GENEVA — In a letter made public Tuesday the UN human rights chief said her office will not publish as expected this month a highly controversial report about companies doing business in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The move by High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet follows a campaign by the United States and others to squelch publication of what Israel called a “blacklist” that could drive away investment.
UN officials made public a letter she sent citing the “complexity” of the task mandated by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2016.
The UNHRC first voted in 2016 for the creation of the database, which is intended to list all companies doing business with Israelis situated in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, but its release has since been repeatedly delayed. It was expected to be published during the council’s session that ends March 22.
Israeli officials has slammed the plan as a “blacklist” meant to encourage boycotts of the Jewish state, and Washington has also expressed concerns over the database. Pro-Palestinian activists have for years encouraged boycotts of companies doing business with Israeli settlements, such as Caterpillar and G4S.
There was no immediate reaction from Israeli authorities.
The World Jewish Congress praised the delay and called on Bachelet to cancel the database altogether. It charged that the list’s backers “often promote an agenda venturing on discourse that is antisemitic and hurtful to the Jewish people.”
The database’s release was first delayed in February 2017, nearly a year after the Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling for it to be created. It was again pushed back in December of that year, then once more in January 2018. At that time an interim report said 206 companies, mostly Israeli and American, were facing a review of business practices involving Israeli settlements.
Of the 206 companies under review, 143 are based in Israel (including in settlements), 22 in the United States, seven in Germany, five in the Netherlands and four in France. The companies in question were not named.
The list has been said to include Israeli banks, supermarkets, restaurant chains, bus lines and security firms, as well as international giants that provide equipment or services used to build or maintain settlements.
The interim report excoriated the businesses operating in areas considered occupied by the international community and dismissed as insufficient the Israeli argument that they provide jobs for the local Palestinian population.
“This argument does not recognize that the presence of the settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which is unlawful, serves to depress the Palestinian economy and to reduce opportunities for Palestinian businesses to thrive,” the report stated.
“The violations of human rights associated with the settlements are pervasive and devastating, reaching every facet of Palestinian life,” it said, citing restrictions on movement, freedom of religion, education and land ownership faced by Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. “Businesses play a central role in furthering the establishment, maintenance and expansion of Israeli settlements.”
In February 2018 then US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley slammed the upcoming report as “a waste of time and resources” that showed an “anti-Israeli obsession.”
The blacklist was one of a series of reports critical of Israel expected to be released this month, including one reportedly accusing the military of war crimes over its response to violent protests by Palestinians on the Gaza border.
According to the pro-Israel watchdog group UN Watch, other reports are set to accuse Israel of alleged human rights violations in the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War war, and in territories claimed by the Palestinians for a future state
Last month Hillel Neuer, the head of UN Watch, said the number of reports focusing on Israel expected to be released in March appeared to be a “world record.”
Israel is not a member of the 47-member UNHRC, while the US pulled out in June 2018 and later cut its funding to the organization, partly due to what Washington called its “unrelenting bias” against Israel.