EU think tank advocating for West Bank boycotts funded by occupied territories worldwide

The ECFR has close ties to the European Commission, with commissioners serving on its council, and its studies are often adopted by Brussels as EU policy.

European Union flags fly near the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 4, 2019 (photo credit: YVES HERMAN/REUTERS)
European Union flags fly near the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 4, 2019
(photo credit: YVES HERMAN/REUTERS)
The influential European Council on Foreign Relations accepts major funding from companies active in occupied territories worldwide, while pushing for the EU to exclude eastern Jerusalem, the West Bank and Golan Heights from agreements with Israel, according to a report by the Kohelet Policy Forum, an Israeli think tank.
The ECFR has close ties to the European Commission, with commissioners serving on its council; its studies are often adopted as EU policy.
The think tank’s reports have long been a major proponent of “differentiation” policies by the EU, a euphemism for boycotting Israeli territory beyond the Green Line, and is one of the factors behind the labeling of settlement products.
The council is currently promoting calls for a much more aggressive policy by which every agreement between a European country and Israel would include a clause leaving out the areas it views as occupied. Its researchers compiled a “differentiation tracker,” showing “the extent to which [European countries] contain a clearly defined territorial definition that explicitly excludes Israeli settlements constructed on occupied territory.” The tracker was highlighted twice on its homepage on Monday.
In recent years, ECFR publications have called for sanctions on Israeli banks with financial activities in settlements, but the EU rejected that report. The think tank’s reports also called for “imposing targeted sanctions upon persons or entities providing support to or benefiting from Israel’s unlawful practices in the OPT [occupied Palestinian territories], including its illegal annexation of Palestinian territory,” and to create “real financial consequences for average Israelis who remain ambivalent about Israel’s settlement project.”
In addition, their researchers have said the EU should not fund or invest in any Israeli entities operating in occupied territory due to “the fungibility of the financial capital employed by all such corporate entities,” asking whether it can “supply fungible funds to European banks without ensuring that such funds cannot... provide material support to the occupation... to fund activities that contravene international law.”
Research in the Kohelet Policy Forum’s “Who else profits?” project, which documents the broad extent of European multinational business activities in occupied territories around the world free from any sanction by their governments, found that several of the ECFR’s biggest corporate donors do active business in the occupied territories of Western Sahara and Northern Cyprus. The think tank has not given any indication of differentiating or rejecting those funds – in fact, they list those sponsors in their brochure – although they do the exact kind of business the ECFR has called on the EU to act against.
In Western Sahara and Northern Cyprus, over 50% of the population is made up of settlers, and large numbers of refugees are not permitted to return.
ALLIANZ SE, the world’s largest insurance and financial services company, headquartered in Germany, has several official offices and affiliated insurance agencies in Western Sahara, including in Boujdour, Dakhla and Laayoune. Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, S.A. (BBVA), a leading financial institution in Spain with a global presence, has a Turkish subsidiary, Garanti BBVA, with eight branch offices across Northern Cyprus. The German electronics and engineering company Robert Bosch GmbH, better known as Bosch, has shops in Northern Cyprus shopping malls, official business representatives in the region, and a Bosch Car Services licensee in Western Sahara. Other ECFR corporate sponsors working in occupied territories are Daimler AG and Santander.
ECFR reports have called comparisons between the West Bank and Western Sahara or Northern Cyprus “what-aboutism” by “defenders of Israel’s settlement enterprise” who claim a double standard against Israel. It has also cited differences in their legal status in past reports, such as that the EU does not have an official policy as to whether or not it considers law of occupation applicable to Western Sahara, and that the EU has agreements with the PLO and not with the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in Western Sahara.
A 2017 report said that the way the think tank believes Israel should be treated under international law “may be applied to other ongoing situations of prolonged occupation that resemble annexation or otherwise permanently transform the occupied territory, including northern Cyprus [sic], Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Western Sahara and, most recently, Crimea.” In another report, the council called to “develop a consistent EU position on how to tackle situations of occupation,” saying that “the under-examined consequences of Morocco’s activities in the Western Sahara on its relations with the EU and its member states is one example case in point.”
While recommending the EU be consistent, there are discrepancies in the policy recommendations by the ECFR when it comes to those territories, with special opprobrium reserved for eastern Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights – and in their actions, since the council apparently does not differentiate contributions funded by activities in occupied territories.
Eugene Kontorovich, a director of the Kohelet Policy Forum and a constitutional and international law professor at George Mason University, pointed out that the ECFR does not put warning labels on their brochures saying that some of their donors do business in occupied territory.
“That the ECFR is funded by occupation businesses fundamentally discredits – and explains – their obsessive push for ‘differentiation’ against Israel and only Israel,” he said.
“The ECFR is not wrong to accept this money,” he added. “International law does not restrict companies from doing business in occupied territories. [But] they are wrong to publish policy analysis-recommended punitive measures against Israel – that they clearly do not believe are legally required when it comes to themselves. ”
The council responded that it “does not take corporate or collective positions on differentiation policy or on any other issue... Recommendations represent only the views of their authors.”