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U.N. report identifies 112 companies doing business with Israeli settlements

A man pushes a shopping cart outside Shufersal, Israel’s largest supermarket chain, in the West Bank settlement of Mishor Adumim. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

JERUSALEM — The United Nations released a long-anticipated, and explosive, list of companies doing business with Israeli settlements in the West Bank on Wednesday, a compilation hailed by activists as potential leverage against expanding communities they see as illegal and condemned by Israeli officials as biased and, by some, as anti-Semitic.

The U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva said it had reasonable grounds to identify 112 businesses — most based in Israel but several from the United States and Europe — that have business ties with the settlements. The companies range from multinational cereal giant General Mills to an Israeli bakery chain.

The list, which does not accuse any of the companies of illegal activity, was compiled at the request of the U.N. Human Rights Council following a 2016 U.N. resolution passed at the behest of Arab countries. The resolution mandated the naming of companies that were bolstering settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights through certain kinds of business activities. Those include providing surveillance gear, equipment to either build settlement structures or demolish Palestinian ones, banking and financial services, and tools used to usurp water or land.

Michelle Bachelet, the current high commissioner for human rights, acknowledged the thankless task she had been handed.

“I am conscious this issue has been, and will continue to be, highly contentious,” Bachelet said in a statement. “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.”

The list debuted in the midst of a heated push to annex the settlements in light of unprecedented support from an American president. President Trump has declared that U.S. policy no longer views the settlements as inherently illegal, and his just-released peace plan allows for most of them to be absorbed into Israel proper.

Israel has bitterly protested the prolonged compilation of the list, which it said was designed to fortify a global boycott movement that many Israelis denounce as being intent on Israel’s destruction. The list’s release sparked furious response from across the country’s political spectrum.

“The UN Commissioner’s announcement regarding the publication of a ‘blacklist’ of companies represents the ultimate surrender to pressure exerted by countries and organizations interested in harming Israel,” Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the commission itself as “insignificant.” His chief rival in next month’s national election, former army chief Benny Gantz, said: “This is a dark day for human rights. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has lost touch with reality.”

“Another disgraceful decision by the Human Rights Council, which proves once again the U.N.’s consistent anti-Semitism and Israel-hatred,” said Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan, who is heading a high-level effort to combat the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign that Israel views as a grave strategic threat.

But Palestinian officials and human rights activists hailed the list’s release.

Longtime Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat congratulated the Human Rights Council for completing their investigation in the face of “fierce attacks” from Israel and the Trump administration. Israel is not a member of the council, and the United States withdrew in 2018.

“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. “This database is the first concrete step towards holding Israel accountable for its illegal colonial-settlement enterprise in over half a century.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said the companies would be pursued “legally through international legal institutions and in courts in their countries for taking part in human rights violations in Palestine.”

The BDS movement itself immediately called on its followers to use the report as a target list. “These companies must be held to account, including through strategic boycotts and divestment campaigns,” the group said in a statement.

The list includes a range of business types, from banks to cable companies, cafes and grocery stores, cellphone providers and real estate firms. Airbnb, which had been previously singled out by boycott activists, made the list, as did the tourist review site TripAdvisor.

The report does not specify the type of activity each business is engaged in and specifies that a company that stops activity in the settlements would be removed.

“The long-awaited release of the U.N. settlement business database should put all companies on notice: To do business with illegal settlements is to aid in the commission of war crimes,” said Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine director, who was ordered out of Israel last year after the Israeli Supreme Court found he had violated the country’s ban on supporting BDS activity.

Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.

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