UN blacklists companies with ties to Israeli settlements

The Foreign Ministry said it was cutting off ties with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Michelle Bachelet, which had compiled the list.

Overview of the United Nations Human Rights Council is seen in Geneva, Switzerland June 6, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Overview of the United Nations Human Rights Council is seen in Geneva, Switzerland June 6, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The United Nations on Wednesday published its long anticipated controversial blacklist of businesses that operate in Jewish areas over the pre-1967 lines, in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights.
The United States and Israel worked for over three years to suppress the publication of the data base, dubbed “the blacklist,” which they feared would be used to to help those who oppose Israel’s present over the pre-1967 lines, boycott businesses with ties to those areas. Israel is the only country against which such a list has been complied of businesses suspected by breaking international law.
The Foreign Ministry said it was cutting off ties with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Michelle Bachelet, which had compiled the list.
"Whoever boycotts us will be boycotted,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response.
The Palestinian Authority welcomed the release of the data and pledged to use the information to force those companies not to operate beyond the pre-1967 lines.
"We will pursue companies listed in the report legally through international legal institutions and in courts in their countries for taking part in human rights violations in Palestine," PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said. Palestinians will "demand compensation" for what he called the "use of our occupied land illegally,” he added.
The publication of the list comes in the aftermath of the Trump administration’s recognition that West Bank settlements are not illegal and that Israel can apply sovereignty to the communities in Judea and Samaria. The US also recognizes Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights and in most of Jerusalem.
The list included 112 business entities – 94 domiciled in Israel and 18 in six other countries – which it has reasonable grounds to conclude have ties with Israeli settlements. These countries include the United States, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Thailand and Luxembourg.
The OHCHR said it had examined an additional 76 companies, that were ultimately not included in the list.
Among those companies listed were major international food conglomerate General Mills, which produces world-renowned brands such as Cheerio's cereal and Häagen-Dazs ice cream; American hospitality company Airbnb; communications company Motorola Solutions; and transportation company Egged, along with many others.
The United Nations Human Rights Council had requested the database in 2016, so that it could highlight the illegality of Israeli settlement activity.
Both the US and Israel withdrew two years ago from the UNHRC to protest what they said was its biased treatment of the Jewish state.
Netanyahu said on Wednesday, “The UN Human Rights Council is a biased body that is devoid of influence. Not for nothing have I already ordered the severing of ties with it. It was also not for nothing that the American administration has taken this step together with us.
“In recent years, we have promoted laws in most US states, which determine that strong action is to be taken against whoever tries to boycott Israel. Therefore, this body is unimportant. Instead of the organization dealing with human rights, it only tries to disparage Israel. We strongly reject this contemptible effort,” Netanyahu said.
Sources in Jerusalem said that Israel was given only an hour notice prior to the publication of the list, learning of it via the Americans. They added that OHCHR and/or High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet had not spoken with Israel about it.
Rachel Risby Raz, whose family owns a firm that provides security guards, said that no one from the UN had been in touch with the company before publication of the list, which she heard about only from the media.
She knew that her company could be on it, because it had been contacted two years ago by OHCHR. She went on line and found her company on the list on the UN web site.
“It seems quite ridiculous the whole concept of the list,” particlurly the concern that people like her self who offer an important service to save lives were somehow profiting by allegedly breaking international law.
President Reuven Rivlin read out the names of some of the companies at an event at his residence in Jerusalem.
“I am proud to give these businesses a platform. Proud to be Israeli. 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,” Rivlin said.
“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 of dark periods in our history," he added.
“I am conscious this issue has been, and will continue to be, highly contentious,” Bachelet said.
“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,” she said.
The OHCHR said that, “while the settlements as such are regarded as illegal under international law, this report does not provide a legal characterization of the activities in question, or of business enterprises’ involvement in them.”
Bachelet’s spokesman, Rupert Colville, said in videotaped remarks made available to reporters that work on the report involved extensive cross-checking and use of company annual reports.
He said it was "not a blacklist, nor does it qualify any companies' activities as illegal."
The data base will be presented at the upcoming UNHRC’s 43rd session that opens in Geneva on February 24. UNHRC documents have no standing in and of themselves, but are often used as the basis for UN decisions elsewhere. They could also become part of the PA’s drive to pursue Israel at the International Criminal Court. The ICC is already examining whether to allow for legal action on the issue of Israeli settlements.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz accused the UN of shamefully surrendering to organizations that sought to harm Israel and said the list was a “stain" on Bachelet office. Her accused her of being a servant and accomplice of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“The State of Israel will not accept such discriminatory and anti-Israeli policies, and we will work in all ways to prevent such decisions from being implemented,” Katz said.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan slammed the “ disgraceful decision,” adding that the only thing it will achieve is hurting "the livelihoods of thousands of Palestinians who coexistence and cooperate with Israelis on a daily basis in Judea and Samaria."
Diaspora Affairs Minister Tzipi Hotovely called the blacklist a "shameful, hypocritical" decision, and said that "no blacklist will undermine the historical connection of the Jewish people to their country."
The Yesha Council condemned the blacklist as antisemitic.
"For the State of Israel, these are businesses that work to strengthen the region's economy and contribute to peace more than anything the UN has done in all its years of operation.
The council also called on the Israeli people to support the companies on the list.
Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan said that in response to the blacklist, the State of Israel should annex the West Bank and apply sovereignty.
"The State of Israel's answer to this antisemitic decision should be to apply sovereignty," he said in a statement, adding that, "there is an attempt here to hurt the State of Israel, and make it a leper in public opinion.
"And so the State of Israel should treat it like a war," Dagan said.
Anne Herzberg, legal adviser and UN Liaison at NGO Monitor said,"These companies have done nothing wrong, and many are involved in providing goods and services to Palestinians pursuant to the Oslo Accords.
"This list was made in conjunction with pro-BDS and PFLP-linked NGOs," Herzberg said. “The maligned companies should begin assessing plans to take legal action against the UN officials who prepared the list and those who will propagate its false claims.
Palestinians and left-wing organization in contrast, welcomed the move with PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki's office calling to  UN member states and the UNHRC  to "issue recommendations and instructions to these companies to end their work immediately with the settlements.”
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said the release of the data base, “enhances and consolidates the credibility of the Human Rights Council and international organizations in the face of the fierce attack and the intense pressure that the Trump administration places on these institutions to impede the implementation of its legal and humanitarian mandate entrusted to it by the international community.”
“While this list does not include all the companies profiting from Israel's illegal colonial-settlement enterprise in occupied Palestine, it's a crucial first step to restore hope in multilateralism and international law,” Erekat said.
“We call upon all companies to end their complicity in the denial of our inalienable right to self-determination... This database is the first concrete step towards holding Israel accountable for its illegal colonial-settlement enterprise in over half a century. It should serve as a reminder to the international community on the importance of strengthening the tools to implement international law at a time when the illegality of Israeli settlements is being challenged by those calling for the perpetuation of Israel’s control over the land, natural resources and the people of Palestine,” Erekat said.
Bruno Stagno, deputy executive director for advocacy at Human Rights Watch, said, “The long awaited release of the UN settlement business database should put all companies on notice: to do business with illegal settlements is to aid in the commission of war crimes. The database marks critical progress in the global effort to ensure businesses end complicity in rights abuse and respect international law. The UN’s top rights body should ensure that the database is regularly updated to assist companies in complying with their international legal obligations.”
Jerusalem Post Staff and Reuters contributed to this report.