Rights Group Assails Israeli Banks for Financing in Yehudah and Shomron

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) - Banks are contributing to the proliferation of Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron by providing loans and mortgages for construction there, violating their human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said in a report Wednesday.

The report asserted that Israeli law does not require banks to provide such services to those communities, and urged them to distance themselves from such activities. It also urged the banks’ shareholders to “ensure that their business relationships do not contribute to or benefit from” human rights violations.

Israeli law requires banks to accept residents of the region as customers, meaning they cannot refuse to open accounts for them. But a legal analysis by Human Rights Watch of Israeli banking laws concluded that banks are not obligated to provide financial backing for construction in the area.

The relevant laws have yet to be challenged in court, meaning the report offers only one interpretation of how they may be read.

The Association of Banks in Israel, an umbrella group, declined to comment on the report’s claims. Spokespeople for Israel’s major banks either declined comment or referred queries to the banking association. Israel’s central bank had no immediate comment.

Eugene Kontorovich, an international law expert at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative think tank, disputed the report’s claim.

He said that private companies are not obliged under international law to restrict where they work even if others believe the communities are illegal. He said companies are not necessarily violating human rights if they conduct business in an area where violations are said to occur.

“Granting a mortgage is not a human rights violation,” he said.