Friday, April 15, 2016

Who Profits: Exposing the true face of BDS - Nadav Shragai

Under a policy of strict anonymity, an Israeli NGO provides anti-Israel groups with research on companies operating in "occupied territories" • NGO Monitor exposes the true face of Who Profits, an organization considered to be "spearheading global BDS."

Nadav Shragai..
Israel Hayom..
15 April '16..

Galshan Shvakim, a company that provides personal security and guard services, has never been secretive about providing services to many local authorities in Judea and Samaria. In early November 2015, one of the company's guards was attacked by a female terrorist at the entrance to the settlement of Beitar Illit. The guard was lightly hurt in the incident, but not before shooting and neutralizing his assailant. Three months later, another of the company's employees chased away a car full of terrorists who had opened fire on an Israeli bus at the Ramot intersection near Jerusalem. On the whole, Galshan security personnel work in many locations in Judea and Samaria, like Givat Ze'ev, Gush Etzion, Adam and Kiryat Arba.

Three months ago, however, the CEO of the company, Moran Raz, learned that someone really doesn't like the fact that his company is financially invested in Judea and Samaria, or that it provides security to Israeli citizens living there. In January, a letter arrived at his desk, signed by an organization named "Who Profits from the Occupation," informing him that Galshan Shvakim has three months to respond to information obtained by the organization suggesting that the company operates in the "occupied territories."

The team working for Who Profits informed Raz that they intended to add his company to a blacklist of companies and Israeli institutions that operate in settlements or anywhere in Judea and Samaria, the Golan Heights or east Jerusalem.

Unlike other recipients of this form letter, Raz was not overly concerned by this veiled threat. His company has no business dealings outside Israel and therefore there was little chance of damage to the business should someone outside of Israel peruse this blacklist, see the company's name and decide to boycott its nonexistent dealings abroad.

On the other hand, for Israeli companies that do operate abroad, like the cosmetics giant Ahava, or international companies that operate in Israel like the security company G4S, Who Profits' campaign and others like it can actually deal a serious blow. In 2012, businesswoman Abigail Disney announced that she was waiving her profits from the Ahava factory in which she had invested after Who Profits accused Ahava of "extracting their mud from occupied Palestinian territories" and "exploiting Palestinian natural resources."

The European Parliament canceled its contracts with the international security company G4S, which they had employed since 2008, after receiving letters and being subjected to pressure by various NGOs going by Who Profits' data.

In a joint report compiled by Who Profits and the Coalition of Women for Peace, German railway company Deutche Bahn was listed as one of the companies involved in the train project connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In the report, the company was described as having abandoned the project after learning that part of the train route was to pass through areas outside the Green Line.

Who Profits, together with the Coalition of Women for Peace, also lobbied the EU to cancel the EU-Israel trade agreement relating to the Israeli pharmaceutical industry. The Coalition of Women for Peace in fact led the lobbying and campaigning in the European Union in the period leading up to the vote on the agreement and trade protocol with the Israeli pharmaceutical industry.

Who Profits does not take direct action. It provides information and publicizes data on Israeli companies with financial dealings in Judea and Samaria, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And yet, the significance of the organization's activity is profound. Being added to the Who Profits blacklist means almost immediate exposure to BDS campaigns and active lobbying designed to undermine the company's business.

Concealed identities

This week, the organization NGO monitor issued a comprehensive report on Who Profits, in which the group was described as "spearheading global BDS." For years, NGO Monitor has been generating and distributing critical analyses and reports on the activity of various nongovernmental organizations that operate under various pretenses to reject Jewish rights, to enact anti-Israel boycotts and even reject the existence of the State of Israel.

In their latest report, NGO Monitor focused on the little known fact that the database that serves as the foundation of the global BDS movement is actually based in Israel and that its founders, at least according to Israeli records, are Israeli. Itay Reuveni, who compiled the report on Who Profits, remarked that the fact that Who Profits is an Israeli organization lends it particular credibility among BDS supporters around the world.

The Who Profits project began in 2007. It started as "a research project of the Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP) -- a feminist, Palestinian-Jewish organization devoted to the struggle against the occupation" and "in response to the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement" against Israel. Six years later, Who Profits became an independent organization, but continues to closely cooperate with the Coalition of Women for Peace.

The members of Who Profits do not reveal their identities and their names are not mentioned on the Who Profits website or in any of the organization's official correspondence. According to the Justice Ministry's Registrar of Nonprofit Associations, Who Profits was founded by Esther Mitzenmacher, Rona Moran, Yara Saadia, Ines Elias, Deborah Lerman, Anat Matar and Hannah A'mori.

The NGO Monitor report also mentions another woman -- Dalit Baum -- who was listed among the founders when Who Profits was still part of the coalition. Today, Baum serves as the coordinator of the Middle East program of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which "actively promotes BDS, utilizes 'apartheid' analogies and advocates the so-called Palestinian right of return," the NGO Monitor report states.

"Baum was also coordinator of the Middle East program of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which actively promotes BDS, utilizes 'apartheid' analogies, and advocates the so-called Palestinian right of return. The same organization also openly funds Israeli organizations that promote conscientious draft-dodging among Jews and Druze recruits."

According to the report, Baum was also a board member of the "radical Israeli NGO Zochrot, which was established with the aim of 'raising public awareness of the Palestinian Nakba' and 'recognizing and materializing the right of return,' meaning the end of Israel as a Jewish state."

The warning letter that Who Profits sends to the companies and institutions it plans to target also mentions the Palestinian Nakba. In its letters, the organization goes to the trouble of "bringing to your attention your company's involvement in the ongoing expulsion of Palestinian residents from their homes and lands -- a process that began with the 1948 Nakba and is continuously ongoing in the day to day policies of occupation and land theft."

One of the founders of Who Profits is Dr. Anat Matar, an activist with the left-wing organization Taayush who also founded the Israeli Action Committee for Palestinian Prisoners. In the past, Matar has lent her support to an academic boycott of Ariel University, an Israeli university situated beyond the Green Line.

Pension funds and mobile phones

Just a reminder: In May, 2015, an aggressive BDS campaign was launched against French telecom giant Orange for its ties with Israeli mobile service provider Partner. The NGOs involved in the campaign were the Israeli group Who Profits alongside Palestinian organization Al Haq and three French organizations with a long history of anti-Israel delegitimization activity.

These groups included Who Profits, Al Haq, Catholic Committee Against Hunger and for Development-Terre Solidaire, FIDH, and Association France Palestine Solidarite, all of which are deeply involved in anti-Israeli campaigns.

To this day, long after Partner severed ties with Orange, Who Profit's website still contains a unique page dedicated to Partner and reflects a political agenda that is not necessarily connected to commercial involvement in Judea and Samaria or the Golan Heights. In fact, Partner's biggest "transgression," according to the site, is the fact that for several years it sponsored two military units as part of a project called "adopt a soldier." The company funded sports activities, entertainment and training exercises for these units as part of the sponsorship.

In addition, the site contends, "during the attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014, Partner was on the front lines providing material support, cellular services and entertainment to Israeli soldiers. The company also waived service fees for soldiers carrying [sic] the assault during July-August 2014"

Israel's national water provider Mekorot was also targeted by Who Profits, NGO Monitor reveals. According to the report, "Who Profits published an info file in 2013 falsely accusing Israel of 'discriminating against the Palestinians' in the water sector, preventing infrastructure development, limiting water supplies to Palestinians and more. Although those accusations lack any factual basis, they have been repeated in a campaign against the planned cooperation between Mekorot, and the Dutch water corporation Vitens, as well as the Italian water company ACEA."

Who Profits was also the organization that provided large Dutch pension fund PGGM with the information that ultimately prompted it to declare in January 2014 that it will "no longer invest in five Israeli banks." Who Profits, as well as a number of other highly politicized NGOs, lobbied PGGM to divest from these Israeli banks as part of its economic warfare campaign against Israel, NGO Monitor maintains.

But one Who Profits' biggest successes to date has been its campaign against SodaStream -- an Israeli company that manufactures home carbonation devices. SodaStream operates in 42 countries around the world and has a customer base of some 10 million people. After SodaStream was accused of operating in "illegal settlements," it was forced to close down its Mishor Adumim factory, where hundreds of Palestinians had been employed alongside Jewish Israelis and enjoyed extremely favorable conditions.

Who Profits' blacklist database contains the names of more than 500 businesses, institutions and companies that are in one way or another involved in business in the territories, or provide service to Israelis in the territories.

According to information reported by Who Profits to the Registrar of Nonprofit Associations, in 2014 and 2015, the group received funding from foreign entities and governments amounting to a total of almost 1.5 million shekels (about $400,000), with each donations designated as going toward "research."

NGO Monitor's report reveals that the biggest donors to Who Profits are church groups, many of which are funded by their respective governments. Chief among them is the Dutch chapter of ICCO, the interchurch organization for development cooperation. During the time period in question, ICCO donated more than 1 million shekels ($260,000) to Who Profits. This organization also promoted divestment from Israeli pension funds and from Mekorot.

In addition, in the past, ICCO has donated funds to left-wing Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence, which collects testimonies from IDF soldiers on violations of Palestinian rights in the territories. ICCO took credit for helping collect the testimonies of 90 soldiers in the year after Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009) on alleged violations in Judea and Samaria.

The Dutch church aid society also funds the anti-Israel website Electronic Intifada, which promotes boycotts and other anti-Israel campaigns. ICCO even rejects the Jewish people's historical link to the land of Israel.

Another church group that donates money to Who Profits is Trocaire, which in turn is funded by the Irish government. Trocaire promotes BDS and cutting ties between Israel and the EU. Contrary to official Irish policy, Trocaire is waging a campaign to impose sanctions on Israel by way of suspending trade agreements between Israel and EU member states. The group has also tried to block Israel's membership in the OECD.

Trocaire has also maintained ties with Zochrot, funded a Breaking the Silence photo exhibit and called for anti-Israel boycotts and sanctions.

Three other groups funding Who Profits, in relatively smaller sums, are the Norwegian worker's union Fagforbundet (which gave 92,000 shekels -- around $24,000) -- a group that promotes anti-Israel boycotts among workers' unions; Medico International (110,447 shekels, equivalent to $29,186), which is funded by the German government; and Kairos, a privately funded church group that promotes divestment among churches and BDS.

Target bank

Itay Reuveni, the author of the NGO Monitor report, notes that Who Profits promotes BDS on various social media platforms and "is mentioned in almost every report calling for boycotts of Israel or divestment from Israel. Its status as a registered Israeli NGO gives it a special status among BDS supporters."

He also cites a 2105 document, co-authored by Who Profits and the Coalition of Women for Peace, titled Knowing the Occupation Economy, which was indirectly funded by the Swedish government by way of Swedish organization Kvinna till Kvinna. The document condemns "Israeli and international corporations profiting from the occupation."

Reuveni also remarks on the fact that in the warning letters that Who Profits sends to Israeli businesses, the organization presents itself as a "research center" that is "dedicated to exposing the commercial involvement of companies in the continued Israeli control over Palestinian and Syrian land."

In quotes brought from a sample letter in the report, Who Profits writes that "We plan to include the following information about your company on our website and printed publications. ... If your response is absent by 26 January 2015, we will publish the above information as is."

Reuveni points out that the names of the researchers or employees of Who Profits are absent from all reports, letters and official documents. They only identify themselves as the "Who Profits staff." Reuveni stresses that Who Profits behaves in this manner despite having a "clear agenda, which includes the 1948 Nakba, for example, and despite the fact that the organization in essence provides various BDS groups a 'target bank' for anti-Israel boycotts and sanctions."

Professor Gerald Steinberg, the president of NGO Monitor, says that "it is the radical activists belonging to the organization Who Profits, in its various permutations including the Coalition of Women for Peace, that are spearheading the BDS industry."

"Their terrifying campaigns," Steinberg stresses, "are funded by taxpayers in Holland, Germany, Ireland and elsewhere, who provide official funding for 'humanitarian aid' by various anti-Israel church organizations. This money is secretly diverted to fund a few radical extremists on the basis of blind hatred toward Israel -- a modern manifestation of the classic anti-Semitism."

All efforts to elicit a response from Who Profits regarding the NGO Monitor report were unsuccessful. At the beginning of the week, I briefly spoke with Esther Mitzenmacher, who is named in the report as one of the founders of Who Profits. I asked if I could email her an outline of this article, to give the organization an opportunity to comment on it. She gave me the organization's general email address and said "send it to them. If they want, they will comment."

I asked her for a name, so I would know who to address, but she declined to provide any names. She repeated her response: "Send it. If they want, they will comment."

I sent them the main points of the report alongside a list of questions, to the email address listed on the Who Profits website several times. I received no response. We tried to get the organization's attention on Facebook as well, but there was no response there either. We sent a text message to Mitzenmacher to alert her to the fact that the email had been sent, but the text message also went unanswered. As aforementioned, the Who Profits website does not list the names of its directors, researchers or anyone working on behalf of the organizations.

The questions we wanted to ask the organization had to do with Who Profits' activities against Israeli companies, its funding sources and its stance on BDS.

In the email we asked the following questions: "What is the significance of the mentions of the 1948 Nakba in the organization's letters? Is the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish nation state acceptable to you? Do you support the Right of Return? Why does the organization's database include Israeli companies that represent role models for coexistence and provide equal employment opportunities to Israelis and Palestinians?"


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