Dr. Eugene Kontorovich (L) and Israeli parliamentarian Dr. Michael Oren (R) during an event in Jerusalem marking the release of the Kohelet Policy Forum’s report on multinational businesses operating in occupied territories worldwide (Credit: Maya Margit)

Expert: International Business Activity Legal In All Occupied Territories (with VIDEO)

Parliamentarian Michael Oren warns that all Israeli products could be boycotted in the future if Airbnb, United Nations policies allowed to stand

On the backdrop of a recent Airbnb decision to remove listings in Jewish communities in the West Bank, in addition to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) pending publication of a blacklist of companies operating in areas Israel acquired during the 1967 war, a non-profit think-tank released a 100-page report contending that doing business in occupied territories does not violate international law.

The report compiled by the Israel-based Kohelet Policy Forum, titled “Who Else Profits: The Scope of European and Multinational Business in the Occupied Territories,” lists 37 companies working in disputed areas outside of the Jewish state, including in the Western Sahara, Cyprus and Tibet, to name only a few.

“What international law says is doing business in a place is totally separate from political issues there, and regardless of the political dispute about a territory that does not mean it’s off-limits to international business,” Eugene Kontorovich, head of the International Law Department at Kohelet and a professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, conveyed to The Media Line. “That’s why all these companies are doing business there.

“It’s not that they got bad legal advice; these companies got good legal advice and were told ‘it’s ok’,” he affirmed.

The report argues that several well-established corporations, such as Shell, BNP Paribas and Caterpillar, operate across the globe with little to no outside pressure from human rights groups and that Israel has therefore been unfairly singled out. For example, the UNHCR currently is compiling a list of hundreds of businesses operating in or linked to Israeli towns in the West Bank, which are commonly referred to as settlements, alleging that such activity contributes to the “exploitation of Palestine’s natural resources.” The UN has warned that those maintaining commercial ties with such companies could be considered in violation of international law, a claim Prof. Kontorovich disputes.

“What the report shows is that the UN Human Rights Council’s blacklisting of corporations for doing business with Israeli companies in Judea and Samaria is clearly bigoted and biased,” he asserted, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name. “It’s not just a double-standard, it’s a fake standard. Doing business in territories even under military occupation is completely legal.”

Prof. Kontorovich believes that Airbnb’s decision to delist the 200 Israeli homes—based on the conclusion that “they are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians”—was a capitulation to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The announcement was met with outrage by many in Israel, including Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who called on the population to boycott the popular hospitality service and said that the Israeli government is exploring legal action.

Speaking to reporters at an event marking the release of the Kohelet report, parliamentarian Dr. Michael Oren (Kulanu), the deputy minister for diplomacy in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, warned of possible repercussions in the future.

“[The] labeling of Jewish products from Judea and Samaria, to a blacklisting of Jewish products from Judea and Samaria, to an explicit boycott by Airbnb is an ineluctable process and the next step—I guarantee you—will be the labeling, blacklisting and boycott of all Israeli products,” he told those in attendance.

Referring to U.S. legislation enacted under then-president Jimmy Carter in 1977 that aimed to break the Arab boycott imposed on Israel, Dr. Oren noted that he is advocating for Congress to pass a law that will “hold all anti-Israel boycotts as anti-Semitic, racist, and anti-American.

“We want to update this legislation to apply to efforts to boycott Jewish businesses in Judea and Samaria, to academic boycotts, to the whole area of trying to single out Israel and to pursue what I strongly regard as an anti-Semitic policy,” Dr. Oren explained to The Media Line. “We’re the only country that is singled out for human rights abuse every year.”

The Kohelet report argues that while businesses operating in Israeli-controlled areas should not be immune from scrutiny, all military occupations should be examined fairly.

“There is a clear reason why the extensive involvement of multinational corporations in situations of occupation and settlements worldwide has not led to any protest or even discussion by the UNHRC or human rights NGOs: it is in fact entirely legal and consistent with human rights norms,” the report reads.

It recommends that the UNHRC indefinitely delay the publication of its blacklist until it is “consistent with the standards it applies worldwide.” Lastly, the report intimates that the UN’s publication of the database could lead to the U.S. leaving the Council and Israel “cutting all ties.”

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