In the ever-changing landscape of global politics, corporations have often been known to voice their opinions, aligning their values with various causes. Be it ESG investing, as championed by Blackrock or as Disney has done; or the stance of mainstream corporate America on Donald Trump after the Capitol riots – businesses often find themselves in a position to react.
Yet, one conflict that has seen many companies typically shy away is the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian issue. This changed recently when Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel unveiled a barbaric scale, compelling many businesses to shift from silence to solidarity.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a respected professor at the Yale School of Management, put it aptly, “Saying nothing speaks to cowardice”. He continued, “They’ll have a hard time celebrating their corporate character and what they stand for if they sit mutely on the sidelines”.
The Corporate Rally for Israel
In the aftermath of the attacks, numerous corporations extended their support to Israel. Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, expressed his heartbreak over the "horrific terrorist attacks on Israel." Sundar Pichai, Google's CEO, shared his deep sadness over the events.
Disney made a generous contribution of $2 million for humanitarian relief in Israel. According to Reuters, financial institutions also made substantial donations. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld keeps a tab on these contributions and noted that about 80 household-name companies in America condemned the Hamas attacks.
Lior Susan, founding partner of the venture capital firm Eclipse, emphasized the importance of corporate stands. "Not taking a stand is taking a stand," Susan told CNN, highlighting the necessity for moral clarity and leadership amidst the Israel-Hamas confrontation.
Richard Griffiths, a communications expert at London-based Citigate Dewe Rogerson, paralleled this with the corporate response to the Russian attacks on Ukraine. He mentioned an increased expectation for companies to act rightfully and vocalize their stand.
But he also reminded that the Israel-Hamas scenario is intricate, being a conflict between Israel and an internationally recognized terrorist group. Griffiths advocates that businesses should prioritize showing solidarity with everyone impacted, focusing mainly on humanitarian relief.
Griffiths also emphasized that the company's stance should echo the sentiments of its employees, customers, and investors. "It is important to understand what stakeholder expectations are before you wade in." Concluding on a steadfast note, Sonnenfeld iterated, "A company has to have the courage of its convictions," emphasizing the importance of standing firm, no matter the stand.
His tracking of foreign companies' activities in Russia played a role in influencing corporate decisions there, showcasing the power and impact of such convictions.