By Ray Hanania
Six American companies are among 112 identified by the UN as doing business with illegal Israeli settlements built on Arab lands in the occupied West Bank. Ninety-four of the 112 businesses on the UN list are based in Israel, but 18 others are based in Britain, the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg and the US. The six American companies represent 11 of the largest brands in the US, involving travel, food and telecommunications.
The publication of the UN list, which was delayed for nearly four years, puts enormous pressure on the non-Israeli businesses that exploit Palestinian assets to support Israel’s illegal settlements, which continue to expand.
“While the release of the database will not, by itself, bring an end to the illegal settlements and their serious impact upon human rights, it does signal that sustained defiance by an occupying power will not go unanswered,” said Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk following its release.
The UN human rights office released the information in a report in response to a 2016 request by the prestigious UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which has been the target of attacks by both Israel and the US.
The database is valuable to activists who argue that Israel’s settlements are an obstacle to a genuine peace accord. More than 650,000 Israelis live in illegal settlements that are built on the most fertile lands confiscated from Christian and Muslim Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The six American companies that are being targeted for boycott by pro-Palestinian activists include Airbnb, which found itself in a major brouhaha last year, when it delisted properties for rent in the Occupied Territories, only to relent under pressure from Israel.
The list includes three other popular travel websites: Expedia, TripAdvisor and Booking Holdings, which owns six major travel-related sites: Booking.com, KAYAK, Priceline, Agoda, Rentalcars.com and OpenTable. It also includes one of America’s largest food manufacturers and distributors, General Mills, and the US telecommunications giant Motorola Solutions.
Twenty-eight US states have adopted laws or policies that penalize businesses, organizations or individuals that engage in or call for boycotts against Israel. The rules in 17 of those states explicitly target not only companies that refuse to do business in or with Israel, but also those that refuse to do business in its settlements. Some states whose laws do not explicitly apply to settlements have penalized companies that cut ties with them.
The UN’s action puts all 11 US organizations in the crosshairs of pro-Palestinian activists, who have been empowered toward unified activism by the release last month of President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel peace plan. Although it is difficult to not purchase General Mills food products, boycotting the travel sites and Motorola is easy and must be embraced as a fundamental principle of standing up to Israeli apartheid.
Pro-Israel activists claim that the boycott of these companies is anti-Semitic, falsely arguing that the boycotts target Jews in Israel. This lie is intended to provide cover for its fast-growing settlement enterprise by falsely asserting that the boycott of Israeli settlements is also a boycott of Israel’s right to exist.
Boycotting Israeli settlements is a moral duty for anyone who supports human and civil rights. But pro-Palestinian activists need to be more strategic in order to avoid anti-boycott laws that are intended to protect settlers while denying rights to Christians and Muslims.
Every one of those 11 companies is vulnerable to considerable attack. Activists, and the Arab and Muslim worlds, could easily force them to withdraw all their operations from the Occupied Territories by refusing to do business with them. To avoid the laws passed by the 28 US states, and numerous laws passed by Congress over the years, activists do not have to say it publicly.
Principle insists that we find alternatives to these 11 organizations. There are many alternatives. Instead of calling it a boycott, call it a fundamental moral principle. Pro-Palestinian activists should also highlight that both Christians and Muslims are victims of Israeli apartheid. More than 70 percent of Americans are Christian, yet most of them do not know that their co-religionists are suffering under Israeli oppression, or that their tax dollars are used to fund that racism.
Ironically, Israelis are permitted to boycott pro-Arab institutions and corporations. They do not call it a boycott. They just do it. I will not boycott any of those US companies. When asked, I will deny boycotting them. I have the right to decide who I want to do business with because of my fundamental moral belief in equal rights for all people, and my opposition to the oppression of Christians and Muslims by Israel’s government and allies.