In the past few years, the anti-Israel movement has grown from marginal into a serious and visible issue for the country. The anti-Israel tide rose right after Operation Cast Lead, according to Haaretz, as the world watched Israel pound Gaza with bombs on live television. The paper continued: “No public-relations machine in the world could explain the deaths of hundreds of children, the destruction of neighbourhoods and the grinding poverty afflicting a people under curfew for years.” In 2010, both the cultural and the economic boycott gained momentum. In this first section, there is an overview of current civil society campaigns with a focus on links to the Netherlands. While far from complete, the intention is to get an idea of what is going on, and to determine if and where research into companies with links to the Netherlands had already been established by others elsewhere. This overview is based on – limited – internet research only.
Everywhere in Europe and the United States, human rights organisations are running campaigns to boycott Israeli products, referring to the success of the economic activism against the apartheid regime in South Africa. They are demonstrating at supermarkets and other stores, and are increasingly getting the support of large unions and worker organisations who call on their members to forgo Israeli products. In August 2010, for instance, the Chilean parliament decided to adopt a boycott of Israeli products made in the settlements. The Palestinian Authority imposed a boycott on such products earlier that year.
The cultural and academic boycott gained new energy in the summer of 2010, when a few dozen people involved in theatre in Israel started boycotting the new culture centre in Ariel, and soon after a group of authors and artists published a statement of support on behalf of those theatre people. Then a group of 150 lecturers from various universities announced they would not teach at Ariel College or take part in any cultural events in the territories. It spurred a flurry of responses in Israel and beyond. The campaign soon resonated in South Africa, the United States and the UK.
Ahava Dead Sea
In France, the campaign to boycott Ahava Dead Sea cosmetics entered a new phase in June 2010, with legal action against the Sephora cosmetics retail chain’s contract with the company. Ahava manufactures its cosmetics in a factory in the illegal Mitzpe Shalem settlement in the occupied West Bank. However, Ahava labels its skin care products as originating from “The Dead Sea, Israel.” The new phase comes after activists from Coordination des Appels pour une Paix Juste au Proche Orient (CAPJPO) had protested against the store’s retailing of Ahava products for almost a year. In the US, Ahava drew the attention of activists from the American peace group CodePink. Bad publicity as a result of their campaign caused ‘Sex & the City’ star Kristin Davis to be dropped as a spokesperson for Ahava and as a goodwill ambassador for the international organisation Oxfam. At the end of 2009, in response to a call from the Dutch Bathrobes Brigades, several Dutch pharmacists expressed their support of the campaign and stated their refusal to put Ahava products on their shelves. After Parliamentary questions by SP member Harry van Bommel, the Minister of Economic Affairs investigated the import of cosmetics from Israel.
On 25 February 2010, the European Court ruled that products incorrectly labelled as “Made in Israel” should no longer benefit from favourable import taxes under the EU-Israel Association Agreement of 2000. As Phon van den Biesen, Attorney at Law in the Netherlands, commented in the Electronic Intifada, European laws and protections are in fact sufficient to hold companies accountable for importing products from the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian Territories and the occupied Golan Heights under a false label. Van den Biesen commented: “The EU court’s ruling is a welcome contribution […] However, EU member states must enforce this ruling and similar stipulations in their national laws – such as the Netherlands’ provisions for the labelling of food products (article 5 g and article 20 of the Warenwet Commodities Act) and provisions in Dutch Civil Code.”
Cement Roadstone Holdings
The Russell Tribunal held in London in November 2010 announced an investigation into Irish cement giant Cement Roadstone Holdings Plc for breaching international law based on the company’s activities in Israel. Human Rights barrister Michael Mansfield is to lead an investigation. CRH plc own a 25% stake in the Israeli Company Mashav whose subsidiary Nesher Israel Cement Enterprises are Israel’s sole cement producer, supplying 75-90% of all cement sold in Israel and occupied Palestinian Territories.
Nesher cement is being used in the construction of the illegal separation wall and settlements which CRH acknowledged when they admitted to Amnesty International that ‘in all probability’ their cement was being used in the construction of the wall. The Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been of key importance to the boycott of CRH since the building of the apartheid wall started in 2002. CRH operates 133 Karwei and GAMMA DIY stores in the Netherlands, and 19 GAMMA stores in Belgium. The Dutch ASN bank removed the company from their investment universe in the first quarter of 2008.
The French transportation giant Veolia has been pressured to end its involvement in the Jerusalem Light Rail Transit tramway project (JLRT) by several financial institutions concerned with socially responsible investing, because the tramway will normalise the illegal annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem, considered part of the West Bank under international law. Some European politicians have also criticised the company because the project infringes on Palestinian human rights. After four years of silence, Veolia attempted to pacify concerns and protests by expressing the company’s commitment to operate the Jerusalem light rail on “a clear, non-discriminatory policy based on free access for all parts of the population,” the Electronic Intifada wrote in November 2009. The company promised to reconsider its involvement in the light rail project if application of the non-discrimination policy turns out to be impossible.
Veolia is a large partner in the privatised public transport in the Netherlands in Limburg, Brabant, Haaglanden and the Veluwe. In 2006, the Dutch ASN bank withdrew its investments from Veolia and Alstom after pressure from NGOs and people who held an account with the bank. Other banks followed, the Alternative Bank Schweiz in August 2008, and Triodos in October of the same year. In a letter to the company, the bank explained the reasons for the disinvestment: “We believe that Veolia’s involvement in the light rail project is not in line with the UN’s demand to stop all support for Israel’s settlement activities, and is therefore not in line with ASN Bank’s social criteria. Due to the direct nature of Veolia’s involvement (through a 5% stake in the consortium and as future operator), we are of the opinion that Veolia’s activities in Jerusalem are in conflict with UN Resolutions. Therefore, on this current information Veolia will be removed from our investment universe.” The international protests contributed to the decision of Swedish national pension fund AP7, one of the most important investors in Sweden and well-known for its highly ethical profile, to blacklist Alstom (Veolia’s partner) in 2009. Further pressure by Swedish peace and justice groups, mainly connected to the Church of Sweden (Diakonia), cost Veolia the
$4.5 billion contract to run the Stockholm metro. The growing French BDS movement was instrumental in making Veolia lose a huge contract in Bordeaux, and British solidarity groups and activists put pressure to exclude Veolia from a lucrative contract in the West Midlands.
Palestinian officials have since called on Arab countries to cut business ties with Veolia and Alstom repetitively. As recent as September 2010, the organisation responsible for 30% of the investments of Dutch pension funds, de Algemene Pensioen Groep (APG), reported its efforts to convince Veolia into ethical behaviour through dialogue.
In early June 2009, the Divestment Task Force New England Conference of the United Methodist Church said Veolia announced it would withdraw from the light rail project, after losing $7 billion in contracts due to its involvement with the occupation. In October 2009, Corporate Watch reported that Veolia was attempting to pull out of the thirty-year scheme to run the tramway and sell its 5% stake in the consortium. Veolia’s contract stipulated that the company could pull out of the work if it was replaced by an equally experienced company – but no company seems to be eager to step in. Due to contractual obligations, the company is forced to remain a participant in the scheme for another five years after selling and to provide support to the transport company that would take over.
The company put out feelers to the two large Israeli transport companies, Dan and Egged. On 13 October 2009, Haaretz reported that the Dan Bus Company was buying Veolia’s shares in the scheme.
However, exactly one year later, Veolia announced an agreement in principle to sell to Egged: “This agreement is one of the stages towards the signature of a sale agreement which is subject to the authorisation of various regulatory authorities and parties involved in the JLRT project.”
As the Profundo 2009 update reported, the information on Veolia Environment website does not show any sign that the company will leave the project any time soon, although some of the most sensitive parts of the page about the Jerusalem Light Rail Transit have been altered recently.
In August 2009, Veolia’s sustainability website included a specific section on withdrawal:
We believe that the guarantees we can provide to the international community regarding the impact of the JLRT’s operation on human rights are greater than any other alternative solution. This is the reason why we do not intend to withdraw.
Today, this section is no longer there. It is replaced by even stronger wording:
In contrast to the separation wall, the JLRT system is a means of gathering and mixing the communities and easing “the public life” of the population of the occupied territories as required by international law.
The Veolia website also mentions ‘the current legal proceedings.’ In 2007 the Association France Palestine Solidarity (AFPS) started legal proceedings in the Nanterre Tribunal de Grande Instance (TGI), seeking the cancellation of the Light Rail project. In 2009, the TGI held that it had jurisdiction to rule on the substantive issues in the case. “The date for a hearing on the merits, initially set for 2 July 2010, has been postponed until 11 February 2011 at the request of AFPS, despite Veolia Transport’s opposition.”
Veolia has always said that if a recognised international or French court held that the JLRT project or the agreement concluded by Veolia Transport was contrary to law, it would comply with any final judgements not subject to further appeal.
It seems that Omar Barghouti, expert at the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions for Palestine (BDS) Movement, was right when he described the company’s disinvestment movements as “a deceptive attempt by Veolia to continue with the JLR indirectly, to undermine our boycott campaign against it.”
Moreover, Veolia is also engaged in providing waste collection in the occupied West Bank. The company operates the Tovlan landfill site near Jericho in the Jordan Valley where it helps Israel dump its toxic waste on to Palestinian land next to the Palestinian village of Abu Ajaj, and has done so since 2008 at least. The Landfill is owned by TMM Integrated Recycling Services, a subsidiary of Veolia. According to British electronic magazine Corporate Watch, Veolia has leased the Palestinian-owned land from the Israeli Civil Military Administration. The magazine interviewed a worker who monitored the cars entering the landfill from 2002 until 2009, and who stated that until 2008, Tovlan received some waste collections from Nablus. According to the worker, the waste dumped at Tovlan landfill comes primarily from the numerous illegal settlements in the Jordan Valley.
The campaigning group Dump Veolia led a demonstration outside the Natural History Museum in London on 23 October 2010 to protest against Veolia’s sponsorship of the Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition inside the museum. In several places in the UK, pressure is put on local councils to exclude Veolia from the bidding process for larger contracts. In Edinburgh for instance, Veolia is in the running to take over a raft of public services in the city, including rubbish collection, street cleaning and ground maintenance. In Croydon and Dublin similar campaigns are building up pressure.
The Regiopolitie Midden West Brabant has used the services of Dalkia, a subsidiary of Veolia Environnement and Electricité de France (EDF). Listed simply as ‘werktuigbouwkundig’ which translates as mechanical engineering, the details of the contract would require further research. Dalkia is the leading European provider of energy services to local authorities and businesses. With nearly 52,800 employees in 41 countries, Dalkia reported managed revenue of EUR 7.1 billion in 2009. Dalkia could be included in the current Veolia divestment campaign in the Netherlands and internationally.
In October 2010, the public prosecutor ordered a search of the offices of the Riwal Holding Group in Dordrecht. The Dutch police’s National Crime Squad confiscated computers and documents relating to the leasing of cranes owned by the company’s Israeli branch for the construction of the Separation Wall and of settlements in the Occupied Territories.
The case has a long history, which is summarised briefly here. As a result of a 2004 ruling of the International Court in The Hague that the Separation Wall constituted a violation of international law, UN members were called on to prevent their citizens’ cooperation in its construction. After a Dutch Netwerk television crew filmed cranes which bore the Riwal Company logo in 2006, Dutch Labour Party MPs addressed parliamentary questions to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Dutch Government warned the Riwal Company not to engage in activities in the Occupied Territories in 2008. The company, however, continued their activities. In October 2009, a member of ‘The Coalition of Women for Peace’ spotted cranes of Riwal Israel (i.e. Lima) at yet another location: in construction works on a new industrial park in the settlement Ariel in the West Bank. The numerous pictures in a report in the Groene Amsterdammer provide proof, while Tal Pery, director of Riwal Israel, again denied responsibility.
Last year the Palestinian human rights organisation Al Haq of Ramallah engaged the Dutch law firm Böhler, and in February 2010 lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld lodged a complaint to the legal authorities which resulted in the raid on the Riwal Dordrecht offices.
Police findings have been passed on to the Dutch State Prosecution, which should decide whether or not to prosecute the corporate executives – including the Israeli businessman Doron Livnat – on charges of violating international law. Doron Livnat is an active proponent of the Israeli cause. He is not only participating on the boards of the pro-Israel lobby organisation CIDI in Amsterdam, he is also active in a similar group called Collectieve Israël Action (Collective Action Israel, CIA). This group collects about eight million Euros per year, according to its website. Among the projects it assists are training for Israeli soldiers, particularly on the applications of advanced technology. Livnat is on CIA’s board of advisers. He is also featured in the International Board of Governors of the Peres Center for Peace, as an honorary member. He is one of the two members for the Netherlands; Ruud Lubbers (the former Prime Minister of the Netherlands & Former UN High Commissioner for Refugees) being the other one.
A month after the raid, the company claimed that Riwal Israel no longer existed. According to spokesman Ris Maaskant the name is no longer used, and the ties with Israel are cut off. However, Simone Korkus for Trouw found out that in fact nothing had changed. The former director of Riwal Israel, Tal Perri, is now the director of ROM (which means ‘high’ in Hebrew), while the same people work for the company at the same address. Only the shares changed hands; they are now owned by Adi Livnat, the brother of the owner of the Riwal Group. The Israeli director is not available for interviews; in fact he is hardly ever seen at the office, according to ROM’s secretary mid-November 2010.
In a first interview after the raid, also published mid-November, Maaskant said the company is confident of being cleared from charges even if the case were to reach court. Riwal regrets the negative publicity, and denies the accusation that the company is using front companies to continue its operations in Israel.
The raid on Riwal coincided with the formation of the new right-wing cabinet, lead by Mark Rutte. The new governmental agreement emphasised the intention to ‘invest in relations with Israel.’ A court case for war crimes was not what the new government had in mind, de Volkskrant suggested. However, the public prosecution is independent; the government is not supposed to interfere. Of course, there are indications that such interference happens nevertheless. A case like this almost certainly causes a diplomatic storm behind the scenes. Wim Huisman, professor of criminology at the Vrije Universteit in Amsterdam (quoted in the Volkskrant) mentioned the example of the Canadian energy company Talisman, which was accused of war crimes in Sudan and held to account by an American civil court. The Canadian government made no secret of the pressure put upon the United States to stop the case.
Eventually the court ruled the case non-admissible. A secret memorandum from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs suggests the Dutch government is seeking to ensure Israeli and other foreign officials who may be pursued for war crimes can visit the Netherlands without fear of arrest or legal accountability. When deputy Israeli foreign minister Danny Ayalon visited the Netherlands at the invitation of the Dutch pro-Israel lobby group Centre for Documentation and Information on Israel (CIDI) in May 2008, Liesbeth Zegveld, an attorney and professor in international humanitarian law, lodged a complaint to the public prosecutor. This legal action was prompted by a Palestinian who alleged he was tortured by Ayalon, a former head of the Israeli secret service. The memo, which was leaked to the Dutch television station KRO and published in January 2011, reveals that Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal sought advice on possibilities for the state to prevent prosecution of foreign government officials who visit the Netherlands.
As no Dutch companies have been brought to court in the Netherlands for complicity in Israeli war crimes before, there are no precedents. This makes it hard to predict whether the case against Riwal will get to court. According to Marcel Brus, professor of international law at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, the decision on whether the Dutch Court is qualified to rule in this case depends on two conditions. The first requirement is a ruling by the International Criminal Court that the construction of the wall and the settlements are regarded as war crimes. In 2004, the Court decided the building was against international law, but that is not the same thing. The second step is the proving that renting out cranes to Israel is indeed an act of complicity. “That would be a far-reaching judgement. Theoretically, that would make every labourer working on the wall internationally indictable,” according to Brus. However, the fact that the public prosecutor is taking this case seriously should be a warning to all companies working on the wall. They had better think twice, Brus says, as they could become complicit in international war crimes. The Russell Tribunal, in its November 2010 London session, ruled that businesses complicit in the construction and maintenance of the illegal separation Wall are in clear violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.
It is attractive for Israelis and companies to be involved in the construction of the wall and the settlements: the state finances most of the building work, colonists pay less tax, and the authorities are less strict in supervising compliance with the law. Merav Amir, research coordinator at the Israeli project “Who Profits?”, understands it as a legal no man’s land involving situations of expropriation of Palestinian land, illegal building activity and Palestinian workers employed at low wages. The companies involved are difficult to monitor, because they operate through complicated legal constructions and holdings with Israeli companies. When under fire, like Riwal, they might set up front companies to continue their business. “Who Profits?” also noticed that the same company might be involved in several different
activities on the West Bank, as the Veolia example showed. Amir: “If companies are forced to stop their activities in one sector, they come back to do something else. Some companies announce disinvestment, but get entangled in complicated selling operations, and meanwhile nothing changes. Most companies do not effectively withdraw from the West Bank.”