Erdan: Israeli int’l network protects firms from ‘antisemitic’ blacklist

Pompeo outraged by UN database of businesses active in West Bank: ‘Publication confirms unrelenting anti-Israel bias’

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan
Israel is encouraging companies active in the West Bank to continue business as usual after the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published a list of 112 of them, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. “I call on the companies not to be to upset by this move,” he said a day after the list’s publication. “It’s based on boycott organizations connected to terrorist groups acting from anti-Israel, antisemitic motives.” Israel has worked to build an “international infrastructure to defend companies, so they will not be scared of these pressures,” Erdan said. Part of that infrastructure is the anti-boycott legislation passed in 28 US states. The laws vary from state to state, but many of them do not allow the government to work with businesses that boycott countries with which the US is allied. “Companies are supposed to make business decisions, not political ones,” Erdan said. “If it makes a political decision to boycott Israel, it needs to take into account that it will also be hurt in the US – a very significant business loss – and other countries that are friendly to Israel.” “Don’t forget what happened to Airbnb when they acted on political and not business motives,” he added. The vacation-rental website, one of the companies on the UN Human Rights Council list, announced last year it would stop working in Israeli towns in the West Bank. It reversed course after facing several antidiscrimination lawsuits in Israel and the US. The threat of losing US business is the most effective antidote to boycotts, Erdan said. He commended the US response to the UNHRC blacklist and expressed hope it would put further pressure on the UN, such as following through on past threats to continue cutting its funding. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet for releasing the database of companies operating in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. “The United States has long opposed the creation or release of this database, which was mandated by the discredited UN Human Rights Council in 2016,” he said. “Its publication only confirms the unrelenting anti-Israel bias so prevalent at the United Nations.” Pompeo said he was “outraged” by the decision. The US has not provided “and will never provide any information to the Office of the High Commissioner to support compilation of these lists and expresses support for US companies referenced,” he said. Pompeo called other UN members to join the 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,” he said. The Strategic Affairs Ministry has helped companies that face the specter of boycotts by organizing conferences in recent years on corporate social responsibility (CSR) to ensure they can meet the highest standards and has provided them with legal opinions that it is lawful to operate in a disputed territory such as the West Bank. “Economic activity in Judea and Samaria meets all accepted standards of CSR,” Erdan said. “We brought international ranking companies that deal with the matter to show that these companies, which employ Jews and Arabs, meet the highest standards. They pay salaries three times as high as in the Palestinian Authority, and they are environmentally responsible. “Hurting these companies hurts the Palestinians they employ,” he said. “Judging them based on being in disputed territories is a totally political decision with no connection to human rights.” Erdan said the list was compiled unprofessionally and incoherently. “Hundreds of other companies are doing the same things, and they’re not on the list,” he said. “It was compiled by boycott organizations and not professionals. There are companies and countries they didn’t want to confront, so they didn’t put those in.” No one from the UNHRC came to Israel to check the situation on the ground while composing the list, Erdan said. He cited the discriminatory basis on which the list was written. “The UN is supposed to work with countries, not companies,” Erdan said. “Have they ever targeted companies that work in Syria or Iran that violate human rights?” The UNHRC blacklist was compiled with the help of organizations affiliated with terrorist groups, the Strategic Affairs Ministry said. “This shows who stands behind the list and what their motivations and ideology are,” Erdan said. One of the groups the Strategic Affairs Ministry cited was Addameer, a Palestinian NGO. Addameer’s accountant, Samer Arbeed, is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a terrorist group. He led the cell that murdered 17-year-old Rina Schnerb near Dolev in the West Bank last year, detonating the bomb himself. Another Palestinian NGO, Al Haq, is focused on legal action against Israel for alleged human-rights violations and was heavily involved in the blacklist’s compilation, the ministry said. Al Haq is led by a former senior member of the PFLP, Shawan Jabareen, who has served time in Israeli prison for his involvement in terrorist activities. An Israeli court described him as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – on the one hand he presents himself as the director of a human-rights organization, and on the other, he is active in a terrorist organization that commits murder... He actively denies the most fundamental right of all, without which there are no other rights – the right to live.” The organization Who Profits, which calls to boycott Israel, took part in compiling the list, and 85 of the 112 companies listed are in the Who Profits database, the research institution NGO Monitor reported. Human Rights Watch, which advocates boycotting settlements, was also involved. Analyzing the list, NGO Monitor said there is no legal prohibition on conducting business activities in disputed territories, occupied territories or settlements. Some of the companies included in the list help Israel carry out the duties specified under the law of occupation, meaning that it would be a human-rights violation if they were not doing that business in Israel. In addition, many of the business activities the companies carry out are consistent with Israeli-Palestinian agreements supported by the UN and international community, such as providing utility services like water, gas and electricity to Palestinians. As for businesses that operate in east Jerusalem, if a boycott were enacted based on the UN list, “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 engage in business activities,” the NGO Monitor report said. Meanwhile, settlers on Thursday said they planned to file a local class-action suit against the United Nations based on Israel’s anti-boycott law. Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan announced the plan at an emergency meeting he held in his offices, with Economic and Trade Minister Eli Cohen (Likud) and factory owners from the Barkan Industrial Park. “Yesterday, the organization that called itself the ‘UN Human Rights Council’ became a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions organization in every sense of the word,” Dagan said. “It is an antisemitic organization and a hypocritical organization. It talks about peace, but its real purpose is only to sabotage the State of Israel and harm coexistence.” As such, he said, the anti-boycott laws can be used against it in local courts. The suit would target UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Bachelet and the United Nations Human Rights Council. The suit would demand compensation and would also name left-wing organizations. Dagan said he did not believe that diplomatic immunity extends to this kind of civil compensation suit. The Yesha council and the Sovereignty movement on Thursday night held a rally in front of Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence demanding that he apply Israel sovereignty to the West Bank settlements now. Among the speakers were Dagan, Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne’eman, Binyamin Regional Council head Israel Ganz and Jordan Valley Regional Council chairman David Elhayani, head of the Yesha Council umbrella body. They warned Netanyahu he would lose votes unless he acted now. “If you want the support of the right, act like you are the leader of the right,” Dagan said. Netanyahu has held off the request of the Trump administration in Washington, which wants both Israel and the US to jointly map out the territory before any action is taken. But at the rally, settlers urged Netanyahu to ignore Washington and focus on his voters at home. “Did we vote for [US special envoy] Jared Kushner? Did we vote for the State Department? Would England or Italy allow another nation to poke its nose in its business in the same way? We chose you, Mr. Prime Minister, and the ball is in your court here in Jerusalem, not in Washington. We are not a banana Republic,” Dagan said. Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.