British municipalities invest billions in Israeli occupation

Israel’s colonial settlement of Efrat looms over the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. British local government pension schemes hold investments in the Israeli banks that finance Efrat and other settlements built in the occupied West Bank — a war crime.

Ronen Zvulun Reuters

Local government pension schemes in England and Wales have almost $3 billion invested in companies complicit with Israel’s crimes against Palestinians.

That’s the stark conclusion of new research released by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign on Friday.

The publication of the new database follows PSC’s recent Supreme Court victory.

Last month the UK’s highest court ruled against a central government regulation that had barred local government pension schemes from divesting from any foreign nation.

The 2016 rule was part of a package of Conservative government measures to protect Israel from accountability through the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

The PSC published a similar database in November, showing that UK universities have investments in complicit firms worth more than $580 million.

$2.9 billion conservative estimate

The PSC database shows that at least 33 local government pension schemes in England and Wales have direct investments worth at least $2.9 billion in complicit firms.

The true scale of investment however, is almost certainly far higher. As PSC explains, the pension schemes also have indirect holdings via investment funds, which buy shares on their behalf.

Such indirect investment is not included in the database as of yet. Neither are any Scottish local councils. So the figure of $2.9 billion is likely to be conservative.

The database “only displays data we could obtain and verify. It does not include investments made through investment funds and trackers,” PSC explains. It “represents only a small amount of the overall complicity.”

The complicit firms in the database include companies blacklisted by the UN’s human rights office for their involvement in Israeli abuses.

Deadly investments

East Sussex and Hackney councils, for example, together have more than $60,000 invested in Elbit, Israel’s biggest private arms manufacturer.

The firm constructs the drones used by Israel to bombard Palestinian civilians to death during its sucessive wars against the population of the Gaza Strip. In its last major assault in 2014, Israel killed more than 2,200 Palestinians there, including 550 children.

Many of the pension schemes are also invested in Israeli banks, including five in Bank Hapoalim. The bank has been condemned by Human Rights Watch due to its major role in financing Israeli colonies built on stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank, including Efrat and Beitar Illit. Israel’s settlement construction in occupied territories is a war crime.

PSC is urging activists to step up pressure for divestment: “Whether your pension fund is listed or not, it is critical that scheme members get active and demand their fund commits to remove all investments complicit in Israel’s abuses of Palestinian human rights.”

PSC’s director Ben Jamal condemned “the shocking complicity of local government pension scheme funds in Israel’s war crimes.”

He said it was “deeply appalling that this money is being used to fund violations of international law. Administering authorities of local authority pension funds should seek to remedy this situation as a matter of extreme urgency.”

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Deeply appalling it is, but how many know? Respectable folk who like to think of themselves as unimplicated collude unknowingly with rank injustice. Unknowingly because on the one hand the facts are concealed (capitalism is a dirty business and knows how to sweep the dirt under the carpet) on the other because they assume bodies like local authorities are responsible and wouldn't be enmeshed in what amounts to sanctioned gangsterism. The opacity of our culture is not accidental. The business and financial worlds can claim "commercial sensitivity" in order to hide from scrutiny. Finance tends towards an arcane language of complex instruments to put the public off finding out what's really going on. Reassuring men(usually men) in suits and ties create a front of grey, boring, ordinariness behind which extraordinary machinations play out. Of course, people have the right to know where their money is invested but most don't bother to find out: the system works on assumption - what looks respectable must be respectable. Monarchy had to present itself as noble because it was founded on a vicious struggle for wealth and power. Now monarchy is outdated, we are left with the empty shell. In the same way, capitalists have to take on the trappings of respectability and regularity because what is going on is a life and death fight for control of the earth's resources and people in the interests of profit; and profit flows upwards to the few with private jets and islands.
Class hegemony keeps the system stable. Even the very poor aren't exempt from it. Propaganda prevents people from seeing through to their true, human interest: the shared interest. If you want to be free, make sure everyone is free. If you want good health care, ensure everyone has it. The alternative is "I'm all right, Jack", until you aren't. The Palestinians aren't. They are victims of an international scam. The true interest of the employees paying into those pension schemes is universal justice.

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Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada. He lives in London. Biography here.