Israel and the US are trying to prevent publication of a ‘blacklist’ of companies doing business in the West Bank

Israel West BankBusiness Insider/Julie Bort

Josef Federman, Josh Lederman, Jamey Keaten, Business Insider, November 27, 2017

  • Israel and the Trump Administration are working “feverishly” to prevent a database of companies that operate in Israel’s West Bank settlements from being published.
  • Dozens of major names are expected to appear on the list, including 100 local companies and 50 international companies, mostly from the US and Europe.
  • The UN’s top human rights body, the Human Rights Council, ordered the compilation of the database in March 2016.

JERUSALEM (AP) — Weeks ahead of the expected completion of a U.N. database of companies that operate in Israel’s West Bank settlements, Israel and the Trump Administration are working feverishly to prevent its publication.

While Israel is usually quick to brush off U.N. criticism, officials say they are taking the so-called “blacklist” seriously, fearing its publication could have devastating consequences by driving companies away, deterring others from coming and prompting investors to dump shares of Israeli firms. Dozens of major Israeli companies, as well as multinationals that do business in Israel, are expected to appear on the list.

“We will do everything we can to ensure that this list does not see the light of day,” Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, told The Associated Press.

The U.N.’s top human rights body, the Human Rights Council, ordered the compilation of the database in March 2016, calling on U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein to “investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on Palestinians.”

The international community overwhelmingly considers the settlements, built on occupied land claimed by the Palestinians for a future state, to be illegal. Israel rejects such claims, citing the land’s strategic and religious significance, and says the matter should be resolved in negotiations.

Israeli officials say that about 100 local companies that operate in the West Bank and east Jerusalem have received warning letters that they will be on the list. In addition, some 50 international companies, mostly American and European, also have been warned.

The companies have not been publicly identified, but one official said they include Israeli banks, supermarkets, restaurant chains, bus lines and security firms, as well as international giants that provide equipment or services used to build or maintain settlements. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

The only company to confirm receiving a warning letter has been Bezeq, Israel’s national telephone company. Bezeq’s chief executive, Stella Handler, posted a copy of the letter sent by Zeid’s office in September on her Facebook page. It accused Bezeq of using West Bank land for infrastructure, providing phone and Internet services to settlements and operating sales offices in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Handler angrily wrote that Bezeq provides service to all customers, regardless of race or where they live.

“The council’s bias against Israel is so extreme that it has lost all relevance in the world,” she wrote. “We will not cooperate with a move that is all in all anti-Israeli propaganda.”

But hours later, Handler removed the post, saying she had done so at the request of the government. The Israeli official confirmed the government has asked companies not to speak about the issue. Bezeq declined comment.

Israel has long accused the United Nations, and particularly the rights council, of being biased against it.

Israel is the only country that faces an examination of its rights record at each of the council’s three sessions each year. Some 70 resolutions, or about quarter of the council’s country-specific resolutions, have been aimed at Israel. That is nearly triple the number for the second-place country: Syria, where hundreds of thousands have been killed in a devastating six-year civil war.

Israeli leaders and many non-governmental groups also complain that some of the world’s worst violators of human rights, including Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Congo and Cuba, sit on the council.

Continue reading

Walker Order and GOP Bills on BDS Serve Big Donor

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, November 14, 2017

Republican Gov. Scott Walker has prohibited the state from doing business with anyone who participates in a boycott against Israel, a move guaranteed to please a Las Vegas casino billionaire who has contributed more than $900,000 to Walker and the state GOP.

On Oct. 27, Walker issue Executive Order 261, calling the boycott “discriminatory” and saying it “serves to inflame conflict.”

In addition to the governor’s executive order, two legislative proposals, Senate Bill 450 and Assembly Bill 553, would also prohibit state and local governments from adopting rules to boycott doing business with Israel. The measures also prohibit state and local governments from doing business with anyone involved in the so-called Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that has surfaced in recent years on some college campuses.  The movement is designed to pressure Israel to stop oppressing the Palestinian people.

One of the bills’ authors, Republican Sen. Leah Vukmir, of Wauwatosa, penned a column last year that called BDS “economic terrorism” against the Jewish State. Vukmir, who is on the board and a former chair of a bill-mill called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), is running for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate to run against incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin in 2018. Vukmir wrote her column for ALEC’s website.

The campaign contributor, Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson, has been a generous benefactor for conservative and GOP candidates in federal and state races across the country. Adelson has also been involved in recent years in efforts against BDS. He and his wife, Miriam, directly contributed $270,000 to Walker’s 2012 recall and 2014 reelection campaigns. In addition, Adelson contributed another $650,000 in 2014 to the state Republican Party, which turned around days later and contributed $600,000 to Walker’s campaign.

ALEC, which was created in the 1970s, unites powerful business interests with conservative state legislators around the country. They meet to come up with “model legislation” that state policymakers can tweak and introduce in their home states. The legislation developed by ALEC hits a range of issues, like privatizing government services and programs, environmental deregulation, voter ID, and the Castle Doctrine.

About four dozen legislators from Wisconsin have been involved in ALEC during the past several years, and ALEC-generated legislation has shown up in Wisconsin, especially since 2010 when Republicans took control of the governor’s office and the legislature.

Protect the right to boycott Israel in Wisconsin

Barbara Olson and Tsela Barr, Wisconsin State Journal, November 11, 2017

Barbara OlsonTsela Barr
Gov. Scott Walker just issued an executive order prohibiting current or future state contracts with any “business entity” that engages in the constitutionally protected right to boycott Israel for its human rights violations.

Republicans are pushing two similar bills in the state Legislature that would compel individuals as well as companies to support Israel if they want to do business with local or state government agencies. The provisions against boycotts, divestment and sanctions (often referred to as BDS) are to be written into contracts, and long-standing low-bidder requirements are to be superseded.

Our state politicians are not alone in singling out Israel — including the Palestinian territories it illegally occupies by military force — for this special status. In Congress, the proposed “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” would make it a felony to choose not to engage in commerce with companies doing business in Israel and its illegal settlements. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, violations would be punishable by a civil penalty that could reach $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

Such laws, resolutions and executive orders have been sprouting like mushrooms after the rain. Twenty-four U.S. states now have them on the books. Nationally, Republicans and some Democrats have gotten on board thanks to well-funded efforts by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Bipartisanship may be dead when it comes to things the American people really need, but not when it comes to government overreach on behalf of the foreign state of Israel.

The absurd and dangerous consequences are becoming increasingly clear. Last month, people in a Houston suburb were required to sign an anti-BDS pledge to receive hurricane relief. (Individuals, but not companies, were eventually freed from this requirement after protests.)

And a Kansas math teacher who refused to sign an anti-BDS pledge was de-selected from a position in a state-funded teacher training program. A Mennonite, she follows her church policy to avoid purchasing goods and services from Israeli companies and those doing business with Israeli settlements. (Apparently, religious freedom exempts you from the law to provide women’s reproductive health services, but not from the duty to support Israel.) She is now suing the state of Kansas.

This “Palestine exception” to the First Amendment is of obvious concern to the millions of people who support the global BDS campaign called by Palestinian civil society to get Israel to comply with international law and basic standards of human rights.

But it should alarm anyone who values their freedom to engage in collective economic action to right wrongs and build a better society. How long before others — such as those in the burgeoning movement to divest from fossil fuels — will have their own “exceptions” written into law? Contact your state legislators and ask them to oppose these bills and Gov. Walker’s executive order.

Olson is a member of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project. Barr is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace-Madison.

Protect Free Speech

Twelve leading faith organizations pen an open letter opposing anti-BDS legislation

Friends of Sabeel North America, November 7, 2017

Today, 12 leading faith groups, including the Alliance of Baptists, Presbyterian Church USA, and the United Church of Christ, ran a letter in The Kansas City Star calling anti-BDS legislation in the United States what it is: a blatant infringement on First Amendment rights.

The letter, signed by an additional nine faith organizations and endorsed by more than 28 activist organizations, states:

    “We are alarmed by legislation recently passed in a number of states penalizing participation in the nonviolent, grassroots Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights, and by similar legislation that is proposed in the U.S. Congress…As faith leaders, we have long used the nonviolent instruments of boycott and divestment in our work for justice and peace.”

There are several things you can do to oppose anti-BDS legislation to protect your First Amendment right to boycott!

  • Call or e-mail your national elected representatives (202-224-3121) to oppose proposed anti-BDS legislation as a serious attack on the right of free speech.
  • Help us spread the ad on social media by visiting us on Facebook and Twitter and sharing our posts.
  • Donate to help fund our work against anti-BDS legislation!
  • Help us show legislators that we will not tolerate attacks on free speech!

    In solidarity,
    Rochelle Watson
    National Organizer
    Friends of Sabeel, North America


    Ask Sen. Tammy Baldwin to Oppose Kenneth Marcus’s Nomination

    US Campaign for Palestinian Rights

    On October 30, Trump nominated Kenneth Marcus to be Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Department of Education.

    Marcus has a long record of filing spurious discrimination claims with the department in an effort to suppress Palestine activism on campus, and supports anti-BDS legislation.

    Marcus is yet another Trump nominee who would undermine the very protections his office is supposed to uphold.

    Contact Senators on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and tell them to oppose Marcus’s nomination.


    Who is Kenneth Marcus? Read our memorandum outlining his history of anti-Palestinian activism and why he should not be confirmed.

    Read our alerts