Recently, some travelers to Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv have been shocked to discover strange messaging on their Verizon cell phones upon landing. Many of these travelers — including some of whom are Israeli — have seen text that reads, “Welcome to Palestine.”
High technology consultant Mark Rosenblatt from Edgemont, New York was one such traveler on his way to visit his daughter, who’s getting her master’s degree from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.
“I did a double take,” said Rosenblatt. “I was shocked that an American company was falling into some BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement] rhetoric.”
Rosenblatt is referring to political pressure some progressive groups have applied to corporations doing business with Israel; by encouraging consumers to boycott these companies and investors to divest from their firms, these groups hope to change some of these enterprises’ political positions.
But perhaps Rosenblatt shouldn’t be surprised. Despite the fact that Verizon is America’s largest cell phone carrier company as of 2016, the conglomerate is far from apolitical when it comes to fundraising and the candidates it supports.
In 2016, Verizon was one of the largest corporate contributors to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. In the past, the company heavily donated to her family’s highly corrupt Clinton Foundation.
It should also be noted that both Clinton and her former boss, ex-President Barack Obama, were no strangers to anti-Israeli positions and speech during their respective government tenures. Both Obama and Clinton were strongly supportive of the “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (which President Trump has backed away from).
The Obama administration also repeatedly admonished Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for continuing to push for Israeli settlements in the country’s divided West Bank.
In 2016, Israeli-American relations hit a low point when the U.S. abstained from — rather than opposed — a resolution on the condemnation of settlements at the United Nations. (The resolution otherwise passed unanimously, supported by Palestinian-friendly nations such as China and Russia).
So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that Verizon might adopt the political positions of the candidates it’s historically supported. For its part, however, a Verizon spokesman blamed the issue on technology, rather than politics.
Scott Charleston, speaking on behalf of the telecommunications giant, said that the airport Mark Rosenblatt and other travelers have passed through “is close to the Israeli border [with the West Bank], and there are cell sites and wireless signals from different providers on both sides.”
“In general, customers living in or visiting border areas occasionally receive a wireless signal from a cross-border provider. When powering up or leaving airplane mode, the phone connects to the strongest signal available at the time.”
Charleston then related the tale of a T-Mobile customer who had received the same message in 2015.
But for travelers like Rosenblatt, these tales don’t mesh with a positive customer experience.
“Most of Israel is close to a border,” he says. “Verizon should be able to handle this challenge; it must happen all the time. I’d like to hear Verizon admit that it can do better and then [actually] do better.”
Andrea Levin, the director of the media watchdog group Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), agrees. Private companies “should get their facts straight like anyone else,” she says.
“There is no state of Palestine. If the Palestinian Authority (PA) were to agree to two states for two peoples, that might be a possibility. But PA President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly said no. Why is Verizon pretending otherwise?”
When Verizon was questioned specifically why it recognizes “Palestine” as a location, the company couldn’t provide an answer. The firm might be tempted to say that a 2012 UN resolution that granted Palestinians “non-member observer state” status could be a reason for the messaging, but all this means is that collectively, they’re allowed limited participation in UN General Assembly activities.
Currently, no Palestinian political entities meet the requirements of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, an internationally recognized criteria standard for establishing statehood.
The agreement signed at the eponymous convention in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1933 has been in force since 1934. According to Shimon Mercer-Wood, spokesman for Israel’s Consulate General in New York, Palestinian claims of statehood not only don’t meet the convention’s criteria, but they also violate the Oslo Accords, which state that Palestinian statehood is still subject to final status negotiation.
“I can only hope the information in the monthly bills Verizon sends its subscribers is more accurate,” he chided.
Whether Verizon will change the messaging remains to be seen. However, given the firm’s past political history, it’s unlikely that a few customer complaints will budge it one way or the other. Perhaps an amplification of the issue on social media inspired by the company’s “Can You Hear Me Now?” ad campaign might do the trick.
~ Liberty Planet