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Israel freezes ties with UN rights chief after release of settlement blacklist

Israel is suspending its ties with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday, several hours after the UN body published a list of 112 companies that do business in West Bank settlements.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz’s office said he ordered the “exceptional and harsh measure” in retaliation for Michelle Bachelet’s office “serving the BDS campaign,” referring to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.

Katz intends to protect the companies operating in Israel, his office stated.

Earlier on Wednesday, the commission surprisingly released the so-called blacklist, which had been in the making since March 2016, when the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling for a database of companies promoting or maintaining Israeli settlements.

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.

Israel has never been a member of the council.

President Reuven Rivlin responded to the database published Wednesday by reading out a long list of Israeli companies mentioned on the list, and encouraging Israelis to support them.

“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.

The blacklist also names 18 international enterprises, such as Motorola, Airbnb, Trip Advisor, Expedia and General Mills (all from the US), Alstom (from France) Greenkote (from the UK) and a handful of companies from the Netherlands and Thailand.

Businesses may ask to be delisted if they can prove that they no longer provide material support to Israeli settlements, Bachelet’s office said Wednesday. The list will be updated annually.

“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.

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. Many other countries were also opposed to releasing it. It was unclear why it was published this week. Israeli diplomatic officials on Wednesday said they were only given one hour warning but the document was released.

“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,” she said, referring to the council resolution that asked for the report.

According to Israeli officials, Bachelet consistently refused to meet with Israeli diplomats to discuss the blacklist.

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.

Note: Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria is a Chilean politician who served as President of Chile from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2014 to 2018 for the Socialist Party of Chile,