Breaking down the UNHRC blacklist
February 21, 2020
(JNS)—In the halls of the United Nations, they’re calling it a “database,” but it’s more commonly and accurately known as a “blacklist.” It’s a list of more than 100 companies conducting business activities with Jewish communities and Israeli enterprises in the West Bank that was published, a good four years after it was first mooted, by the U.N. Human Rights Council last Wednesday.
Given the litter of authoritarian states and theocracies that compose the UNHRC, as well as its notorious “Item 7”—an annual fixed agenda item that focuses the HRC on alleged Israeli misdeeds only—the eventual release of the blacklist has not come as a huge surprise. The justification for its existence expressed in the official report of Michele Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, is nevertheless worth a closer look.
The list comprises companies deemed by the UNHRC to be complicit in encouraging, building and maintaining “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.” There are 10 categories that the UNHRC uses to determine exactly how this complicity functions, so if you are conducting business with these Jewish communities, and you are engaged in “listed activities” in the construction, demolition, private security, banking, natural resource or transport sectors, chances are that you will be on the blacklist.
Theoretically, the blacklist is global in its ambition, with a mandate to examine “business enterprises, whether domiciled in Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territory or abroad, carrying out listed activities in relation to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” But when you break down the list of companies by country origin, two features stand out.
First, of the 112 companies blacklisted, 95 are Israeli. A plurality of the remaining 17 is American, with the remainder made up of Europeans and one Thai enterprise. Second, despite the 10 categories listed by the UNHRC as justification for inclusion on the blacklist, the vast majority of the companies included fall into only three of them. These are: “The provision of services and utilities supporting the maintenance and existence of settlements, including transport” (category E); “Banking and financial operations helping to develop, expand or maintain settlements and their activities, including loans for housing and the development of businesses” (category F); “The use of natural resources, in particular water and land, for business purposes” (category G).
Instructively, two of the remaining categories were entirely absent from the blacklist.
No companies were found to have made “[U]se of benefits and reinvestments of enterprises owned totally or partially by settlers for developing, expanding and maintaining the settlements” (category J). Nor were there any companies responsible for the “[C]aptivity of the Palestinian financial and economic markets, as well as practices that disadvantage Palestinian enterprises, including through restrictions on movement, administrative and legal constraints (category I).”
The targets of the blacklist are judged to be guilty of fostering Israeli economic activity in the disputed territories, rather than the more specific offense of restricting or damaging the Palestinians’ own economy. Once more, then, the United Nations’ principal human-rights body has demonstrated that “solidarity” with the Palestinians does not mean the improvement of their daily lives through education, higher incomes and other benefits, but an institutional fixation with the physical presence of Israeli civilians in “occupied territories.”
The fact the overwhelming majority of the companies on the blacklist are Israeli indicates that there is a more sinister aim at work here. The only international institution in which the BDS movement to boycott Israel has any platform is the UN. The BDS campaign has always insisted that Israel be sanctioned in its entirety, in order to pave the way for the defeat of an occupation that began not in 1967, but in 1948, with the very creation of the Jewish state. The blacklist now being operated by the UNHRC is an approximation of that campaign. Its purpose is not to create a Palestinian state, or develop a Palestinian economy, but to poke at Israel’s very legitimacy by adopting the tactics of those who dispute Israel’s right to exist in the first place.
All that said, the publication of the blacklist fits very neatly with the present rejectionist spirit of Palestinian diplomacy. Indeed, the United Nations is the ideal vehicle for the Palestinians with its network of official solidarity committees, NGO conferences and internal propaganda departments that promote the Palestinian-refugee “right of return” to the 1948 territories. But then, that was always the case. The continued prominence of the world body as an advocate for the Palestinians only demonstrates how their cause has failed in other, more impactful forums. Because while the United Nations can sanction the official Palestinian narrative of dispossession and “Zionist” occupation and while it can lend a patina of credibility to the legal warfare faced by Israel on the international stage, it cannot deliver the Palestinians a better future.
As long as they remain the cause célèbre of the United Nations—and the United Nations alone—the Palestinian depiction of dialogue and negotiation as a form of betrayal will never be cast aside. Like the 1974 General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism or the 2001 Durban anti-racism conference that rounded on Israel, the publication of the blacklist by the UNHRC amounts to an attack on Israel’s legitimacy that no other member state would be expected to tolerate. Some 75 years after the creation of this world body, the contention that the legal and moral right of the Jewish people to a sovereign existence is inferior when compared to every other nationality in the world continues to haunt its deliberations.
Ben Cohen is a New York City-based journalist and author who writes a weekly column on Jewish and international affairs for JNS.