The Norwegian government says it has “neither the right nor the duty” to prohibit Egencia, a subsidiary of blacklisted company Expedia, from providing services inside Norway.
By Ariel Kahana, Israel Hayom via JNS
The Norwegian government has decided to ignore the United Nations “blacklist” of companies operating in Israeli settlements and allow a tourism company that appears on the list to provide services to government and other organizations in Norway.
The list was published by the U.N. Human Rights Office in early 2020 and includes 112 Israeli and international companies that operate beyond the Green Line, in the environs of Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Judea and Samaria.
Among the more than 100 companies on the list are food maker General Mills, tech and communications giants Motorola Solutions and Altice Europe and infrastructure companies like France’s Egis and Alstom, as well as British company JC Bamford Excavators. It also includes travel firms Airbnb and Expedia, along with TripAdvisor, Booking.com and Opodo.
The list was compiled following heavy pressure from BDS groups and its publication was a significant success for the anti-Israel boycott movement. However, since its release, pro-Israel lobbies in Israel and abroad have worked hard to curb any practical steps being taken on the ground. In recent months in Norway, local BDS groups and pro-Israel lobbies have locked horns over the services provided to schools in the country by a company named Egencia. Egencia provides travel booking services and is owned by Expedia, which appears on the blacklist.
The International Legal Forum, NGO Monitor and U.K. Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) contacted the Norwegian government agency responsible for the management of commercial registers and explained that boycotting the firm could complicate Norway economically and legally. They noted, among other things, laws that were passed by the U.S. Congress and many U.S. states that prohibit business with companies and organizations that partake in BDS activities. The lawyers also showed the Norwegians that companies that operate in Judea and Samaria do so in accordance with Israeli law, international law and agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
“Our procurement law assessment is that we have neither the right nor the duty to reject Egencia from the competition as a result of the conditions discussed,” said Kjetil Ostgard, the department director at Norway’s Government Procurement Center, according to UKLFI’s official website.
UKLFI chief executive Jonathan Turner said, “Mr. Ostgard is undoubtedly right not to regard the UNHRC list as a justification to exclude a company from tendering. This list has no legal validity. Under EEA [European Economic Area] rules companies can only be excluded from tendering for public contracts where the procuring authority demonstrates grave professional conduct rendering the company’s integrity questionable so that it cannot be relied upon to carry out the contract.”
Attorney Yifa Segal, director of the International Legal Forum, called Norway’s decision “an important step in the war on the injustice known as the ‘blacklist.’”
She added: “The Norwegian government’s decision helps downgrade the status of the ‘blacklist.’ No country in the world bases its commercial policies on this list. We told the Norwegians that the U.N. Human Rights Council acted in a politically hostile and biased manner. Additionally, the UNHRC is interfering in international economics in a harmful way and didn’t work according to accepted and objective standards.
“Adherence to the blacklist could violate discrimination and boycott laws. Companies that are considering severing or minimizing ties with Israel need to know they could be in violation of country laws against discrimination and boycott. A boycott of Israeli goods is unlawful discrimination because it discriminates people and companies based on their nationality. Various laws against discrimination exist in every Western country,” said Segal.