Nearly four years in the making, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Wednesday unexpectedly published a list of more than 100 companies that conduct business in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Israeli reacted angrily to the publication of the blacklist, denouncing the UN body responsible for compiling it and vowing to protect Israeli financial interests. The Palestinians, meanwhile, celebrated a “victory for international law.”
Most of the 112 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 blacklist also names 18 international enterprises, such as Motorola, Airbnb, Trip Advisor, Expedia and General Mills (all from the US), Alstom (from France) and Greenkote (from the UK).
“We will contest this [blacklist] with all of our strength,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Army Radio Wednesday. “We will gain recognition for our sovereignty over these communities and this will cancel its effect.”
“I am proud to give these businesses a platform,” President Reuven Rivlin said after reading out a long list of Israeli companies mentioned on the list.
“I am proud that these are Israeli businesses, patriots who contribute to Israeli society, to economy and to peace. 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,” he said during an event at his official Jerusalem residence.
“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 reminds us of dark periods in our history,” he said.
Businesses may ask to be delisted if they can prove that they no longer provide material support to Israeli settlements, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, said Wednesday. The list will be updated annually.
UN Human Rights Office issues a report on business enterprises involved in certain activities relating to the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in response to a specific request by @UN_HRC. Learn more: https://t.co/qDVrtFZKwV
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) February 12, 2020
Israeli politicians from across the political spectrum denounced the blacklist’s publication.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz called it a “shameful surrender” to pressure from countries that seek to hurt Israel. He claimed that by publishing the list, the UN Human Rights Council joined the anti-Israel boycott movement, but stressed that the database is not legally binding.
“The State of Israel will not accept discriminatory and anti-Israeli policies and we will work in all ways to prevent such decisions from being implemented,” he declared.
“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 only achievement of the publication of the blacklist is that it will hurt the livelihoods of thousands of Palestinians who coexist and cooperate with Israelis on a daily basis in Judea and Samaria,” he said, using the Biblical terms for the West Bank.
Economy Minister Eli Cohen said the blacklist could leave “thousands of Palestinians unemployed,” accusing the Geneva-based council of “modern anti-Semitism.”
De facto opposition leader Benny Gantz, who heads the Blue and White party, also decried the database. “This is a dark day for human rights. The UN Human Rights Council has lost touch with reality,” he said.
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.
In March 2016, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva passed a resolution requesting the compilation of a database listing “activities that raised particular human rights concerns” in the Palestinian territories. Such activities were defined as providing material and services that would support the expansion of, or help “maintain,” Israel settlements.
Other activities that got companies on the list include the use of the West Bank’s natural resources “in particular water and land,” the pollution of Palestinian villages and “captivity of the Palestinian financial and economic markets, as well as practices that disadvantage Palestinian enterprises, including through restrictions on movement, administrative and legal constraints.”
Israel, the US and the UK for years tried to block the publication of the blacklist. It was unclear why it was published this week.
“I am conscious this issue has been, and will continue to be, highly contentious,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bachelet.
“However, after an extensive and meticulous review process, we are satisfied this fact-based report reflects the serious consideration that has been given to this unprecedented and highly complex mandate, and that it responds appropriately to the Human Rights Council’s request contained in resolution 31/36,” Bachelet said, referring to the council resolution that asked for the report.
The database’s publication this week marks a major setback for Israel’s settlement movement, coming only three months after the European Court of Justice ruled that the labeling regime for Israeli products from the West Bank is legally binding.
The Yesha Council umbrella group issued a statement Wednesday accusing the Human Rights Council of anti-Semitism and urging Israeli citizens to make special efforts to purchase goods made in the settlements.
Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.