Israel’s inclusion in economic organization a threat to democracy

Shir Hever, The Electronic Intifada, 25 March 2010

Membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which includes 30 of the world’s most developed countries, does not provide money or any special economic benefits. Yet it is easy to see why the Israeli government attributes great importance to Israel becoming one of its members. For Israel, membership in the OECD would mean a victory of legitimacy, and a major setback for the worldwide movement calling on Israel to be held accountable for its crimes against the Palestinian people. Only democratic countries are allowed to join the OECD. With 35 percent of the population under Israel’s control and sovereignty disenfranchised, denied their basic human and civil rights and repeatedly attacked by the Israeli army, Israel is finding it increasingly difficult to portray itself as a democracy.

What appears less obvious is why the member countries would want to include Israel in the OECD. Israel’s membership would be a confirmation of Israeli policies, thus eroding the organization’s prestige while undermining the efforts of these very same countries to achieve peace in the Middle East. The OECD would be inviting the world to see how it prefers to ignore the crimes committed by Israel, and reward it instead. This would do no less than feed into the argument of extremists who claim that only violence can safeguard the rights of occupied Palestinians.

Ironically, however, the OECD seems to be working harder than Israel to facilitate the latter’s acceptance, which is expected to occur in May. Israel has refused to comply with the OECD demand to provide statistical data which applies only to the internationally-recognized parts of Israel, excluding the illegal settlements in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Yet despite Israel’s refusal, the OECD’s Committee on Statistics is acting to find ways to accept Israel anyway.

According to a leaked report, “Ascension of Israel to the Organization: Draft Formal Opinions of the Committee on Statistics” (download the PDF), the committee proposes to accept Israel based on the statistics currently available, which includes Israeli citizens in the OPT. However, it requests that Israel provide more detailed statistical data which will allow the OECD to conduct its own calculation in order to separate the OPT data from that of Israel. However, Israel will only commit to provide this data after it becomes a member of the organization. Yet as soon as Israel becomes a member, it will have the right to veto this decision, rendering the commitment an empty statement.

It should be noted that in this way the OECD is adopting the Israeli approach — an approach that eliminates the Palestinians and Israel’s effective sovereignty over the OPT, and focuses solely on Israeli citizens. This approach is tantamount to recognizing Israel’s illegal occupation, which stands in direct contradiction to international law and the foreign policies of virtually all OECD countries.

It should also be noted that the OECD takes decisions by consensus. It only takes one OECD country to oppose the integration of Israel into the organization in order to block the process. So far, not a single OECD country has voiced its intention to vote against including Israel in the organization.

The reason for that is twofold. First, there is the usual fear that any country (especially a European country), that voices its objection to Israel’s joining the OECD will be accused of anti-Semitism. Israel enjoys the unflinching support of the United States, and few European politicians have the courage to take a moral stand against either Washington or Israel.

Second, right-wing parties around the world see Israel as the Mecca of anti-immigration policies, Islamophobia and the “war on terror.” With every new line that Israel crosses in abusing the human and national rights of Palestinians, right-wing parties are emboldened to deepen their own politics of hatred toward immigrants. If Israel conducts extra-judicial assassinations, why won’t other countries be allowed to do the same? If Israel installs surveillance mechanisms that invade the privacy of its citizens, what would stop other countries from doing so also? Legitimizing Israel by inviting and facilitating its ascension to the OECD is thus a tool to legitimize the extreme measures promoted by far-right parties in Europe, which are eager to do away with democratic mechanisms and human rights of minorities in the name of nationalism and “security.”

European law clearly forbids European countries from recognizing the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, as has been affirmed by the Russell Tribunal. Yet by granting Israel membership in the OECD, they will be doing exactly that. OECD members will knowingly accept Israel to the organization based on deceptive statistics provided by the latter, statistics which conceal the occupation while simultaneously treating it as a permanent fact.

Israel’s acceptance into the OECD would be a grave mistake. It will reward violations of international law, feed the extreme right wing which is growing in developed countries and render all OECD countries as accomplices in Israel’s illegal occupation.

Shir Hever is an economist at the Alternative Information Center.

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