Human rights has been a compelling issue in the Middle East for centuries, and no political situation underscores that more than the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Populations on both sides of the Green Line (the demarcation that separates the state of Israel from the West Bank and Gaza) have their share of poverty, unemployment and homelessness. These economic factors have grown worse, not better, in the past decades.
One Catholic priest wants to help improve the odds for the poorest that live on both sides of the Green Line. Father Sean McManus, best known for his success in helping to reshape the way that U.S. companies did business in Northern Ireland during its civil war in the 1980s, believes a similar strategy can work in the Middle East -- specifically, in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
All of the principles are the kind of things we'd like to see in corporate America. In fact, they are meant to reflect the very virtues that American consumers have said they believe in: fair hiring principles and no discrimination in layoff, recall or termination. The principles also reject any kind of corporate endorsement of military service unless the job responsibilities specifically require such training.
This last point is an interesting addition, since Israel is one of few countries in the world that require conscription by almost all citizens -- men and women, secular and devout. The only sector of the population it doesn't apply to as a whole is the Arab citizenry, who are exempt but have been known to volunteer in the military as Israeli citizens.
On the other hand, argues the organization, "corporations will enhance America’s security" by sending the message to populations in the region that America stands for fair and ethical business principles.
But in truth, the Holy Land Principles probably won't resonate with all corporations or their shareholders with investments in the region. To date, Fr. McManus' doctrine has received relatively little endorsement from American companies. As of this writing, only one company has endorsed the principles.
But the McManus principles also have some unsaid social parameters that aren't evident until one examines the supporting documentation -- all of which are published by outside agencies or writers. And it is there that many companies may have found some points of discomfort.
"More and more Israelis are working, and staying poor regardless," notes the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.
The language used by some of the sources that HLP cites in reference to Israel give the unfortunate impression that politics, not global principles of human rights, are at the core of problems in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. References to "the Zionist state of Israel," Israeli "occupation," and the tenor and political focus of material written by some of the supporting sources can undermine the HLP's goals to ensure human rights are applied regionally, not just politically.
Lastly, some of the greatest strides in ensuring fair pay, benefits and protections for Arab workers continue to go unrecognized. Recent steps taken by businesses owned by Israeli Jewish entrepreneurs or jointly owned or operated by Jews and Arabs, have helped to set benchmarks for not only better pay for the people HLP cites, but also for improving relations between communities and cultures. Manufacturing companies, agricultural groups, architectural firms, research facilities, museums, educational institutes focused on sustainable living, hospitals and other businesses have taken ownership of these societal goals -- and on both sides of the Green Line. None of these businesses has been cited as an example advancing human rights.
No two countries are the same, and no two political conflicts present the same set of challenges for foreign investors. But language can carry just as powerful a message as the humanitarian goals being put forth. Ethical standards that call for the rights of all workers and cultures, not just those of a minority, ensure fair and transparent treatment for all. And while the standards are attracting the attention of foreign investors, they are also sending a global message that human rights is a global entitlement that should never need to be justified.
Image of Arab children: Justin MacIntosh
Image of residents at soup kitchen: Government Press Office, Israel
Image of 1947 rally of Jewish and Arab farm workers: GPO
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.