First the good news: the Palestinian-led campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel has made considerable progress.
Earlier this year, the Dutch pension fund PGGM announced that it had excluded five Israeli banks from its investment portfolio because they were financing Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank. Soon afterwards, it was reported that the Copenhagen-based Danske Bank had taken similar action against Hapoalim, a leading Israeli bank.
Other victories have received less publicity.
The Swedish fund KPA Pension, for example, has published an exclusion list on its website featuring a number of Israeli banks and telecommunications firms, the weapons manufacturer Elbit and Alstom, a French corporation that has been involved in building a light rail system linking up Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.
KPA manages the pensions of more than a million people working in local government.
Sweden’s state pension fund AP7, meanwhile, has excluded the technology giant Hewlett-Packard because of its provision of surveillance technology to Israel, as well as Cemex, a Mexican company which has been quarrying in the West Bank in violation of international law.
Enabling war crimes
AP7 is not as clean as it would have us believe, however.
In August, the Stockholm daily Svenska Dagbladet complained that AP7 is continuing to invest in three Israeli banks. According to the paper, this was not compatible with the views of most Swedes, who wanted pension funds to respect ethical principles.
Similarly, the third largest Dutch pension fund ABP has a €51 million ($64 million) stake in three Israel banks: Leumi, Hapoalim and Mizrahi-Tefahot. All three of these banks finance settlements in the West Bank.
ABP is under pressure to ditch these enablers of war crimes. Around 1.8 million people have signed a petition calling on it to do so.
Desmond Tutu, the South African archbishop, has written to ABP’s board contending that investing in Israeli institutions that lend to repressive and illegal projects “helps perpetuate the cycle of violence.”
“Respect the UN”
ABP could follow the example set by another Dutch pension fund, BPL. A list published by BPL for 2013 states that it has excluded the three aforementioned Israeli banks, along with Alstom and Veolia (the major player in the East Jerusalem tramway).
Gerard Roest, BPL’s chairman, told me that the decisions to exclude these firms were taken because the fund is guided by international standards on human rights. “The UN is a kind of world government and we should respect its decisions,” he said.
A UN fact finding mission on the Israeli occupation stated last year: “A number of banks provide mortgage loans for home buyers and special loans for building projects in settlements. They also provide financial services to businesses in settlements and, in some cases, are physically present there.”
Richard Falk, a former UN special rapporteur for the West Bank and Gaza, has warned that “financial institutions and real estate companies may be held criminally accountable for their involvement with illegal settlements in occupied Palestine.”
Pension funds that keep on investing in Israel can be sure that they will come under pressure from people of conscience throughout the world. Support for war crimes will result in damage to their reputations.