Israel condemns UN list of settlement-linked firms; Palestinians welcome it
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Rivlin: 'I am proud to give these businesses a platform'

Israel condemns UN list of settlement-linked firms; Palestinians welcome it

Jerusalem concerned the list of 112 firms — 94 of them Israeli — could be used to justify a large-scale boycott, accuse the UN of anti-Semitism and bias

A view of the Israeli West Bank settlement of Ariel, January 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
A view of the Israeli West Bank settlement of Ariel, January 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Jerusalem harshly condemned a United Nations “blacklist” of more than 100 firms operating in the West Bank on Wednesday, with President Reuven Rivlin describing its release as recalling “dark periods in our history.”

“We will contest this with all of our strength,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared in an interview with Army Radio.

“We will gain recognition of our sovereignty over these communities and this will cancel its effect,” he said.

The list, which contains the names of 112 firms — 94 Israeli and 18 foreign, including Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Booking.com and Motorola Solutions — was published by the United Nations’ human rights office in response to a 2016 UN Human Rights Council resolution calling for a “database for all businesses engaged in specific activities related to Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

A picture taken on June 18, 2018, in Geneva, Switzerland, shows a general view during the opening of the 38th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. (AFP/Alain Grosclaude)

It was scheduled to be released three years ago, but was repeatedly delayed.

Alongside the presence of several large international firms, the majority of companies on the list are Israeli, including all major banks, state-owned transportation companies Egged and Israel Railways Corporation, and telecommunications giants Bezeq, HOT and Cellcom. It also lists medium-size companies such as restaurant chain Café Café and Angel bakeries.

The UN rights office said that listing companies in the database was “not, and does not purport to be, a judicial or quasi-judicial process.”

“I am conscious this issue has been, and will continue to be, highly contentious,” UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said.

But she added that the findings had been subject to an “extensive and meticulous review process” and the report “reflects the serious consideration that has been given to this unprecedented and highly complex mandate.”

Businesses may ask to be delisted if they can prove that they no longer provide material support to settlements, Bachelet’s office said.

But Israeli officials voiced concern that the UN list would be used to justify a large-scale boycott of the country’s private sector. They also more broadly questioned the legitimacy of the Human Rights Council itself.

Israel is the only country with a dedicated agenda item at the Council, meaning the Jewish state’s conduct is automatically discussed at each session.

The United States, which no longer considers settlements illegal, has withdrawn from the council, in part over its treatment of Israel.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at the opening day of the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, February 25, 2019 (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

The list constitutes “a shameful surrender to pressure from countries and organizations who want to harm Israel,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a statement, adding that multiple countries had expressed concern about it.

“The decision of the commissioner to continue with the anti-Israel line of the Human Rights Council is a stain on the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,” Katz said.

“The commissioner failed to maintain the honor of the UN… this decision will have consequences for our relations with the council and the commissioner.”

During an event as his official residence in Jerusalem, President Rivlin hailed Israeli companies included on the list as “patriots,” adding “I am proud to give these businesses a platform… Although we do not promote private businesses here in this house, when Israeli businesses are under the threat of boycott, we will stand with them.”

“Boycotting Israeli companies does not advance the cause of peace and does not build confidence between the sides. We call on our friends around the world to speak out against this shameful initiative, which recalls dark periods in our history,” he added.

Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, the de facto opposition leader, called Wednesday “a dark day for human rights.” Taking to Twitter, he asserted that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had “lost touch with reality.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) meets with heads of Israeli settlement authorities at the Alon Shvut settlement, in the Gush Etzion block in the West Bank on November 19, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Settlement leaders also blasted the list, with the Yesha Council, an umbrella group representing settlement interests, claiming that it had “clear anti-Semitic features” and that its release proved that the UN was “a biased, non-neutral body that acts against the State of Israel.”

“Another disgraceful decision by the Human Rights Council, which proves once again the UN’s consistent anti-Semitism and Israel-hatred,” said Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who is in charge of fighting boycotts and so-called delegitimization of Israel.

“The UN Human Rights Council, which consists of tyrannical states and despot regimes, proves once again that it is a rotten institution that makes delusional decisions which have no connection to actual human rights,” Erdan added.

Economy Minister Eli Cohen said the blacklist could leave “thousands of Palestinians unemployed,” accusing the Geneva-based council of “modern anti-Semitism.”

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, on the other hand, welcomed the list.

“The publication of this list of companies and parties working in the settlements is a victory for international law,” he said in a statement posted on the ministry’s Facebook page. He also urged member states of the UN Human Rights Council to study the list and recommend and instruct the companies cited on it to terminate their operations in the settlements.

Rafael Ahren contributed to this report.

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