After multiple delays over legal, due process, and methodological concerns, which do not seem to have been addressed, on February 12, 2020, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published its “Database of all business enterprises” that it claims contribute to “human rights concerns.” This UN blacklist, ordered by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), is meant to bolster BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaigns, singling out Israel. The unique treatment of Israel in this exercise, as with many other HRC initiatives, violates the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Definition of antisemitism.
Since 2016, NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Al-Haq, have been advocating for the UN BDS “blacklist” of businesses operating across the 1949 Armistice line. The blacklist selectively targets Israel apart from all other nations, is aimed at economically damaging companies that are owned by Jews or do business with Israel, and is ultimately meant to harm the Jewish State.
Primary NGOs Involved in the Creation of the UN Blacklist
- On November 21, 2016, Sari Bashi, then Israel/Palestine Advocacy Director, sent a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, praising the latest efforts to establish a UN boycott of Israel, and offering three specific companies to be included on the nascent UN blacklist.
- According to the letter, HRW was “pleased to submit recommendations” to help create the database, and interpreted the criteria in a vastly expanded manner “to include locating or carrying out activities inside settlements and financing, administering, or otherwise supporting settlements or settlement-related activities and infrastructure, including by contracting to purchase settlement-manufactured goods or agricultural produce.” HRW also listed three specific institutions, two companies, and FIFA because it “allow[s] (sic) the IFA (Israel Football Association) to organize games inside settlements.”
- In November 2017, HRW issued a press release applauding the forthcoming database for “build[ing] pressure on businesses.”
- In November 2018, HRW, in cooperation with Israeli NGO Kerem Navot, published a report titled “Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land: Tourist Rental Listings in West Bank Settlements” that was the culmination of a two-year long coordinated and well-financed BDS campaign targeting Airbnb (and Booking.com). The report called to “Scrutinize the conduct of Airbnb and Booking.com to determine whether they merit inclusion in the database that the OHCHR is preparing on companies that are directly or indirectly enabling, facilitating, and profiting from the construction and growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank,” as well as to “Publish the database of companies as soon as possible to inform the public about the activities of businesses in settlements.”
- In August 2019, HRW signed a joint letter to Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressing concern for the delay of the publication of the database. According to the letter, “the absence of accountability has enabled the Occupying Power, Israel, to engage in activity in violation of international law in the occupied territory with near total impunity. This has allowed many private actors, including businesses, to contribute to and benefit from, sometimes unwittingly, gross human rights violations.”
- Amnesty International has actively campaigned for the discriminatory blacklist, signing numerous statements and letters calling for its completion (see below).
- In 2018, Amnesty lobbied intensively in support of the discriminatory blacklist.
- Amnesty has published numerous statements and letters to the UN “targeting some of the businesses that are profiting from human rights abuses by operating in the illegal Israeli settlements.” According to Amnesty, the database “would give a glimmer of hope to the Palestinian people enduring half a century long military occupation, and stand as a reminder that the international community is committed to putting an end to the illegal settlement enterprise that is stifling their economy, depleting their natural resources, and undermining their human rights.”
- In November 2018, Gabriela Quijano, Legal Adviser for Business and Human Rights at Amnesty, presented at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights on “Corporate responsibility to respect human rights in situations of occupation.” While there are many situations of occupied territory globally, Quijano focused exclusively on boycotting Israel and praised the UN for its efforts in establishing the blacklist.
- In January 2019, Amnesty published a report on the “The Tourism Industry and Israeli Settlements,” alleging that “the Israeli government has political and ideological reasons for developing a tourism industry in occupied East Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank,” and has “constructed many of its settlements close to archaeological sites…[as] part of an active campaign to normalize and legitimize Israel’s increasing control of the OPT.”
- In the report, Amnesty called to “Publish the UN Database of businesses operating in or with illegal Israeli settlements, as requested by the Human Rights Council in its Resolution 31/36 of March 2016, as soon as possible and thereafter regularly update it,” and further asked to “consider examining the provision or facilitation of tourism services in settlements or by settlers in the OPT, including through online platforms, for potential inclusion in further updates of the UN Database, in line with due process.”
- Al-Haq has signed multiple statements and letters supporting the discriminatory blacklist. Al-Haq has also prepared many written statements to the UN encouraging the completion of the database (see below).
- In November 2017, Al-Haq signed a statement “in support of the UN Human Rights Database on Business Activities related to Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” According to the statement, “The Database should be a mechanism that engages states and businesses as a tool for transparency and compliance control, including allowing states to meet their obligations not to recognize an illegal situation by assisting them in identifying companies that operate in settlements and trade in settlements goods. To that effect, it should ensure that data pertaining to companies involved in human rights violations in the OPT is publicly transmitted to the HRC as required by resolution 31/36.”
- In November 2017, Al-Haq participated in a panel at the UN Business & Human Rights Forum “highlight[ing] the upcoming OHCHR database as a tool for transparency and effective implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”
- In November 2016, Al-Haq, in partnership with Who Profits, and BADIL held a side event at the United Nation’s Forum on Business and Human Rights titled “Business and Human Rights in Palestine: The Many Facets of the Occupation Industry,” discussing “the development of a data base of corporations complicit in human rights violations in the oPt.”
- In March 2018, Al-Haq participated in a side event at the 37th session on the UN Human Rights Council titled “The UN Database on Businesses Active in Israeli Settlements.”
- Who Profits, an Israeli NGO, is a leader in BDS efforts against Israeli and foreign companies. The group maintains a public database of businesses that are often targeted by international BDS campaigns.
- The allegations published by Who Profits claiming the illegality and immorality of various business activities are echoed uncritically by UN bodies and officials and international NGOs as part of their politicized agendas. UN bodies – notably the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) – are relying significantly on Who Profits in preparing a UN “blacklist” of companies allegedly doing business in settlements.
- For NGO Monitor’s report analyzing the Who Profits database of companies, see here.
NGO Letters Sent to UN Officials
- In February 2018, multiple NGOs (listed below) signed a joint letter to Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the High Commissioner for Human Rights “applaud[ing]” the creation of the database and calling for the UN to “complete its review of all companies named as a matter of urgency. As many of our organizations have already highlighted, the Database should be a mechanism that assists states in meeting their obligations under international law, including the obligation not to recognize as lawful – even implicitly – the illegal situation created by Israeli settlements and not to contribute to maintaining this illegal situation. This entails regulating businesses domiciled in their territory to ensure they are not engaged in listed activities in settlements.”
- According to the letter, the database “presents a significant step forward for the business and human rights agenda worldwide. It sets an example of an efficient tool to ensure greater accountability for corporate human rights abuses, including the right of victims to an adequate remedy, particularly in situations of occupation… An effective database would give a glimmer of hope to the Palestinian people enduring half a century long military occupation, and stand as a reminder that the international community is committed to putting an end to the illegal settlement enterprise that is stifling their economy, depleting their natural resources, and undermining their human rights.”
- Signatories include Al-Haq, Amnesty, Al Mezan, Addameer, Al-Dameer, BADIL, Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P), EuroMed Rights, Hurryyat, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC), Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (LPHR), Trocaire, and Health Work Committees. At least four of these organizations are affiliates of or have close ties the PFLP terrorist organization.
- In November 2018, numerous NGOs, including PFLP terror linked groups, sent a letter to Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, calling for the Commissioner to “publish an online, dynamic, and regularly updated Database of businesses active in Israeli settlements” (emphasis in original). According to the letter, “Further delays in the publication of the Database will only serve to undermine its establishment, and the important work done by your Office and others, including members of civil society, to realise this necessary initiative to promote state and business responsibilities to protect and respect human rights.”
- Other signatories include Al-Haq, Al Mezan, Al-Dameer, Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ), Amnesty International, Broederlijk Delen, Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO), Stop the Wall, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Trocaire, and Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC).
- In August 2019, over 100 NGOs (the vast majority pro-BDS groups) wrote a joint letter to Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressing concern for the delay of the publication of the database. According to the letter, “the absence of accountability has enabled the Occupying Power, Israel, to engage in activity in violation of international law in the occupied territory with near total impunity. This has allowed many private actors, including businesses, to contribute to and benefit from, sometimes unwittingly, gross human rights violations.”
- Signatories included Al-Haq, Al Dameer, Al Mezan, Amnesty International, BADIL, Broederlijk Delen, CCFD, DanChurchAid, Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P), EuroMed Rights, Health Work Committees, Human Rights Watch, Jewish Voice for Peace, Norwegian Church Aid, Oxfam, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Rights Forum, Union of Palestinian Women Committees (UPWC), Trocaire, Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
NGO Statements in Support of the Blacklist
- In October 2018, multiple NGOs and again several PFLP-linked organizations were signatories on a position paper “Three reasons why the European Union should support the United Nations Database on businesses activities related to Israeli settlements.” The position paper called for support of the database as it is a “necessary and proportionate measure to promote greater transparency, accountability and respect by both states and businesses of international law.” According to the position paper, “By ensuring the Database is duly transparent and regularly updated, the EU and its Member States will enable States, civil society and investors to productively engage with companies, to prevent human rights violations and address possible breaches.”
- Signatories include Al-Haq, Al Mezan, Amnesty International, Arab Association for Human Rights, Article 1 Collective, EuroMed Rights, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC), Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (LPHR), and Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR).
- In November 2017, numerous NGOs signed a statement “in support of the UN Human Rights Database on Business Activities related to Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” According to the statement, “The Database should be a mechanism that engages states and businesses as a tool for transparency and compliance control, including allowing states to meet their obligations not to recognize an illegal situation by assisting them in identifying companies that operate in settlements and trade in settlements goods. To that effect, it should ensure that data pertaining to companies involved in human rights violations in the OPT is publicly transmitted to the HRC as required by resolution 31/36.”
- Signatories include Amnesty International, Al-Haq, Addameer, Al Mezan, BADIL, Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P), Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC), American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), Trocaire, and Norwegian People’s Aid.
- In addition to several PFLP affiliates and linked NGOs, Norwegian People’s Aid was charged with violating the US False Claims Act for providing material support to Iran and Palestinian terror groups. According to Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman, “For years, Norwegian People’s Aid obtained grant money from USAID by falsely representing that it had not provided, and would take reasonable steps to ensure that it did not knowingly provide, material support to prohibited parties under U.S. law.”
- NPA “funded numerous workshops attended by young people in the Gaza Strip and senior officials from the partner political parties, including Hamas, PFLP, and DFLP. Hamas, PFLP, and DFLP used information that they obtained from these workshops to alter their behavior in order to become more attractive to youth and, thereby, benefit from increased youth support.”
NGO Written Statements to the UN
- “Israeli occupation further entrenched with business operations: Update on wineries, banks, fisheries and other industries in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” (37th Session – February 13, 2018)
- “Over the past 50 years, corporations have played a central role in sustaining, expanding, and strengthening Israeli occupation in Palestinian territory. Indeed, the occupation has been lucrative to both the Occupying Power (Israel) and business enterprises. A welcome focus is being placed on the role of businesses in the context of conflict and occupation, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) specifically. In reality, corporations will continue to contribute to the exploitation of Palestinian land and resources until adequate action is taken by the international community in line with international law.”
- “The examples provided above demonstrate that business enterprises continue to be active in and contribute to Israel’s prolonged occupation, particularly in the context of settlements and stifling the Palestinian economy and livelihoods. As such, corporations need to be held to account for their involvement in human rights violations, especially where such activities may amount to war crimes.”
- “Seven Decades of Impunity: The United Nations Human Rights Council Must Hold Israel to Account”- Joint Submission with BADIL (38th Session – June 13, 2018)
- “While the report states that “OHCHR expects to provide the names of the companies engaged in listed activities in a future update”, there was no indication as to when such a future update will be made. Indeed, the delays and deferrals of the database’s release fall within the context of increased attempts by States to undermine this tool as an effective accountability mechanism to end corporate complicity in Israel’s occupation. Meanwhile, business enterprises continue to profit from Israel’s unlawful settlement enterprise, stifling the Palestinian economy and livelihoods through the exploitation of Palestinian natural resources, while enjoying impunity for acts that may amount to war crimes.”
- “Support efforts to ensure accountability, including for corporate complicity in Israel’s occupation, by calling for the full and public release of the database of business enterprises established pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 31/36” (emphasis added).
- “The UN Database: A Tool to Counter Persistent Corporate Human Rights Abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” (39th Session – September 3, 2018)
- The publication of the UN Database, as well as business responses to OHCHR, will facilitate transparency for companies, states, and consumers alike. Businesses have an obligation to indicate and make public accurate information regarding their production chain line, the origin of their products, and their affiliations at home and abroad, to both consumers and investors. The Database can thus be used as tool for businesses when evaluating their business activities and relationships. The publication of the UN Database can also enhance states’ regulatory functions, by facilitating coherent and consistent domestic policies, in line with their obligations under international law.”
- “Maintaining and updating the UN Database as a dynamic mechanism to document, report and engage with companies, as well as their home states, requires that states support the UN Database, including through cooperating with the mechanism and allocating resources to maintain it. The importance of the UN Database, both for the oPt as well as a blueprint for other contexts, cannot be underestimated. States, who have already expressed their support of the UNGPs, must continue to uphold the rights of indigenous peoples and populations against corporate abuse, and must not turn a blind eye to businesses operating in and with Israeli settlements.”
- “Call on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to make public the database of businesses illegally operating in and profiting from Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, including in and around occupied East Jerusalem, as a step towards accountability and ending corporate complicity in Israel’s unlawful settlement enterprise” (emphases added). (38th Session – June 12, 2018)
- “Ensure that Human Rights Council Resolution 31/36, which called to produce a database of all business enterprises involved in Israeli settlements related activities, is implemented without further delays;” (34th Session – February 21, 2017)
- “Ensure that Human Rights Council Resolution 31/36, which called to produce a database of all business enterprises involved in Israeli settlements related activities, is implemented without further delays;” (35th session – May 24, 2017)
- “Ensure that Human Rights Council Resolution 31/36, which called to produce a database of all business enterprises involved in Israeli settlements related activities, is implemented without further delays;” (36th Session – August 31, 2017)
PRC is a Hamas linked NGO. On December 27, 2010, then Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared the PRC an “unlawful association” due to its alleged association with Hamas. According to the Israeli Security Agency, PRC “is involved in initiating and organizing radical and violent activity against Israel in Europe, while de-legitimizing Israel’s status as a nation among the European community.” A 2011 intelligence service report of the German Ministry of the Interior found that ““Hamas does not operate openly in Europe. Instead it uses, for instance, the Palestinian Return Center in London as a forum.”