Israel boycotters’ Veolia claims ‘just not true’

By Anna Sheinman, September 20, 2012
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Boycott campaigners’ claims that their targeting of Veolia, the French company which has a five per cent stake in the Jerusalem light railway, has succeeded in preventing it winning contracts in the UK are wrong, according to a joint report by a Christian and a pro-Israel organisation.

Christian Middle East Watch joined forces with UK Lawyers for Israel to investigate claims that boycott campaigns have brought about the loss of local government contracts.

Veolia has been repeatedly targeted by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activists for its role in the controversial East to West Jerusalem light railway.

In the UK, Veolia performs waste management functions for many local authorities.

Each time a waste management contract has come up for renewal, BDS campaigners have attacked the possibility of Veolia being awarded the work.

David Lewis, the lawyer who led the project’s research, submitted 18 Freedom of Information requests to local councils that had been targeted by BDS campaigners, asking them how contracts on which Veolia had bid were awarded.

In every response, he was told that all contracts were decided for sound commercial reasons despite claims by boycotters that they had successfully pressured councils not to contract with Veolia.

Some of the councils did do business with the company.

“I did expect the findings,” said Mr Lewis. “I’m a lawyer, and I felt instinctively when reading these BDS sites that they were lying.

“I have worked in local government, and I knew that for a local authority to make a commercial decision on political grounds would be illegal, and I thought it just couldn’t be true.”

Mr Lewis explained that for reasons of commercial confidentiality, not every council disclosed the figures that would prove the commercial soundness of its decision but that, for a council member to make decisions on non-commercial reasons — and hide that fact from the rest of the council — would be “nigh on impossible”.

The report concludes that local authorities have acted correctly in ignoring political pressure, and additionally that the emotive rhetoric used by BDS campaigns is unhelpful and often misleading.

Nick Gray, director of Christian Middle East Watch, said: “The BDS campaign is very vocal, very active, and very little is done to combat what they do. This report is the beginning of a way to fight back.”

Last updated: 11:30pm, September 20 2012