If there’s one group you can count on, it’s the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Their members are not terribly concerned about human rights, particularly within their own borders, but they sure are consumed by hatred for Israel.
In March 2016, UNHRC decided the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights should release a blacklist of companies “conducting activities in or related to Israel’s settlements,” a move cheered on by supporters of the movement to boycott Israel. However, there were various delays, and that database did not materialize until this month.
In what certainly looks like a clap-back at the Trump administration’s Peace to Prosperity plan for Israelis and Palestinians timing-wise, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet released a list of 112 companies that operate beyond Israel’s Green Line. Not so coincidentally, 94 of the named companies are based in Israel. Six are American companies, including Airbnb and General Mills.
As with the Arab Boycott, this is about stigmatizing Israel and raising the cost of doing business with Israeli Jews. Eugene Kontorovich, director of the Center for International Law in the Middle East at George Mason University Scalia Law School, emailed, “Many of the American firms being targeted have no presence there, but simply do business with companies that do business there. They are simply being blacklisted for refusing to discriminate against Israeli Jews in the provision of their goods and services.”
Unlike the European high court’s recent discriminatory labeling decision, this blacklist doesn’t start with the force of law behind it. However, it can still do real economic damage. As The Jerusalem Post noted, “UNHRC documents have no standing in and of themselves, but are often used as the basis for UN decisions elsewhere.”
Shurat HaDin president Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who participated in last year’s litigation against Airbnb, emailed, “Exclusively focusing on Palestinians’ claims of occupation and targeting Israel while ignoring all the other so-called ‘occupied territories’ like Northern Cyprus, Western Sahara and Tibet, underscores the Commission’s true agenda. . . . In earlier centuries dictators and despots employed bills of attainder to unlawfully criminalize the conduct of one individual or entity and to punish them without any trial or hearing. Today the UN Commission and its blacklist serves this same despicable role.”
UNHRC is holding Israel to its own, separate standard. In so doing, they lean into the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.
It might be noted that the UN’s Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed suggested that the UN adopt the IHRA definition as part of his global antisemitism report last year. However, with the publication of the blacklist, that adoption looks incredibly unlikely. (The special rapporteur did not respond to a request for comment.)
For anyone who doubts that this list is an organic outgrowth of UNHRC’s standing agenda Item 7 and all about punishing Israel, consider that the UN has never published such a list for any other disputed region. Also, as UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer tweeted, this list “turns the UN into Ground Zero for the global anti-Israel boycott campaign.”
At bottom, this blacklist was created to harm Israel, not to help the Palestinians. Its publication benefits the Palestinians neither diplomatically nor economically.
On the first point, Darshan-Leitner observes that the Palestinians remain bound by the Oslo Accords, which require direct negotiations with Israel about borders. On the second, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics noted that in 2017, “The average daily wage for [Palestinian] employees in the West Bank was 98.8 shekels… Gaza Strip 56.7 shekels… in Israel and the Israeli settlements 233.3 shekels.”
There is no question that Palestinians benefit from a strong Israeli economy. Profitable companies can hire more workers, both Israeli and Palestinian.
Palestinian Media Watch also reports that “Palestinians prefer to work for Israelis rather than Palestinians for several reasons. Firstly, the salary is more than double . . . Palestinians working for Israelis are protected by the same laws as Israeli workers, including health benefits, sick leave, vacation time, and other workers’ rights, whereas these protections are not granted by Palestinian employers. As a result of the better treatment by Israelis, Palestinians choose to work for them.”
However, if Israel’s enemies inflict economic damage through boycotts, those companies will be forced to lay off employees, including Palestinian employees. Sinking ships benefit nobody aboard.
The blacklist is scheduled to be formally presented during UNHRC’s new session, which began this week in Geneva. Meanwhile, the United States’s UN Ambassador Kelly Craft has already called the list’s publication “shameful.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has “call[ed] 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.”
Sen. Ted Cruz has called for an executive order clarifying that American laws opposing Israel boycotts extend to the UN, withholding money “equivalent to the funding provided to the UNHRC and the OHCHR, and impos[ing] visa and travel restrictions on the officials responsible for this campaign, including High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.”
Is the rest of the world listening? It’s time to see who’s willing to stand up everybody’s human rights.