Hydro-Québec ends collaboration with Israeli power firm

Ali Abunimah 29 August 2019
Activists in Quebec are celebrating after their national electricity company declined to renew an agreement with its Israeli counterpart.

“This victory is important for us in Quebec,” John Philpot, an international lawyer and a member of the Coalition BDS Québec, told The Electronic Intifada.
“We in Quebec are proud of succeeding in our solidarity campaign in support of the Palestinian people, victims of the Zionist and colonialist occupation of their homeland.”
In May 2017, the national power generator Hydro-Québec and the Israel Electric Corporation signed a “partnership agreement” to share “best practices” in the field of cybersecurity.
At the time, Hydro-Québec board chair Michael Penner claimed it was “an extraordinary opportunity for Hydro-Québec to join forces with a company with world-renowned cybersecurity expertise.”
But campaigners saw it as a collaboration with a state company that is deeply complicit in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights and international law.
The Israel Electric Corporation exploits Palestinians, a captive market due to military occupation and colonization.
It also supplies and profits from Israeli settlements built in the occupied West Bank.
Construction of such settlements is a war crime.
The Israeli company has also implemented cuts to Gaza’s already desperately inadequate power supply, a collective punishment and a violation of international humanitarian law.
When asked why the Israel Electric Corporation implemented punitive power cuts affecting hospitals in Gaza that were ordered by the Israeli government, the company’s director responded, “It’s our job.”
It was also an odd choice for Hydro-Québec to partner with any Israeli state firm in pursuit of “cybersecurity.”
Israel and its war industry are notorious for electronic espionage that jeopardizes the privacy, security and even the lives of Palestinians as well as of journalists and human rights defenders all over the world.
“Not politically motivated”
Hydro-Québec confirmed Wednesday in an email to The Electronic Intifada that the agreement with the Israeli electricity company has not been renewed.
The Quebec company had also confirmed in an 18 June letter to Coalition BDS Québec that the agreement was allowed to lapse. The Hydro-Québec spokesperson shared a copy of that letter with The Electronic Intifada.
The company’s email to The Electronic Intifada states that the decision “was not politically motivated in any way or the result of pressure from BDS Québec.”
It added that the agreement “signed in May 2017, lasted two years. It ended, as initially planned, in May 2019.”
However, Hydro-Québec’s memorandum of understanding with the Israel Electric Corporation – which Philpot only this month succeeded in obtaining under Quebec’s freedom of information law – states that the agreement “may be renewed with the written consent of both parties.”
In early August, moreover, the company told the Journal de Québec newspaper that it had “learned a lot” from its collaboration with Israel.
Given that threats to cybersecurity are ongoing and evolving, Hydro-Québec could be expected to continue what it claims was a fruitful partnership.
What is clear is that Hydro-Québec did not renew the agreement.
Typically, corporations will say that pulling out of a particular activity is strictly a business decision.
And that is fair: Whether companies acknowledge it or not, reputational damage is a valid business concern, especially when it comes to partnering with major human rights violators.
In 2017, for instance, Air Canada confirmed to Palestine solidarity activists that it had terminated early a maintenance contract with an Israeli military firm.
It did not give a reason why.
Symbol of national pride
Hydro-Québec will be particularly sensitive to its reputation.
It played a key role in the Canadian province’s development.
As such it has become a symbol of national pride in Quebec, a province where there has historically been strong solidarity with Palestine.
The firm also has its own colonial history: Indigenous people long resisted Hydro-Québec for its major role in their dispossession and the destruction of their homelands and way of life.
Palestinian solidarity activists hope Hydro-Québec’s decision to end its collaboration with the Israel Electric Corporation will pave the way for more wins.
“This small step must be followed by campaigns to end Canadian political and economic support for Zionist policy,” Philpot said. “Boycott, divestment and sanctions is one of many ways to defeat Zionism.”