HSBC divests from Israeli arms maker Elbit

Campaigners protest inside an HSBC branch in Brighton. (Brighton BDS)

Banking giant HSBC is divesting from the Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems following a grassroots campaign.

“HSBC has taken a positive first step in divesting from Elbit Systems, the notorious manufacturer of drones, chemical weapons, cluster bomb artillery systems and other technology used in attacks against Palestinian civilians, and to militarize walls and borders around the world,” Ryvka Barnard of War on Want said on Thursday.

The campaign group said that HSBC confirmed its decision in an email to War on Want and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign last week.

“Doing business with companies like Elbit means profiting from violence and human rights violation, which is both immoral and a contravention of international law,” Barnard added.

Elbit Systems has already been excluded from pension and investment funds around the world over its involvement in supplying surveillance systems and other technology to Israel’s separation wall and settlements in the occupied West Bank.

A 2017 report by War on Want revealed how HSBC and other UK financial institutions are complicit in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people by financing arms deals and owning shares in arms makers.

For more than a year, UK campaigners have held pickets at HSBC branches, dubbing it “the world’s lethal bank” – a play on an HSBC ad campaign marketing the global behemoth as “the world’s local bank.”

Despite HSBC’s move, Elbit, one of Israel’s biggest arms manufacturers, remains a favorite of governments that purport to champion human rights.

In 2014, the Obama administration awarded Elbit a lucrative contract to provide surveillance equipment as part of US efforts to militarize its border with Mexico.

And the European Union has plowed millions of dollars of “research” funds into Elbit, despite the revelation of how the company manufactures banned cluster weapon systems.

In 2015, Elbit scored a $150-million contract to provide “advanced systems” jointly to the militaries of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Last year, Australia’s famous Royal Flying Doctor Service pulled out of a joint venture with Elbit, a move Palestine solidarity campaigners celebrated as a victory.

Now campaigners are seeing HSBC’s move as an important milestone towards holding Israel accountable.

Ben Jamal, director of the UK’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign, called HSBC’s decision “proof positive that collective campaigning works.” He noted that people all over the UK “were involved in pushing HSBC to divest from Elbit through pickets, email campaigns and other actions designed to pressure the company.”

“HSBC’s announcement demonstrates the effectiveness of boycott, divestment and sanctions as a tactic against Israel’s continued flouting of international law and human rights,” Jamal added.

War on Want is demanding that HSBC follow up by divesting from other war industry firms including Caterpillar, which makes militarized bulldozers Israel uses to demolish Palestinian homes, and BAE Systems, “whose weapons are used in war crimes by Israel, Saudi Arabia and other repressive regimes.”

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HSBC’s decision to divest from Elbit Systems was not the result of campaigning by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and it is not indicative of support for the movement’s objectives,” Stuart Levey, HSBC’s chief legal officer and group managing director, wrote to The Jerusalem Post, in response to its Tuesday editorial, “Bad banking.”

“HSBC has a banking operation in Tel Aviv and provides banking services to numerous Israeli companies. We have every intention of continuing to do so,” wrote Levey.

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.