Commentary about Israel and Gaza continues to draw swift rebukes — on all sides of the conflict. With corporate boycotts and political punditry in high gear, CCI editorial director Jennifer L. Gaskin explores the ethics and compliance implications.
Most of the other stories you’ll see on this site today were contributed by thought leaders from across the corporate integrity community. The subject matter could be compliance careers, or it could be third-party risk management, or it might be internal investigations.
Regardless of what they’re about, all of these stories started off the same way — a pitch. When a writer wants to publish something on our site, they send us an email about it, letting us know what their article covers so we can determine if it’s right for you, our readers. In any given week, we’ll receive 50-75 of these pitches, and when major news events occur, we tend to see a spike in pitches surrounding the implications of that news event on corporate integrity.
When news began to break about the terrorist attack by Hamas in early October and especially after Israel’s retaliatory strikes and subsequent invasion of Gaza, I expected to start receiving pitches related to the renewed violence in the Middle East.
But that hasn’t happened. At all. In fact, we have not received a single pitch addressing the compliance, risk, governance or corporate culture issues related to the continued fighting in Gaza, and not because there aren’t any. The violence in Gaza touches any number of related subjects, including risk management, ethics and culture.
With the high tension surrounding this issue, it’s obvious why writers aren’t pitching us on it: Nobody wants to take the risk. This conflict is the third rail when it comes to thought leadership, at least in our industry: Touch it and you get fried.
Why is this different?
Corporate integrity professionals are, naturally, risk-averse people. Their jobs generally don’t involve being at the vanguard of politics, and the industry thought leaders who contribute to our pages tend to be measured and careful about what they say. So their reticence on any sensitive subject is understandable.
However, many have gotten past those hesitations to address other global conflicts, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which drew contributions about the interconnected risk implications, the threat of civil unrest, sanctions, banking, supply chain disruptions, anti-corruption efforts and business continuity planning.
And contributors have addressed thorny issues closer to home, including the murder of George Floyd, Covid-era myths about HIPAA compliance, the 2022 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and gender expression.
I’ve suggested edits to authors on topics that obliquely touch Gaza without mentioning it directly, such as counter-terrorism financing and cryptocurrency, and they’ve steered clear of the conflict. Even in asking for quotes for this column, most people I talked to (understandably) chose not to participate, even though there are compliance, risk and corporate integrity depths to be explored.
“I think it is easy and morally necessary to denounce the brutal terrorist attacks by Hamas against Israel on Oct.7,” ethics consultant and frequent columnist Lisa Schor Babin said, “but it is difficult to provide an opinion beyond this without offending someone on any side of this conflict. The safest and easiest is, of course, to remain silent, but I’m surprised that there’s been so much silence from this community when there could be discussion of our shared humanity in this bigger conflict.”
The nature of the current crisis, with its roots in generational religious matters, also plays a role, Schor Babin said, as does the room for contradiction, which separates Gaza from other issues.
“Many of these other topics … are very binary, though there’s always some nuance, as is certainly the case with peoples’ views on abortion rights, for example,” Schor Babin said. “But this is not a binary issue. We all must condemn terrorism, including the brutal terrorist attacks by Hamas against Israel on Oct.7. But about the larger topic of the Israel-Hamas war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I think that many are very conflicted, as it is possible to hold two or more conflicting views on this situation and for all of them to be true and genuine. This is also a profoundly personal topic for many, as it relates to one’s identity, history, ethnicity, heritage, religion — all of which may be in conflict with our particular political views.”
What are an employer’s responsibilities at a time like this?
In many industries, weighing in on this conflict in any way could have serious consequences for an individual’s career. Indeed, both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian viewpoints have been met with backlash that has cost people their jobs.
Such terminations may fall within the bounds of the law, depending on the applicable ordinances and contractual agreements.
“The law does not currently distinguish between ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here: If the employer is offended, then they usually have sufficient justification to rescind the offer,” California-based employment lawyer Ryan Stygar told HuffPost.
That doesn’t mean employers don’t owe anything to their workers, Schor Babin said.
“First and foremost, [employers should] provide a forum and tools for speaking up about concerns and fears for their safety and provide a safe environment for them to do so,” Schor Babin said.
The fears Schor Babin speaks of are not theoretical. In Chicago, for example, incidents targeting both Jews and Muslims have surged since the Hamas attacks, and similar upticks in bias-motivated attacks have been reported elsewhere.
“There’s a very long history of antisemitism, and these events have stirred up a lot of fear and anger of antisemitism that, it turns out, lies just beneath the surface and is now coming out in full force in every walk of life” Schor Babin said. “It’s frightening, and I can say that from personal experience. At the same time, Islamophobia in this country is also very serious and frightening and widespread. In short, this is not a conflict happening somewhere on the other side of the world. This is happening in our own backyards and sometimes even between friends and family.”
But when it comes to what’s considered out-of-bounds, companies must be up-front about their policies and what happens if those policies are violated, she said: “Provide clear policies for employees to understand their protections and responsibilities, as well as consequences for non-compliance.”