Last Wednesday an office of the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) issued a list of companies doing businesses in what it called Occupied Palestinian Territory. While the list is vague on what it should be used for and does not call for sanctions against the listed companies, Israel and its supporters quickly called it a “blacklist.” The list is not a product of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, but it is certainly a roadmap for anyone looking to target businesses that are engaged in what by all accounts are activities consistent with what occurs in other conflict situations without similar scrutiny.
Supporters of the two-state solution might be tempted to embrace such a list, since it pushes back against the idea, promoted by the Netanyahu government and encouraged by the recent White House peace vision, that there is almost no distinction between Israel “proper” and Jewish areas over the pre-1967 lines. Such a list, according to this thinking, can be a tool that would prevent Israel and its supporters on the right from “normalizing the Occupation.”
But it is hard to see what good could come out of a list created in such bad faith, and by such bad actors. The co-sponsors are a rogues’ gallery of tyrannies and non-democracies with grim records on human rights. Among the most important signatories are Russia, the unapologetic occupier of Crimea, and China, which seems to have no compunctions about dominating Tibet and draining it of its economic and natural resources.
The list of 112 business entities, 94 headquartered in Israel, is described as a tool for corporate “transparency,” but apparently such transparency doesn’t extend to other conflict situations or other occupied territories, from the Western Sahara to Kashmir.
The list-makers also don’t attempt to probe whether the cited businesses are violating human rights, or, conversely, operating in ways that benefit Israelis (who under international law are entitled to security arrangements even in disputed territory) or Palestinians (many of whom work for companies listed in the report). Instead, the database focuses on the types of businesses that MIGHT pose threats to international human rights, with criteria so broad and so vague that few businesses would ever be excluded.
Perhaps that is why 15 UNHRC members, including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, refused to support the blacklist. The United States, which in 2017 withdrew from what it called a “hypocritical and self-serving organization” that displayed “unending hostility towards Israel,” said the list was counterproductive and would do nothing to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace.
And that may be the sick joke of the entire list-making enterprise: The UNHRC report is a call for a boycott by any other name, and joining in the effort to isolate Israel economically will only empower the people on both sides who block efforts for compromise. The Palestinians will continue to look to international bodies and allies abroad to solve their problems, instead of taking a hard look at the concessions they will have to make to advance their dreams of autonomy. And the Israeli right will use the pile-on from the usual suspects to convince voters and allies that Israel stands alone and isolated.