Introduction – The OECD and Israel's impending accession
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) does exactly what its name suggests. The group, established in its current form in 1961, states that its mission is essentially "to help governments and society reap the full benefits of globalisation, while tackling the economic, social and governance challenges that can accompany it." It claims to be "committed to democratic government and the market economy" and it aims to bring together like-minded governments from around the world to: "Support sustainable economic growth; Boost employment; Raise living standards; Maintain financial stability; Assist other countries' economic development; Contribute to growth in world trade". Further, it "provides a forum where governments can compare and exchange policy experiences, identify good practices and promote decisions and recommendations."
The OECD now has 30 member states with plans to add new members soon. In May a vote will be held in which it will be decided whether or not to admit Israel into the ranks of OECD member states. However, human rights organisations such as BADIL (Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights) are urging all OECD members to "say no to Israel's bid for membership in the OECD". There are many reasons for this opposition, not least because Israel's government fails to adhere to even the most basic principles espoused by the OECD, including those promoting human rights, democracy and environmental protection. Israel's accession would bring into disrepute the OECD and, by extension, all member states.
However, despite the concerns raised by BADIL and similar organisations, many see Israel's accession as inevitable. The OECD Secretary General, Mr Angel Gurria, travelled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2007 and "promised that Israel would become a member this year".
Membership would be a boon for Israel, described by its extreme right-wing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as "an important milestone for Israel and its standing in the international arena," adding that "it means being a part of one of the most prestigious international clubs." Speaking to AFP, Lieberman said, "We are in the first line with all the most advanced nations in the world and it is something the Israeli foreign ministry has put in enormous effort to achieve".
It is clear why Israel wants to join the OECD; it would gain respectability, access to markets and numerous other advantages available only to member states. However, Israel does not meet the standard criteria for admission. If admitted the Zionist state would be reaping massive rewards from the international community instead of being censured for its current domestic and international policies, including the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Membership criteria not met by Israel which should exclude it from OECD membership
Israel fails to meet even some of the most basic criteria and benchmarks for admission and yet it is still being considered for accession to the OECD. The "Roadmap for the accession of Israel to the OECD Convention" is a document that "provides a process to enable Member countries to assess the willingness and ability of Israel to assume the obligations of membership."
Even a casual perusal of this "roadmap" clearly demonstrates Israel's incompatibility with the principles valued by the OECD. The roadmap explains that "OECD Membership is committed to fundamental values, which candidate countries are expected to share. These fundamental values serve as the foundation of the likemindedness of OECD Members… Accepting these values, along with the established body of OECD instruments, standards and benchmarks, is a requirement for membership. These fundamental values include a commitment to pluralist democracy based on the rule of law and the respect of human rights, adherence to open and transparent market economy principles and a shared goal of sustainable development."
If this is the "map", then Israel is very lost; it stumbles at the starting block. Principles which the roadmap espouses, including principles promoting human rights, chemical safety, environmental protection and financial transparency, among others, are simply not met by Israel and in fact in many cases are treated with utter contempt. For Israel to be granted membership to the OECD would mean that the organisation's core principles are being ignored quite blatantly, rendering them worthless. If the OECD is serious about its professed "values", there is no way that Israel should be considered as a serious candidate for membership. Granting Israel membership would not only undermine the OECD's credibility and that of its members, but also destroy it completely.
A few examples of some of the most basic criteria which Israel simply does not meet and which should render it ineligible for consideration as an OECD member are outlined below:
Chemical management principles – Download
One of the OECD principles to which all candidate countries are required to commit include those relating to chemical safety, by which member states are required to enact policies that include "Harmonising their chemical safety policies with those of OECD countries in order to (i) ensure that the instruments used to protect man and the environment are of comparable quality to those in member countries." Furthermore, it includes "ensuring that Member countries exchange relevant information for the prevention of, preparedness for and response to, accidents at hazardous installations capable of causing transfrontier damage and that adequate information is provided to the public."
A brief glance at Israel's track record in terms of public and environmental protection does not bode well in terms of meeting these criteria. Considering Israel's use of highly toxic and carcinogenic munitions during Operation Cast Lead as well as its possession of the world's sixth largest nuclear arsenal, the Zionist state is hardly a reliable partner in terms of the OECD requirement to adhere to chemical management principles and to be transparent about the use of chemicals.
The OECD requires member states to stop the manufacture, sale and import of chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PSB), which is highly toxic and has been classified as a persistent organic pollutant. It has therefore been banned in many countries. However, it would hardly be following the spirit of the ban if Israel promised to ban PSB while it continues to hoard a stockpile of nuclear weapons. It may be that other nuclear-armed states are already members of the OECD, but Israel's nuclear capabilities are unmonitored; in that sense, it is a rogue nuclear state. It does not even admit to possessing nuclear weapons which destroys any claim of transparency, even with its allies. Furthermore, its use of white phosphorus, dense inert metal explosives (DIME) and possibly even depleted uranium during its invasion of Gaza last year, show a clear disregard for civilians and the environment.
For the same reasons outlined above Israel clearly does not meet the environmental protection policies of the OECD which state that "candidate countries should commit to the following set of core principles on environment policy" which include to "ensure that the generation of hazardous and other waste are reduced and that adequate facilities for the environmentally sound management of waste are available." How can a country that will not own up to the possession of a massive nuclear weapon capability and refuses to open up its power plants and weapons' storage facilities to inspection, possibly claim to meet this environmental criteria?
The ethos of environmental protection is clearly not one supported or met by Israel, which has a horrific environmental policy track record including, inter alia, the dumping of Israeli waste and pollutants into the land and sea of Gaza and the West Bank; contaminating Gaza's drinking water and reducing the territory to the point where Amnesty International has declared 95% of its drinking water unfit for human consumption; destroying acre after acre of arable farm land to build the illegal separation wall and illegal settlements; and setting ablaze and uprooting olive groves and other orchards.
Labour and social inequalities in Israel
Israel's general labour and social policies produce more problems which should keep it out of the OECD until they are resolved or changed. According to an OECD report entitled Israel: A Divided Society – Result of a review of labour-market and social policy there are a wide range of deep-rooted problems that Israel currently faces in terms of social inequality between its citizens, (primarily between the Jewish and non-Jewish citizens). While these problems may not prohibit their membership as such, they certainly do indicate an undesirable trend of injustice which is not compatible with the OECD's claim to value and uphold principles of democracy.
For instance, the report states: "The benefits of economic growth are distributed unevenly. Poverty in Israel is more widespread than in any of the 30 OECD countries. Almost one in five Israelis lives in poverty on the OECD benchmark measure: they live in households with income less than half of the national median. This poverty rate is nearly double the average in OECD countries of just 11%." Most of those below the poverty rate belong to the two largest minority groups in Israel, namely, the Arabs and ultra-orthodox Jews (Haredim) who "are much less likely to have jobs and more likely to be poor than the general Jewish population".
Furthermore, the conditions of foreign workers have also been identified as likely to be very poor in Israel. The report notes that "Israel has a general problem of failing to enforce its labour laws, such as minimum employment conditions for both resident and foreign workers… There is evidence that ethnicity affects employment. The government should take the lead by stamping out discriminatory practices in the public sector."
If Israel is admitted to the OECD in May it will be the poorest member with the widest social inequalities.
Poor educational standards
Another element of Israeli society that distinguishes it from other OECD nations is its poor educational standards. According to the OECD report on the divided society, "Israeli teenagers in secondary school perform poorly in international student tests: they rank close to the bottom at about 90% of the OECD average. Arab students in Israel have the lowest scores of all at just above 75% of the OECD average. The evidence suggests that public spending on education per child in Arab localities is about one-third lower than in predominantly Jewish municipalities. Israeli policy should aim to reduce the gap in educational resources and outcomes."
Observers point out that while Jewish pupils in ultra-Orthodox schools "can recite chapter and verse of the Bible… most can't spell the name of their largest Arab neighbour, Egypt, in English. About half of Israel's pupils either attend Arab schools that are under-funded, or ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminaries where 'secular' subjects such as English, science and mathematics take a back seat to biblical studies, or are completely ignored."
An "epidemic" of Israeli corruption
Israel is a country that has been plagued by scandals of the most serious kind including bribery, corruption and money laundering. In 2000, the Financial Action Task Force of the OECD identified Israel as one of fifteen countries officially accused of, among other things, "turning a blind eye to the laundering of profits from international crime." It was put on an official list of "money-laundering" nations. While it was eventually de-listed in 2002 it seems that Israel's pattern of corruption has by no means come to an end and the ongoing scandals seem almost part and parcel of Israeli politics. This is a trait that should be a major issue of concern to OECD member states faced with a vote on Israel's accession.
In December last year, the OECD Working Group on Bribery issued a report which said, "[Israel] should be more proactive in detecting, investigating and prosecuting foreign bribery cases, notably those involving the defence industry."
According to a report in the New York Times in January, from the perspective of the OECD in relation to Israel's bribery issues: "The main concern is that Israel's Defence Ministry has the power to censor the results of any investigation of bribes paid by Israeli companies to foreign officials on the grounds that the publicity could harm Israel's national interests. The censor can ban publication and is under no obligation to tell the authorities about the investigations. The OECD wants both practices changed."
Allegations of corruption go right to the top of the political hierarchy in Israel with ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert having been charged with numerous offences, in several separate cases, including, "concealing fraudulent earnings, fraud, breach of trust, fraudulent tax evasion and fraudulent registration of corporate documents". Other ex-Prime Ministers, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, have also had serious allegations laid against them and been subject to various investigations (not the least of which was an attempt to obtain an arrest warrant for Barak on the charge of committing war crimes during Israel's military assault on Gaza). Yet another ex-Prime Minister, the late Yitzhak Rabin, resigned following claims that his wife possessed an illegal bank account in the United States. Ex-President Moshe Katsav resigned in 2007 following a sex scandal and was forced to plea bargain his way out of rape charges by admitting to lesser sexual offences.
A development which has emerged in the last few days in connection with what has come to be known as the Holyland affair, is the arrest on 11th April of one of Olmert's political aides who is alleged to have bribed government officials. This includes officials in Jerusalem City Council and the Israel Lands Administration. The bribes related, among other things, to speeding up building permits and reducing fines.
Israel's corruption has been described as an 'epidemic'. In one BBC report it was said that "corruption scandals are part of the fabric of Israeli political history." The culture of corruption is indeed endemic within Israel and a country with such a persistent refusal to adhere to international law and which operates in a murky atmosphere of sleaze and dishonesty should certainly not be rewarded for its corruption by membership of the exclusive OECD club.
Israeli dishonesty and lack of transparency regarding economic activities
Another element in Israel's level of official dishonesty relates to the way that financial information and statistics are collected by the state. For example, Israel does not define its territory in an internationally recognised or acceptable manner. An article in the New York Times reported that the "OECD is unhappy with Israel's definition of its territory in collating economic data. Israel includes activities in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, both of them won in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war; most of the world views those areas as occupied, but Israel considers them its own through annexation." However, despite this obvious stumbling block Israeli officials continue to say that this is being addressed at the "technical level and will be solved", whatever that means.
Questions also need to be asked about government revenues and economic activity related to the illegal settlements on the West Bank. What about settler-produced goods and produce from stolen Palestinian land, using stolen Palestinian resources? What about the finances acquired by the state in that way? These are not recorded separately by Israel and therefore the financial reports that it submits to the OECD cannot and should not be taken at face value. Any financial reports Israel submits without being open and honest about such issues should be considered as misleading and, indeed, fraudulent.
Furthermore, as Jerusalem-based economist Shir Hever has said, "The OECD is treating Israel as though it has seven million citizens when, in reality, it has 11 million subjects, of whom four million are Palestinians living under occupation." Mr. Hever added, "If they were included in the figures submitted to the OECD, Israel would have to be refused accession because of the enormous disparities in wealth."
This would also include, for example, the fact that "Eighty thousand Palestinian Bedouin Israelis live in unrecognised villages in the Negev desert in the south of Israel. The villages are deprived of basic services like housing, water, electricity, education and health care."
If Israel is admitted to the OECD despite the multiple and very grave ways in which it fails to meet the most basic benchmarks for accession it would betray a sinister side to the way that the OECD operates. The world is used to countries such as America and Britain granting concessions to Israel based purely on their historically rooted alliances and political influence. However, it would be more evidence of Israel's uncanny ability to influence the international and economic sector above and beyond its standing politically, physically and economically if it is granted membership despite failing to meet the most basic membership requirements. What benefit is the OECD being offered to set aside its own principles to allow Israel into the club? It's a question worth asking which demands investigation. Furthermore, if the OECD does allow Israel to achieve membership without meeting the required criteria, will similar latitude be offered to other, not-so-white countries?
It is clear that each member state must vote on Israel's accession but against which criteria beyond the OECD's own requirements will they judge the state and make their decision? The OECD claims to hold principles of democracy in the highest esteem and requires its members to do likewise. However, in a truly democratic nation shouldn't the will of the people play at least some role? Given that Israel is falling out of favour among members of the general public worldwide, it is unlikely that it would be allowed in if it was left to the people of the member states to vote. In a poll carried out in 2003, Israel was seen as the biggest threat to world peace by 58% of Europeans. Although this figure will probably have changed by now, in all probability it will have increased due to what Israel has done since 2003 to damage its public image: refusing to accept the 2004 International Court of Justice ruling on the illegality of the separation wall, for example; the war Israel waged on Lebanon in 2006; Israel's military assault on Gaza in 2008-9; and the findings of the UN's Goldstone Report which accused Israel of war crimes and potential crimes against humanity. Israel has done nothing since the poll in 2003 to improve its public image; on the contrary it has only committed acts which will have further damaged its reputation and credibility and it is therefore probably more unpopular now than ever before.
If Israel is such an unpopular state and is seen by the European, and wider, public as a major threat to world peace, and still it is rewarded by membership of the OECD, we will learn a lot about those national leaders responsible; a vote for Israel reveals that they are out of touch with their own public opinion and the people they are supposed to represent. Given the contentious status of the state of Israel and its international reputation, wouldn't it be better for the democracies concerned to hold public referenda on Israel's accession to the OECD? Of course, if left to the vote of the public, Israel would never be raised to member status, so such an idea is unlikely to be acceptable to the world leaders who are in thrall to the Zionist state.
If the OECD will not stand firm on its principles and is willing to make concessions for Israel for reasons known only to a select few, it should admit as much. This will open the way for other rogue states which have no respect for the most fundamental principles of human rights; which deliberately pollute the environment; and which hoard secret stockpiles of weapons, to follow Israel's example and apply for and get membership.
The Alternative Information Centre Palestine/Israel (AIC) argues, "If Israel is given this international award while it continues to occupy and dispossess the Palestinian people, then the OECD is complicit in these human rights violations. If Israel becomes an OECD member, it further demonstrates the connection – which OECD countries would rather not admit – between democracy and free market for the developed world and the violent oppression and poverty in the developed world. What kind of free market is grounded in military occupations?"
iMember states and their years of accession: Australia, 1971, Austria, 1961, Belgium, 1961, Canada, 1961, Czech Republic, 1995, Denmark, 1961, Finland, 1969, France, 1961, Germany, 1961, Greece, 1961, Hungary, 1996, Iceland, 1961, Ireland, 1961, Italy, 1962, Japan, 1964, Korea, 1996, Luxembourg, 1961, Mexico, 1994, Netherlands, 1961, New Zealand, 1973, Norway, 1961, Poland, 1996, Portugal, 1961, Slovak Republic, 2000, Spain, 1961, Sweden, 1961, Switzerland, 1961, Turkey, 1961, United Kingdom, 1961, United States, 1961.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.