti-Israel boycott list,” The Spectator, February 17, 2020).
“I am outraged,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said after the document’s release. “We call upon all UN member states to join us in rejecting this effort, which facilitates the discriminatory boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) campaign and delegitimizes Israel. Attempts to isolate Israel run counter to all of our efforts to build conditions conducive to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that lead to a comprehensive and enduring peace” (Press Statement, Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary Of State, February 13, 2020).
Lahav Harkov criticized the methodology used by the HRC to create the blacklist:
The compilation process was lacking in transparency and has no consistent legal standards. The council did a slapdash job, apparently mixing lists from organizations critical of Israel and not consulting any of the companies or Israeli officials. There is no explanation of why some companies active in the West Bank in the categories they mention are on the list of 112 while others aren’t….and yet it is only a blacklist of businesses working with the Jews in the West Bank and not the Arabs (Harkov, Jerusalem Post, February 12, 2020).
The blacklist has such nefarious companies as supermarket chains; food and clothing manufacturers; fuel, transportation and phone companies; banks and a water company, which all provide goods and services to both Israelis and Palestinians (Evelyn Gordon, “Turning human rights into a bad joke,” JNS, February 19, 2020).
Orde Kittrie noted it is not illegal for companies to operate in disputed territories and the blacklist is “inconsistent with U.S. law and policy.” Congress, he said, “opposes politically motivated actions that penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with Israel, such as boycotts of, divestment from, or sanctions against Israel.” Furthermore, he added, it is inconsistent with anti-boycott laws at the Federal and state level (Orde Kittrie, “The UN Blacklist, U.S. Laws, and U.S. Policy,” FDD, February 13, 2020).
While Palestinians and other BDS advocates cheered the UN action, they will be disappointed by the results. The attempt to promote a boycott of Israeli and other companies with the imprimatur of the UN discredits the international agency, further exposes its anti-Israel bias and disqualifies it from playing any role in efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Ben Dror Yemini observed, “When international organizations interject themselves into the legitimate, internal discourse in Israel, they help those on the extreme right who advocate an expansion of settlements” (Ben Dror Yemini, “BDS wins but the Palestinians lose,” Ynet, February 13, 2020). The UN also puts its thumb on the negotiating scale as final status issues, including the fate of the settlements, are to be determined in face-to-face negotiations, and outside agencies are not supposed to coerce one side to capitulate to the other’s demands.
Moreover, any harm done to the companies is likely to hurt Palestinians who benefit from employment in Israeli businesses. Roughly 20,000 work in industrial areas of the West Bank and an estimated 10,000 work in Jewish settlements. They do so because they enjoy the same wages and working conditions as their Israeli co-workers, which far exceed those available in most Palestinian-run businesses. Efforts by the Palestinian Authority to discourage these workers have failed because the average Palestinian is more interested in providing for their family than ideology or helping the PA score propaganda points. Many Palestinians remember how boycotters helped force SodaStream, the largest employer of Palestinians in the territories at the time, to close its Ma’ale Adumim factory, which resulted in nearly 600 workers losing their jobs.
The Arab League imposed a boycott on Jews in 1945. For decades, many international firms avoided doing business in Israel out of fear of Arab retribution. Instead of six U.S. companies, the Arabs blacklisted hundreds. Saudi Arabia alone had a blacklist of 1,500 U.S. companies. Nevertheless, that boycott had minimal economic impact over the last 62 years during which Israel has grown and thrived. Following the signing of the Israel-Egypt and Israel-Jordan peace treaties, the boycott crumbled. The Gulf States, which used oil as a cudgel to intimidate companies, now openly violate the boycott through engagement with Israel.
If the Arab states could not bring Israel to its knees, the Palestinians will have no better success. It is unlikely a new boycott of those blacklisted by the UN will be enforced, especially given Western opposition. It will provide fodder for the BDS movement to promote divestment resolutions on college campuses and elsewhere, but those have failed to be adopted by universities and have no impact on U.S. policy or Israeli policy. The blacklist will fail to produce the intended effects of isolating Israel, provoking serious boycotts, divestment or sanctions, ending settlement expansion or destroying Israel.
Paradoxically, the blacklist might help Israel. It has allowed watchdogs to highlight the terrorist ties of the BDS organizations behind the pressure campaign at the HRC (“The UN BDS Blacklist,” NGO-Monitor, February 2020), it has created a list of companies that Israel and its friends can support, and it may stimulate new measures by the U.S. government to counter any negative effects of the blacklist. Brett Schaefer suggested, for example, that the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation could “offer financing, insurance, and other support for businesses engaged in the Israeli settlements” (Brett D. Schaefer, “How the U.S. Should Respond to UN’s Latest Anti-Israel Action,” Heritage Foundation, February 16, 2020).
 In 1959, for example, Israel complained that two countries (Liberia was one) moved their embassies from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in response to US pressure. In 2002, Congress passed a law that said that American citizens who wished to do so could have “Israel” listed as their birthplace on US passports. The State Department, however, refused to do so. The parents of Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky, an American citizen born in Jerusalem, sued the State Department to force the government to enforce the law. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which held that the president has an exclusive power of recognition, and, therefore, Congress may not require the State Department to indicate in passports that Jerusalem is part of Israel. “Dismayed: U.S. Court Refuses to Enforce U.S. Law Granting Jerusalem-Born U.S. Citizens Right to Have ‘Israel’ Listed on Official Documents,” Zionist Organization of America (July 15, 2009); instruction from the Department of State to all diplomatic posts, February 20, 1959, in FRUS, 1958–60, vol. 13, 147; memorandum of conversation, March 9, 1959, in FRUS, 1958–60, vol. 13, 151–52; “Supreme Court Strikes Down ‘Born in Jerusalem’ Passport Law,” Associated Press (June 8, 2015).
Published at Jewish Virtual Library and posted with permission.