FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Corporate Occupations: The UN Business “Black List” and Israel’s Settlements

Mikhail Bakunin, in that charming anarchist tradition, regarded the state as an evil to be done away with.  Such collective formations were criminal, oppressive, eviscerating to the individual.  The corporation might be regarded as a similar collective, adopting and aping elements of the state with, in some cases, greater latitude to achieve its object.  At times, they collude with states to advance their interests, which rarely deviate from the profit motive; in other cases, they seek to overthrow state regimes in favour of more compliant ones.

For that reason, bringing corporate behaviour within the realm of human rights can be a tad tricky.  You can take corporate managers to witness grave abuses, but you can’t make them feel.  The cynicism in this field is so profound that it produces such views as those of Milton Friedman, who suggested with monetarist glee that corporations are only burdened by one task in the field of social responsibility: using their “resources and engage in activities designed to increase [their] profits so long as it stays in the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition, without deception or fraud.”

In his New York Times Magazine piece from 1970, he took issue with those businessmen who spoke of having a “social conscience”, or sought to achieve “social” ends, be it limiting pollution, ensuring secure employment or eliminating discrimination.

Friedman’s piece was as much a distillation of a business condition as a philosophy.  Invariably, the corporate condition is one-dimensional and bound to the aims of maximising share dividends and gaining market share.  Every other goal tends to be subordinated to that end.

Publishing the names of various companies reaping in proceeds from occupied Palestinian lands while supporting their structural integrity would hardly shock a follower of Friedman.  The follower would argue that such companies have only one moral, ethical purpose in mind, something which would preclude advancing a human rights agenda, or greater accommodation with Palestinians.  But a company operating on such soil cannot entirely escape the orbit of ethical implications.  The dispute hinges on the implicit assumption on Israel’s part that such businesses are, supposedly, legitimate in their operations; the counter to that is that the United Nations, and most of its members, see the settlements as illegal in international law.

Last week, the United Nations Human Rights office revealed a database of some 112 businesses connected with Israeli settlements, 94 of which are Israeli.  The report was a response to a 2016 UNHRC resolution (31/36) calling for a “database for all businesses engaged in specific activities related to Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.”  US companies include Airbnb, Trip Advisor, Expedia, Motorola and General Mills.  The UK’s Greenkote and France’s Alstom also feature in the list.  The special rapporteur Michael Lynk saw them as essential components of economic activity within the settlements.  “Without these investments, wineries, factories, corporate supply and purchase agreements, banking operations and support services, many of the settlements would not be financially and operationally sustainable.  And without the settlements, the five-decade-long Israeli occupation would lose its colonial raison d’être.”

Lynk felt that publishing details of those businesses did constitute some measure of rebuke, however small.  “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.”

One notable qualifier on the list has gone unnoticed.  In a statement from the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, the point was made that identifying the companies had not been a judicial or quasi-judicial exercise.  The settlements were illegal, but the report did not furnish a “legal characterization of the activities in question, or of business enterprises’ involvement in them.”  One senses that an opportunity might have gone begging there.

The response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one deviation and re-attribution.  The UN Human Rights Council, he charged, “is a biased and uninfluential body.”  Rather than dealing with human rights “this body is trying to blacken Israel’s name.  We reject any such attempt in the strongest terms and with disgust.”

Despite dismissing the Human Rights Council as uninfluential, Netanyahu took the matter seriously enough to suspend ties with the UN Commissioner for Human Rights.  The basis for doing so had nothing to do with addressing any criteria of human rights, but whether companies would be protected in conducting their business.  Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s office, Foreign Minister Israel Katz accused, had fallen into the service of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.

In a statement on the issue, Katz was keen to take a principled stance.  The Human Rights Council was ignorant of human rights.  “Since its establishment, the Council has not taken a single meaningful step towards the preservation of human rights, but has rather served to protect some of the most discriminatory regimes in the world.”  The Commissioner had “wasted an opportunity to preserve the dignity of the UN ad salvage what was left of the Council and the Commission’s integrity.”

President Reuven Rivlin, as if to prove the point made by special rapporteur Lynk, read out the names of those Israeli companies that had made the list in an address from his Jerusalem residence, calling them “patriots who contribute to Israeli society, to economy and to peace.”

Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan even went so far as to claim that such lists violated the rights of those subjects living under occupation.  In the language befitting a colonial governor’s reproach to an independence activist, Erdan suggested that the UN publication “will hurt the livelihoods of thousands of Palestinians who coexist and cooperate with Israelis on a daily basis in Judea and Samaria.”

Had Netanyahu simply claimed to be a Friedmanite, that might have made some brutal, if shallow sense.  But as occupations, territorial consolidation and Israeli identity remain ideological and religious matters, ethics becomes a matter of observance and abuse.  Occupations and matters of conquest tend to be disturbingly moral pursuits, pursued fanatically and with lethal resolve.  Best keep corporations on your side, if that is the case.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

July 14, 2020
Anthony DiMaggio
Canceling the Cancel Culture: Enriching Discourse or Dumbing it Down?
Patrick Cockburn
Boris Johnson Should not be Making New Global Enemies When His Country is in a Shambles
Frank Joyce
Lift From the Bottom? Yes.
Richard C. Gross
The Crackdown on Foreign Students
Steven Salaita
Should We Cancel “Cancel Culture”?
Paul Street
Sorry, the Chicago Blackhawks Need to Change Their Name and Logo
Jonathan Cook
‘Cancel Culture’ Letter is About Stifling Free Speech, Not Protecting It
John Feffer
The Global Rushmore of Autocrats
C. Douglas Lummis
Pillar of Sand in Okinawa
B. Nimri Aziz
Soft Power: Americans in Its Grip at Home Must Face the Mischief It Wields by BNimri Aziz July 11/2020
Cesar Chelala
What was lost when Ringling Bros. Left the Circus
Dan Bacher
California Regulators Approve 12 New Permits for Chevron to Frack in Kern County
George Wuerthner
Shrinking Wilderness in the Gallatin Range
Lawrence Davidson
Woodrow Wilson’s Racism: the Basis For His Support of Zionism
Binoy Kampmark
Mosques, Museums and Politics: the Fate of Hagia Sophia
Dean Baker
Propaganda on Government Action and Inequality from David Leonhardt
July 13, 2020
Gerald Sussman
The Russiagate Spectacle: Season 2?
Ishmael Reed
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Perry Mason Moment
Jack Rasmus
Why the 3rd Quarter US Economic ‘Rebound’ Will Falter
W. T. Whitney
Oil Comes First in Peru, Not Coronavirus Danger, Not Indigenous Rights
Ralph Nader
The Enduring Case for Demanding Trump’s Resignation
Raghav Kaushik – Arun Gupta
On Coronavirus and the Anti-Police-Brutality Uprising
Deborah James
Digital Trade Rules: a Disastrous New Constitution for the Global Economy Written by and for Big Tech
Howard Lisnoff
Remembering the Nuclear Freeze Movement and Its Futility
Sam Pizzigati
Will the Biden-Sanders Economic Task Force Rattle the Rich?
Allen Baker
Trump’s Stance on Foreign College Students Digs US Economic Hole Even Deeper
Binoy Kampmark
The Coronavirus Seal: Victoria’s Borders Close
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Power, Knowledge and Virtue
Weekend Edition
July 10, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Lynnette Grey Bull
Trump’s Postcard to America From the Shrine of Hypocrisy
Anthony DiMaggio
Free Speech Fantasies: the Harper’s Letter and the Myth of American Liberalism
David Yearsley
Morricone: Maestro of Music and Image
Jeffrey St. Clair
“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade
Rob Urie
Democracy and the Illusion of Choice
Paul Street
Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obama
Vijay Prashad
The U.S. and UK are a Wrecking Ball Crew Against the Pillars of Internationalism
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post and Its Cold War Drums
Richard C. Gross
Trump: Reopen Schools (or Else)
Chris Krupp
Public Lands Under Widespread Attack During Pandemic 
Alda Facio
What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Inequality, Discrimination and the Importance of Caring
Eve Ottenberg
Bounty Tales
Andrew Levine
Silver Linings Ahead?
John Kendall Hawkins
FrankenBob: The Self-Made Dylan
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Deutsche Bank Fined $150 Million for Enabling Jeffrey Epstein; Where’s the Fine Against JPMorgan Chase?
David Rosen
Inequality and the End of the American Dream
Louis Proyect
Harper’s and the Great Cancel Culture Panic
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail