Last year, the US North Coast Coalition for Palestine started a campaign to exclude the multinational transport and municipal services firm Veolia from a public transit contract in Sonoma County, California.
Alan Moldawer, executive vice-president of Veolia Transportation US, wrote a letter to the county’s local government, the Board of Supervisors, in response to the campaign. The Electronic Intifada obtained a copy of the letter in which Moldawer claims that his purpose is “to update you on Veolia Transportation’s parent company’s sale of its bus business in Israel.”
This is perhaps a sign of Veolia’s sensitivity to the growing power of a movement whose aim is to hold Israel and the companies that profit from its violations of Palestinian rights to account.
In the letter, Moldawer accuses “BDS” of “fueling a petition to ‘dump Veolia’ with false allegations about Veolia Transportation’s parent company’s services in Israel.”
However, the BDS movement has a track record of carefully researching the role of companies in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, including when companies announce that they have withdrawn from such activities.
Alerted by Moldawer’s letter to Sonoma County, activists also found the announcement of Veolia’s withdrawal from all Israeli bus lines on Veolia Israel’s website.
The box at the top left of the webpage reads in Hebrew: “Connex transportation Israel that is also known as Veolia Transportation has been sold to the company Afikim.”
Occupation watchdog Who Profits found confirmation of the sale in the Israeli companies’ registrar. Veolia had already terminated its operations in the Modi’in bus lines in August.
The three remaining bus lines that run on occupied Palestinian land have now been sold as part of the deal with Afikim.
Moldawer falsely claims that “BDS is fostered by the longstanding international boycott efforts of the League of Arab States against Israel.”
In fact, the global BDS movement developed in response to a call issued independently by 170 Palestinian civil society organizations in 2005 — decades after the Arab League’s now largely defunct commercial boycott. The 2005 call aims for an end to occupation, equal rights for Palestinians and recognition of the Palestinian right of return, as required by international law.
The call for BDS ends when these violations of Palestinian political, human and legal rights come to an end and the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination is respected.
The BDS movement aims to hold Israel and other actors including governments around the world accountable for their role in Israel’s violations of international law.
Moldawer’s claim that “BDS is pursuing its goal of demonizing Israel and companies that do business with Israel” is therefore misplaced, although no company should be proud to profit from occupation, colonial exploitation and apartheid.
During the 1970s and ’80s, a global movement emerged to urge divestment, sanctions and boycotts of companies that were complicit in and profited from apartheid in South Africa.
While some might have described that as “demonizing” South Africa or the companies that profited from its racist system, this movement was, like the present BDS movement, a nonviolent, morally consistent effort whose objective is to end oppression.
Twisting Barghouti’s words
Moldawer does not shy away from a dishonest attack on Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the BDS movement, by falsely attributing statements to him. Moldawer states that Barghouti describes the BDS movement as committed to the “euthanization of Israel.”
In response to Veolia’s claim, Barghouti wrote me that he never said such a thing about the BDS movement, “not even remotely.” Barghouti says that Veolia misrepresented a phrase from a 2004 article he wrote on The Electronic Intifada about the one-state solution. This was before the BDS movement was even born.
In the article Barghouti argues that Zionism is an obstacle to the birth of a single democratic state with equal rights for all. He notes:
The current phase has all the emblematic properties of what may be considered the final chapter of the Zionist project. We are witnessing the rapid demise of Zionism, and nothing can be done to save it, for Zionism is intent on killing itself. I, for one, support euthanasia.
As the article elaborates, and as Barghouti explained to me in an email: “I would welcome the self-destruction of Zionism as a political movement to open the way for the Palestinian people to realize our right to self-determination and for all to live in equality without anyone oppressing anyone. The BDS movement has absolutely nothing to do with my personal views on this or on the one-state issue as the movement has always remained absolutely neutral on the question of one state vs. two states, insisting that no matter what the political solution is it must address the three basic rights of the Palestinian people, in accordance to international law.”
Anyone familiar with Barghouti’s many articles and public speeches — including a recent one in Oslo — knows that he has always been consistent in supporting equal rights for all in the context of a non-racist, decolonized political outcome, to which he believes Zionism is a major obstacle.
Moldawer wrote that Veolia has “no political agenda.”
However, his attack on the BDS movement and Omar Barghouti clearly follows the hasbara – propaganda – logic of the Israeli government.
In July, my colleague Ben White wrote about a new action plan to fight Palestine solidarity activism and BDS campaigns, which was developed under the auspices of the Israeli foreign ministry. The plan includes that nations, foundations and other funders supporting BDS should be “named and shamed.”
It also calls for BDS efforts toward multinational corporations to be investigated.
Slide from Veolia Transportation US presentation at Sonoma County hearing in July 2012 attempts to smear activists by association with The Electronic Intifada.
This is moreover not the first time that Moldawer has attacked the BDS movement. In July 2012, Moldawer represented Veolia Transportation US at a hearing of the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights that was considering Veolia’s exclusion from the transit contract.
Anna Baltzer reported for the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation about Moldawer’s “classic Hasbara talking points.” He asserted that because North Coast Coalition for Palestine supported the BDS movement and had a link to The Electronic Intifada (EI) on its website, “it therefore supported violence and destruction, citing a past EI article that they alleged supported violence.”
Baltzer rightfully concluded that Moldawer had used a guilty-by-association accusation which was based on a false claim.
Still profiting from crime
Meanwhile, despite the sale of the bus lines, Veolia continues to profit from occupation. Moldawer confirms in his letter that Veolia Transportation US’ parent company Transdev will continue to operate the Jerusalem light rail and that the company owns five percent of the project.
Transdev is the result of a merger between Veolia Transportation and Transdev. The French parent companies Veolia Environnement and Caisse des Dépôts Développement each own half of the shares of Transdev.
The Jerusalem light rail is a component of the “Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan” sponsored by the Israeli government and the Jerusalem occupation municipality. The light rail was designed to serve the needs of Israel’s illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
Veolia and the French multinational Alstom are involved in the first line of the light rail, which connects western Jerusalem with illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, around eastern Jerusalem.
Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and Israel’s annexation of eastern Jerusalem are illegal under international law. Veolia, therefore, remains implicated in maintaining – and providing services to — Israel’s illegal settlements, occupation and annexation of Palestinian land.
Veolia also remains involved in the Tovlan landfill in the occupied West Bank’s Jordan Valley where waste is dumped from Israeli recycling factories and illegal settlements. The watchdog group Who Profits found that the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection could not substantiate Veolia’s claim that it had sold the Tovlan landfill.
Veolia continues to provide services to the illegal settlement of Modi’in Illit, according to Veolia Water Israel’s website. Modi’in Illit is situated between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in the occupied West Bank.
Despite Veolia’s misrepresentations, it is clear the company is starting to feel the heat and the BDS movement will continue to hold governments and companies accountable for their role in Israel’s violations of the rights of the Palestinian people.