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From ESG investing (BlackRock) to LGBTQ+ rights (Disney) to Donald Trump (mainstream corporate America) after the Capitol riots, companies regularly take a position. Sometimes, like Nike and Colin Kaepernick, it benefits their financial performance. Sometimes, it has the opposite effect — consider Bud Light’s endorsement of transgender rights.
Perhaps wisely, most companies refrain from involvement in the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But when the magnitude of Hamas’s brutal attacks on Israel became evident on October 7, staying silent was no longer an option.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management specializing in corporate leadership, among other subjects, remarked, “Keeping quiet demonstrates cowardice.” “If they remain on the sidelines without taking a stand, they will struggle to celebrate their corporate character and principles.”
Bearing this in mind, numerous companies have rallied in support of Israel. Microsoft (MSFT) CEO Satya Nadella expressed being “appalled by the horrific terrorist attacks on Israel.” Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, said he felt “very sad”. Disney (DIS) donated $2 million to humanitarian relief efforts in Israel, and banks have also made substantial contributions. In total, approximately 80 well-known companies in the US have denounced Hamas attacks, according to Sonnenfeld, who maintains a list.
However, many organizations have adopted a more cautious approach, especially those outside of the United States. In the United Kingdom, Tottenham Hotspur football club, which has historical ties to its Jewish fans, faced criticism after expressing being “shocked and saddened by the escalating crisis in Israel and Gaza.”
In response to the mention of Gaza, one fan replied, “Never call yourself a Jewish club again.” Another remarked, “You guys are absolutely pathetic.”
Paddy Cosgrove, CEO of Web Summit, which claims to be the world’s largest technology conference, was compelled to apologize after accusing Israel of war crimes.
In the perspective of Lior Susan, founding partner of venture capital firm Eclipse, simply staying under the radar or being evasive is not a viable response.
“No one is taking To take a position,” Susan, who served in the Israeli special forces, told CNN. “Companies need to demonstrate moral clarity and leadership in the face of the Israel-Hamas conflict.”
Richard Griffiths, managing director of London-based strategic communications consultancy Citygate Dave Rogerson, makes a similar argument. “We witnessed during the Russian incursions into Ukraine that there are now much higher expectations for companies to be seen as doing the right thing and keeping their promises,” he stated.
However, with the Israel-Hamas conflict, he warns that the situation is more intricate. “This is a conflict between Israel and an internationally recognized terrorist organization,” he informed CNN. “The wisest course of action for businesses now is to express solidarity with all those affected by this conflict, with an emphasis on humanizing the issue.”
Whatever approach a company adopts should be based on “the impact it will have on your employees, customers, and investors,” explained Griffiths. “It is crucial to understand the expectations of stakeholders before moving forward with any action.”
And once a stance is taken, companies must remain resolute.
“A company must have the courage to stand by its convictions,” declared Sonnenfeld, whose list of foreign companies still operating in Russia is credited with triggering a rush of corporate investments in the country, “regardless of what those convictions may be.”