U.N. Publishes List of Firms Doing Business With Israeli Settlements

Originally Published in 
Feb. 12, 2020


GENEVA — The United Nations on Wednesday published a much-delayed and contentious list of 112 companies doing business with Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, drawing praise from human rights groups and denunciations from Israel.


Publication of the list was seen as a victory for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which has sought to pressure Israel economically over the settlements, which most of the world considers a violation of international law.


The Israeli government views the B.D.S. movement, which has supporters in many countries including in the United States, as an anti-Semitic plan to delegitimize Israel. B.D.S. supporters deny that accusation.


The United Nations said companies placed on the list had undertaken business “that raised particular human rights concerns” like facilitating the construction, expansion or maintenance of Israeli settlements or the demolition of Palestinian housing and property.


Most of the listed companies are Israeli but a few are international companies, including Motorola Solutions, General Mills, Airbnb, TripAdvisor, and Expedia from the United States; Alstom and Egis Rail of France; and JC Bamford Excavators of Britain.


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which compiled and published the list, was acting in accordance with instructions by the Human Rights Council in 2016. In a reflection of the political sensitivity surrounding the list, the office said the list had no judicial or legal status.


Still, the reaction among Israeli officials was furious.


“Whoever boycotts us will be boycotted,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that called the Human Rights Council “a biased body that is devoid of influence.” Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, condemned its publication as a “shameful surrender” to countries and organizations that he said wanted to hurt Israel.


Israel and its most important ally in the United Nations, the United States, have long condemned the Human Rights Council for what they describe as promotion of an anti-Israeli agenda. The United States withdrew from the council in June of 2018, calling its passage of numerous resolutions critical of Israel “clear proof that the council is motivated by political bias, not human rights.”


Some of the Israeli reaction on Wednesday was equally unsparing of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile.


The Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz, in condemning the publication, said Ms. Bachelet’s office had “lost touch with reality.”


Israel’s mission in Geneva, home to Ms. Bachelet’s office, lamented that she had succumbed to pressure to publish the “defamatory blacklist” and had “lost all credibility or ability to promote human rights in our region.”


Publication of the list would have profound consequences for Israel’s relations with the high commissioner’s office, the Israeli mission said.


The Palestinian leadership, on the other hand, welcomed the move.


Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said it “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.”


He said it was a “crucial first step to restore hope in multilateralism and international law.”


The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement welcomed publication of the list, describing it as a “first significant and concrete step by any U.N. entity” toward holding Israeli and international businesses to account for profiting from Israeli settlements.


Publication of the list came a day after the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, denounced the Trump administration’s plan for Middle East peace in an address at the U.N. in New York. The plan would allow Israel to annex about 30 percent of the West Bank, including all its settlements there, while offering the Palestinians chunks of territory connected by tunnels and bridges that they could call a state.


Human Rights Watch, an international human rights group, endorsed publication of the list, saying it served notice to companies that “to do business with illegal settlements is to aid in the commission of war crimes.”


Omar Shakir, the group’s representative in Israel until his deportation in November, said in an email that the list’s release underscored international rejection of Israeli and U.S. efforts to legitimize Israeli settlements.


The high commissioner’s office was supposed to produce the list in 2017. But it repeatedly delayed release, saying there were complications verifying companies’ data.


An interim report at the start of 2018 said the office had identified 206 companies doing business with the settlements. Some were removed from the final list after further investigation showed they were not doing business with settlements.


The practical effects of publishing the database are unclear given the report’s explicit statement that it has no legal standing. .


Still, publication “can deliver a significant economic blow” to the companies named, Ofer Zalzberg, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group said on Twitter.


Even before its release, he added, some Israeli firms had encountered difficulties raising loans that required proof of legal conduct, merely on the strength of unconfirmed reports they might be included.


The list formally connects companies to Israeli settlements that are illegal in international law and could prompt some companies doing business with them to end their ties, Mr. Zalzberg said.


Most of the American companies on the list did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


But General Mills said in an emailed statement that it had been listed because of a manufacturing facility that makes Pillsbury products like bread and croissants in an industrial park in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Atarot.The statement said half the workers are Palestinian and that “every employee has full social benefits without prejudice to race, religion or nationality.”


Original publication