Guess which industry just can't afford to boycott Israel
Teaser: Which multi-billion dollar industry just cannot afford to boycott Israel? Paradox: this industry calls for boycotts, but its life depends on it not doing so itself. Getting warmer?
Plans to isolate Israel through boycotting may flounder or prosper. Call that a truism. Whether boycott prospers depends on one particular industry not joining the boycott. Call that a paradox. The more wholeheartedly this non-boycotting industry operates in Israel, and the more profitably, the better the boycott movement thrives.
Likely or not, call that a proposition. Could it be a valid one?
What possible business could promote and facilitate Israel – boycotting on the one hand while flouting the boycott on the other? The human rights business could.
As to it being a business, only look at the sustainability factors in favour of the civil society organization (or NGO) players: mountains of cheap capital on demand; global reach, well-connected stakeholders, media channels beating a path to their door, and a traded commodity for which the world has a gluttonous hunger. If those are not conditions in favour of big business what other conditions are there?
A club of Big Five NGOs tops the industry pyramid. The names are household: Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; Christian Aid; Oxfam; Save the Children Fund. Nominally they, along with second-tier NGO entities, are autonomous, not-for-profit and apolitical. In real life they are none of those things.
There are not hundreds but thousands of second-tier entities, medium to small, a bewildering number of them operating in tiny Israel and the West Bank. They compete fiercely to supply human rights product, sometimes to the big five, sometimes to the UN and satellite Human Rights Council, or direct to people and entities that can turn Israeli ‘crimes against humanity’ to good account. They also compete for publicity and investor funding.
The base of the pyramid is made up of sources that put up money to keep it all together. They are billionaire private investors, Euro zone countries that practically fling money at NGOs; ecumenical coffers, flush Arab potentates and proverbial Joe public.
Even so, the structure would topple but for an independent clearing house – the UN and satellite agency, the Human Rights Council. Much like a farm co-operative they act as a buyer of last resort, but even more, as a marketer of human rights violations. And upon this clearing house, and upon the whole industry, jobs depend for tens of thousands.
Turning to the stock in trade, like any commodity there are different grades of human rights fetching different market prices. The premium human rights grade, more in demand than any other, is a brand on its own: Israeli violations. Industry funders cough up readily and generously to organizations that trade this brand.
And NGO operatives know it. They scour the West Bank and Gaza from end to end, sourcing stock of the brand. And when they find Israeli violations difficult to come by, operatives are adept at creating their own. B’Tselem, the flush, home-grown body, gives away digital cameras to help agents poke, prod and pry violations out of the holy land. The New Israel Fund has another business model.
Salesmen tout Israeli violations on the international circuit.
Trade is brisk, the money big and the players earnest. The Ford Foundation is one of the bigger private investors, with an annual grant budget exceeding $500 million. Christian Aid, with branches in 50 countries, brings in €100 million and more a year, while Human Rights Watch received $100 million for 10 years from billionaire George Soros, who simultaneously pledged $750,000 to Barak Obama's favourite Jewish lobby, J-Street.
Oxfam is bigger than them all. With affiliates it attracts €900 million annually, a third of that from EU tax money.
Exactly how popular is the Israeli brand of human right violations? One of the Big Five, Human Rights Watch, devotes three times more resources to Israel than to Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority, and six times more resources than to Syria and Libya. Amnesty has produced 255 reports per million Israeli people compared to 60 reports on Syria, 23 on Iraq and Iran, and a mere 9 on Saudi Arabia.
While the Syrian regime has slaughtered 100,000 and more of its own people, Oxfam has released a mere handful of statements and petitions condemning Syria. At the same time, Oxfam condemned Israel, stable and free and going about its business, a dozen times.
And the king of human rights kings? The United Nations trades in hardly anything but the Israeli brand. Seventy five percent of that body’s condemnations and sixty percent of its emergency sittings relate to Israel. For human rights violations in the whole world the UN keeps just one permanent item on the agenda. It keeps one other permanent item for Israel alone.
What is it about Israeli violations that human rights traders like so much? In part the answer to that involves another question. What is it about violations in Muslim countries that traders shun like the devil?
After all Iran is the place where people are beheaded; where choosing the wrong religion can be a death sentence; where gays are strung up on lamp poles. NGO and UN traders keep clear of those violation-rich countries and head to Israel for very good reasons.
Among them risk to life and limb would be paramount. The last thing autocratic rulers want is to have foreigners – infidels – poking and prodding around for human rights abuse. Israel, on the other hand, allows operatives to poke, prod and pry to their heart’s content. Israel is an NGO paradise, the Muslim world an NGO hell.
Then there is the risk-reward trade-off. Who would put up money for an NGO to dig up abuse in Gaza, or Iran, or even in Syria? Name a European government, or another George Soros that coughs up for a commodity in such abundant supply.
But Israel, the stand-alone democracy in the region, dangles a low risk for high reward carrot. And who could resist? The New Israel Fund gave $200 million to 800 NGOs operating in tiny Israel and the West Bank.
NGOs are driven by a particular business model. They have a vested interest in human right abuses, real or not. Israeli misdeeds are their stock-in-trade, assets that convert to cash. And poor Palestinians on the ground can be lured by hand-outs in return for valuable ‘testimony’.
Then there is downright honest-to-goodness hatred. If there is so much anguish for Palestinian wellbeing, why have NGO and UN traders neglected atrocities beyond Israel’s borders?
At this very time Palestinian rights are being violated across the Arab world. Syria starved a hundred Palestinians to death; Lebanon deprives 400,000 Palestinians of basic human rights, including property rights, employment and free movement. There were never reports, or simple condemnatory statements, when Arab rulers slaughtered Palestinians on a grand scale.
During ‘Black September’ in 1970 Jordan’s King Hussein killed more Palestinians in one month than Israel killed in a quarter of a century. Yet no NGO and UN body held that against the King, who continued to be regarded as a man of peace.
The answer is plain. The Palestinians act as a lightning rod against Israel, where the Jews live. For millennia Jews have been demonized for one thing or another. Yesterday it was for the bubonic plague. Today it’s for crimes against the Palestinian people.
How valuable are your crimes, oh Israel, your welcome NGO mat, oh liberal nation!
Steve Apfel is director of the School of Management Accounting, Johannesburg. He is the author of the book, 'Hadrian's Echo: The whys and wherefores of Israel's critics' (2012) and a contributor to, "War by other means." (Israel Affairs, 2012). His articles and blogs are published in several foreign journals and his new work, 'Bilaam's Curse: The enemies of Zion' will be published by Hamilton Books this year
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