Insurance giant AXA urged to end support for Israeli war crimes

Activists carry signs urging AXA not to “insure Israeli apartheid,” outside the venue of the French insurance giant’s firm’s annual meeting in Paris, April 2017.

Seventy organizations, political parties and trade unions are urging the France-based insurance giant AXA to end its support for Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid.

They say that AXA must divest from three Israeli banks – Hapoalim, Leumi and Mizrahi Tefahot – that are involved in Israel’s illegal settlement construction on occupied Palestinian land.

The groups also say that through its subsidiary AB, AXA holds shares in the Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit.

In a statement on Friday, the civil society groups point out that grassroots campaigns have forced several large companies, including Veolia and Orange, to end their involvement in Israeli colonization.

The complicity of Israeli banks has already prompted several major financial institutions around the world to divest from Israeli banks or exclude them from their portfolios.

Banks key to occupation

All big five Israeli banks, including the three in which AXA are invested, are heavily involved in Israel’s illegal colonization of the occupied West Bank.

According to research group Who Profits, “Israeli banks provide the financial infrastructure for all the activities of companies, governmental agencies and individuals linked to the continuing occupation of Palestinian land.”

In January 2016, Human Rights Watch highlighted the role of Israeli banks in settlement activity – a war crime under international law.

Human Rights Watch said Israeli banks “help the illegal settlements in the West Bank to function as viable housing markets, enabling the government to transfer settlers there.”

The New York-based group urged all corporations to completely end their business activities in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem.

“Settlement businesses unavoidably contribute to Israeli policies that dispossess and harshly discriminate against Palestinians, while profiting from Israel’s theft of Palestinian land and other resources,” Arvind Ganesan, director of the business and human rights division at Human Rights Watch, said.

In March, French and Palestinian human rights groups published research that found that along with AXA, several other French financial institutions – BNP Paribas, Société Générale, Crédit Agricole and BPCE – also hold shares in Israeli banks.

The human rights groups held the French state – which regulates financial institutions – responsible for allowing these firms to support Israeli colonization. “The French government must apply pressure to banks and insurance companies to end all their support,” the groups stated.

“Empty shell”

Large insurance companies have previously been accused of complicity in major crimes against humanity. AXA is one of several large European insurers that reached a deal with the World Jewish Congress almost 20 years ago to pay the life insurance policies of victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

The World Jewish Congress called the deal a victory for “Holocaust survivors and the cause of justice.”

AXA, which operates in dozens of countries and has more than 100 million customers, has endorsed the UN’s Global Compact on sustainable development and committed “to integrate 10 universal principles on human rights, labor, the environment and the fight against corruption” into its corporate social responsibility policy.

These principles include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“AXA’s commitment to respect the 10 principles of the UN Global Compact is an empty shell as long as AXA continues to profit from the oppression of the Palestinian people and the ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands,” the 70 civil society groups state.

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This is an important development. We live in a time when banks are finally being identified with the crimes they commit or finance. More needs to be done to hold them accountable, but shining a spotlight on insurance giants like AXA and its brethren will surely further that aim. The financial structures of the Occupation must be attacked through public pressure and legal prosecution. In particular, all business with Israeli banks underwriting the depredations of the Zionist state must be terminated. Complicity is not an option.

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

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.