Human Rights Watch Campaigns at UN to Revive Discriminatory Arab Boycott
On November 21, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a letter sent by its Israel/Palestine Advocacy Director Sari Bashi to the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. In it, HRW and Bashi praise the latest efforts to establish a UN boycott of Israel, and even offer up three specific companies to be included on a nascent UN blacklist.
In its letter, HRW recommends that the UNHRC blacklist”
“institutions that carry out  activities…includ[ing] but not limited to providing waste-management services to settlements, financing construction or other projects in the settlements, marking homes in the settlements, quarrying in Area C, with the profits going to the Israeli Civil Administration, organizing professional or semi-professional sports or other recreational activities in the settlements, buying goods made or grown partially or entirely in the settlements or including components produced or grown in the settlements and providing goods or services to businesses located in the settlements.”
To be clear, this list is not about settlements. It is so expansive as to encompass practically every single Israeli company and institution, as well as foreign corporations and institutions that do business in Israel. The only possible exception to inclusion on the blacklist would be institutions that take careful efforts to boycott settlements, and even then it is likely that some may meet HRW’s criteria.
It is also important to note that contrary to HRW’s claims, every court that has looked at this issue has found that all of the activities targeted by HRW are legal under international law.
In addition, HRW’s demands, in particular those that call for the boycotting and dismantling of water and sewage infrastructure, advocate for mass violations of international human rights law (for Palestinians and settlers alike) and many provisions of the Geneva Conventions. The call to violate international humanitarian and human rights law, in order to weaken Israel’s presence in the West Bank, is particularly bizarre given that HRW frequently argues in the Israeli context that alleged violations by one party are not an excuse for further violations of human rights.
The background to the discriminatory letter is UN Human Rights Council Resolution 31/36 (March 2016), mandating that the High Commissioner “produce a database of all business enterprises involved in” the construction and growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.1 Resolution 31/36 states that such a database is somehow “a necessary step” for companies to “assess the human rights impact of their activities” (per language from the recommendations of a separate UN report), exposing the real purpose –a UN created blacklist.
Indeed, according to HRW’s letter, there is nothing for companies to assess:
“In January 2016, Human Rights Watch issued a report, Occupation, Inc., analyzing the activities of companies doing business in or with Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. We concluded that such business activity contributes to the serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law inherent in the settlement enterprise. We recommended that businesses end all settlement-related activities.” (emphasis added)
To the surprise of nobody, Resolution 31/36 was proposed by the Group of Arab States, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and various repressive regimes. The same countries, plus Venezuela, Cuba, China, and Russia, voted for the Resolution, while every European country abstained – Switzerland being the sole exception (a severe source of shame and embarrassment for its government).
This is yet another example of HRW’s destruction of universal human rights to promote its regressive political goals. Despite the ubiquity of settlements in occupied territory throughout the world, HRW has never campaigned against settlements outside the Arab-Israeli context (many can be found in countries that voted for the UNHRC resolution) nor promoted a blacklist of companies doing business in those areas. In other words, HRW has no problem working with repressive regimes and rights abusers and will look the other way, so long as it is in furtherance of the NGO’s anti-Israel obsession and discriminatory BDS agenda.
- In its discussion of the UNHRC resolution, the HRW letter confuses a number of UN documents. Instead of linking to Resolution 31/36, HRW links to a report prepared pursuant to Resolution 19/17, to which 31/36 refers.