After multiple delays over legal, due process and methodological concerns, which do not seem to have been addressed, on Wednesday the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published its “database of all business enterprises” that it claims contribute to “human-rights concerns.” This U.N. blacklist, ordered by the U.N. Human Rights Council, is meant to bolster BDS campaigns, singling out Israel.
This singular treatment of Israel in this exercise, as with many other HRC initiatives, violates the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.
The database is aimed at economically damaging Israel and companies owned by Jews or that do business with Jewish Israelis. In keeping with the BDS objective, 94 of the 112 companies on the blacklist are based in Israel. Many Arab, European and Asian companies that meet the list’s criteria were excluded; large Israeli companies were included, clearly in order to maximize the economic harm to Israel’s economy as a whole.
This blacklist operates under the false premises that business in occupied territory is “illegal settlement activity” barred by international law. In fact, there is no such prohibition, and almost every country engages in and/or facilitates business activities in settlements in situations of occupation. Unsurprisingly, however, the United Nations is only pursuing such a list regarding Israel.
A major category of listed companies are those providing consumer goods and services (food, telecommunications, transportation, gas, water) to both Palestinians and Israelis. The United Nations seeks to bar such companies from operating or impose discriminatory business criteria with little regard as to the human rights and economic impacts on the local population and the companies’ employees.
Pro-BDS NGOs, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International and Al-Haq, have been major proponents of the blacklist. Over the past few months, these groups, along with UNHRC-member dictatorships, have been intensively lobbying High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet, the former socialist leader of Chile, to publish it.
Lack of rigorous methodology
The OHCHR provides no evidence whatsoever in its report, nor does it distinguish between differing levels of alleged involvement among the companies. Moreover, the information contained in the report is at least six months old, if not several years out of date.
According to the report, OHCHR contacted companies “between September 2017 and October 2018.” OHCHR then “re-screened all business enterprises prior to the submission of this report to confirm that the activity for which they were included in the database met the applicable standard of proof, during the relevant temporal period.” This “rescreening” supposedly took place between Jan. 1, 2018 and Aug. 1, 2019. However, some companies on the list told NGO Monitor that they had not received any follow-up contact or notifications from OHCHR about the 2020 publication.
The United Nations admits that in cases where the companies contacted did not provide additional information, “OHCHR relied on desk research to assess the information received from Member States and stakeholders.” Given the weak links between some companies and settlement activity, as well as the omission of multiple companies that obviously meet the criteria, the “desk research” was not professional and appears to have been politically or ethnically motivated. The existing list suggests heavy reliance on pro-BDS publications from NGOs such as Who Profits and HRW.
Many Arab, European and Asian companies that meet the list’s criteria were excluded; large Israeli companies were included, clearly in order to maximize the economic harm to Israel’s economy as a whole.
The United Nations also admits that it is relying on highly attenuated and indirect links between companies to blacklist them. While the United Nations defines “involved” as “substantial and material business activity that had a clear and direct link to one or more of the listed activities, encompassing the following business forms. … A business enterprise granting a relevant franchise or license to a franchisee or licensee engaged in a listed activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” it offers no information as to how it defines “substantial” or “material.” It appears that a number of the companies on the list are several levels removed from activity alleged in the report’s accusations.
Reflecting the United Nations’ sloppy work, multiple companies are included twice on the blacklist. These include Egis (No. 30 and No. 100); Hamat Group Ltd. (No. 105) and Lipski Installation and Sanitation Ltd. (No. 51), which according to Who Profits appear to be the same company; and Amos Hadar Properties and Investments (No. 5) and Hadar Group (No. 104), which according to Who Profits also appear to be the same company. Additionally, General Mills is included both as a U.S.-based company (No. 103) and as an Israeli company (No. 40). Similarly, the Dutch company Booking.com (No. 17) and the American company Booking Holdings (No. 96) are listed for the same alleged violations.
The companies on the blacklist
• Eighty-five out of 112 companies on the U.N. list are also included in the Who Profits database. Others, such as tourism companies, have been targeted in BDS campaigns by HRW and Amnesty International. Many of the companies on the list have rejected the campaigns of HRW and Amnesty on the grounds that they violate both international and domestic anti-discrimination laws. OHCHR completely ignored this dimension in the preparation of the blacklist.
• Ninety-four Israeli companies are blacklisted by the United Nations, along with six American firms, three British companies, three French companies, three Dutch companies, one Thai company and one company from Luxembourg (some of these companies do overlap). In keeping with the BDS objective, it is clear that OHCHR targeted large Israeli companies in order to maximize the economic damage to Israel’s economy as a whole.
• Six Israeli telecommunications companies are included for “The provision of services and utilities supporting the maintenance and existence of settlements, including transport” and/or for “The use of natural resources, in particular water and land, for business purposes.” This inclusion of such telecommunications companies directly violates Article 36 of the 1993 mutually agreed upon and internationally brokered agreements (aka the Oslo Accords), which emphasize that “the supply of telecommunications services in Area C to the Settlements and military locations, and the activities regarding the supply of such services, shall be under the powers and responsibilities of the Israeli side.”
• Five Israeli public transportation companies are included in the blacklist for “The provision of services and utilities supporting the maintenance and existence of settlements, including transport.” This is in direct violation of Annex III of the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement (Article 38) that stipulates that “powers and responsibilities regarding Israeli public transportation to and between Israel and the Settlements and military locations shall be exercised by Israel” and that “Israeli public transportation routes from Israel to and between Settlements and military locations, and/or to other places in Israel, shall be determined by Israel.” In other words, the existence of and parameters of this business activity was explicitly stipulated in mutually agreed upon treaties between Israel and the Palestinians.
• Five oil and gas companies are included for “The provision of services and utilities supporting the maintenance and existence of settlements, including transport” and “The use of natural resources, in particular water and land, for business purposes.” This is in direct violation of Annex IV of the Economic Protocol of the Gaza-Jericho Agreement, which codifies the import of petroleum products and enables the Palestinian Authority to import gasoline from Jordan and/or Egypt if “they meet the average of the standards existing in the European Union countries, or the USA standards.” The P.A. signs contracts with Israeli companies to meet its oil and gas needs, including companies targeted by the U.N. blacklist.
• The blacklist includes nine Israeli banks for “The provision of services and utilities supporting the maintenance and existence of settlements, including transport” and/or for “Banking and financial operations helping to develop, expand or maintain settlements and their activities, including loans for housing and the development of businesses.” At least five of the listed banks operate branches in eastern Jerusalem, which the United Nations defines as a “settlement”; the U.N.’s demand that they not provide services in eastern Jerusalem would make it difficult for the city’s Palestinian population to access such services.
• The Israeli water company Mekorot is included for “The use of natural resources, in particular water and land, for business purposes.” The inclusion of Israel’s national water company is in direct violation of articles 55 and 56 of the 4th Geneva Convention, which state that the occupier, to the extent means are available, must “ensure sufficient hygiene and public health standards, as well as the provision of food and medical care to the population under occupation.” Such obligations include water.
Additionally, Israel’s involvement in the water sector in the West Bank, supplying water to some Palestinian communities and to settlements, is entirely dictated by the 1995 Interim Agreement (Oslo II) and the P.A.-Israeli Joint Water Committee, which states the exact obligations of both sides. In essence, OHCHR claims providing water to Palestinians is a human rights violation. (See NGO Monitor’s report “Myths vs. Facts: NGOs and the Destructive Water Campaign Against Israel.”)
• Four tourism companies are included in the blacklist for “The provision of services and utilities supporting the maintenance and existence of settlements, including transport.” The blacklist is therefore targeting companies, inter alia, that facilitate the promotion of Jewish and Christian heritage and tourism in Jerusalem and the West Bank. In other words, the blacklist seeks to erase Jewish and Christian history from the Holy Land and is therefore anti-Semitic in both intent and effect. (See NGO Monitor’s reports “Amnesty International’s Antisemitic Campaign against Jewish Tourism” and “Human Rights Watch’s Airbnb Campaign: Discrimination and BDS.”)
• Six companies involved in the food industry are included in the blacklist for “The provision of services and utilities supporting the maintenance and existence of settlements, including transport” and/or “The use of natural resources, in particular water and land, for business purposes.” The inclusion of these food companies is in direct violation of articles 55 and 56 of the 4th Geneva Convention state that the occupier, to the extent means are available, must “ensure sufficient hygiene and public health standards, as well as the provision of food and medical care to the population under occupation.” Such obligations include security services, law enforcement and the construction and maintenance of infrastructure related to roads, telecommunications, water and health.
By including businesses that operate in eastern Jerusalem, the United Nations blacklist is discriminatory in two directions. Specifically, the United Nations advances a discriminatory policy wherein Jerusalem’s Arab and Jewish populations can and should be differentiated, and requires the cessation of what it deems “Israeli” economic activity in eastern Jerusalem.
Moreover, if the companies targeted by the United Nations withdrew their services and goods from eastern Jerusalem, the end result would economically damage all of Jerusalem’s population, and would also be discriminatory: Palestinians would be excluded from receiving basic goods and services in their neighborhoods, while an ethnic/religious test would be created to determine who can provide (i.e., that Jews cannot provide) services.
It also appears that the United Nations considers Palestinian-owned businesses in western Jerusalem to be legal, while only Jewish or Israeli-connected businesses in eastern Jerusalem are considered illegal. The result is therefore discrimination on the basis of religious and national origin, which is illegal under both Israeli domestic and international human-rights law.