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Who’s Afraid of the UN Blacklist?

For supermarket mogul Rami Levy, it’s one big farce

Photos: Amir Levy, Flash90

When the UN Human Rights Council blacklisted 112 companies doing business in Judea and Samaria, many, like boycott target and supermarket mogul Rami Levy, just rolled their eyes at this newest attempt at political warfare. Because the irony is that the 94 Israeli companies on the list — all the country’s major banks, state-owned transportation companies Egged and Israel Railways, telecommunications giants Bezeq, HOT, and Cellcom, and some medium-size companies such as restaurant chain Café Café and Angel Bakeries, as well as 18 international enterprises such as Motorola and General Mills — are the largest employers of Palestinians in the region.

One of those companies is Rami Levy Hashikma Marketing, founded in 1976 by a young man named Rami Levy as a discount stall in Jerusalem’s Machaneh Yehudah shuk, and today Israel’s third-largest supermarket chain.

“Anyone who doesn’t want to do business with us shouldn’t do business, but I don’t believe the blacklist will have any real effect,” an indignant Rami Levi told Mishpacha, shrugging off the notion that the resolution will affect his business ties. “As a matter of fact, it should have been called a white list instead of a blacklist — these companies employ thousands of Palestinians, protected by Israeli labor laws. Isn’t that what the Arabs claim they want all along? If my employees worked within the framework of the Palestinian Authority, they would earn 80 percent less than they earn working in my stores, and their work conditions would be much worse too. If the UN really wants to improve the lives of Palestinians, they should stop promoting the dead-end refugee myth and instead invest in schools, hospitals, roads, and job creation, and be grateful that companies like mine are giving these people a decent chance.”

Levy echoed the sentiments of Economy Minister Eli Cohen, who said the only achievement of the blacklist is that it will hurt the livelihoods of thousands of Palestinians who coexist and cooperate with Israelis on a daily basis in Judea and Samaria. “The UN has reached a new low,” he said, noting that the Human Rights Council includes countries who are the world’s worst human-rights violators, including Cuba, Venezuela, Pakistan, and others, and is supported by the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, neither of which are known for their stellar human-rights records. In 2018, the US left the UNHRC due to its anti-Israel slant, with then-US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley calling it a “cesspool of political bias.”

For the last 15 years, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigners have sought to target companies who do business in Israel, but they have mostly failed to harm Israel’s economy or foreign trade. Israel, after all, is a high-tech economy whose technology is everywhere, and many of the newly blacklisted companies are international leaders in their fields.

For Rami Levy, the most recent blacklist is nothing new. In 2010, the PA declared an official ban on purchases from the Rami Levy supermarket chain, 40 percent of whose 8,000 employees are Arabs. The stores in Judea and Samaria, including one located at the Gush Etzion junction and another at Shaar Binyamin near Beit El (the sight of a brutal terror attack in which Tuvia Yanai Weissman Hy”d was killed by two  knife-wielding teenagers) are popular Palestinian shopping venues because of both prices and quality.

Levy says the blacklist — which has no binding legal force — is more an annoyance than a real impediment. “What do I have to fear? The UN doesn’t want to buy from me? They shouldn’t buy,” he says. “Since the announcement, sales have only increased. Although I import and export products, what the UN says or writes doesn’t bother me in the least. Businessmen aren’t interested in this kind of thing, not even Palestinian ones.”

(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 800)

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