World News

U.N. Examines 206 Companies Over Links to Israeli Settlements

Posted January 31, 2018 10:17 p.m. EST
Updated January 31, 2018 11:08 p.m. EST

GENEVA — The United Nations rattled Israel on Wednesday by disclosing that it was examining more than 200 companies doing business with Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank but deferred naming any of them until it had completed a review of their activities.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a long-anticipated report that an initial review of 321 companies had identified 206 that were involved in doing business with the settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.

Of those identified, 143 were based in Israel and 22 were in the United States, the United Nations said. The remaining 41 companies were spread among 19 countries, mostly in Europe, including Germany, the Netherlands, France and Britain.

“The violations of human rights associated with the settlements are pervasive and devastating, reaching every facet of Palestinian life,” including restrictions on movement, freedom of religion, education and land ownership, the report said.

It observed that “businesses play a central role in furthering the establishment, maintenance and expansion of Israeli settlements” and said that they should consider whether it was possible to operate in such an environment in a manner that met their obligation to respect human rights.

The report was a result of a resolution passed by the Human Rights Council in March 2016 that called for a database detailing the companies engaged in a list of specified activities that directly enabled, supported or profited from Israeli settlements. Those activities included supplying construction machinery or materials, surveillance equipment and security services, as well as providing banking and financial services.

The 16-page report released Wednesday did not produce what critics of the initiative had feared would be a blacklist naming and shaming companies doing business with the settlements, but it still drew condemnation from the Trump administration and Israeli diplomats in New York and Geneva, who cited the report as proof of the Human Rights Council’s institutional bias.

President Donald Trump’s U.N. ambassador, Nikki R. Haley, who has vowed to combat what she has described as antipathy toward Israel in parts of the organization, strongly condemned the human rights office’s report.

“This whole issue is outside the bounds of the High Commissioner for Human Rights office’s mandate and is a waste of time and resources,” she said in a statement. “While we note that they wisely refrained from listing individual companies, the fact that the report was issued at all is yet another reminder of the Council’s anti-Israel obsession. The more the Human Rights Council does this, the less effective it becomes as an advocate against the world’s human rights abusers.”

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, denounced the report as “a shameful act which will serve as a stain on the UNHRC forever.”

“We will continue to act with our allies and use all the means at our disposal to stop the publication of this disgraceful blacklist,” Danon added.

The human rights office was supposed to produce its report a year ago, but it said it delayed publication because of the complexity of the issues and a shortage of resources for conducting its research.

It said it planned to name the companies identified as engaged in the listed activities when it had contacted all 206 on its list but because of resource constraints it had so far made contact with only 64 of them, raising the possibility of long delays in concluding its work.

The report is to be taken up at the next session of the Human Rights Council in March when members will have an opportunity to recommend additional funding for the effort but leaving the future of the initiative uncertain if they do not.

Still, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in the United States, expressed concern that the action could provide a basis for further boycotts and legal action against companies doing business with Israel.

To counter that risk, it urged Congress to pass the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which was introduced in the House and Senate early last year and would expand existing American anti-boycott laws.