HSBC “crucial link” in oppression of Palestinians

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

UK financial institutions hold almost $14 billion worth of shares in companies that provide equipment to the Israeli military, a new report shows.

High street banks are some of the worst offenders, with Barclays holding $1.5 billion in shares and HSBC more than $1 billion, according to War on Want’s new report, “Deadly Investments.”

War on Want senior campaigner Ryvka Barnard said on Wednesday that “banks like HSBC are a crucial link in the chain of oppression, facilitating and profiting from the brutal military repression of Palestinians.”

The launch of the report comes just after Palestine solidarity activists held a week of action against banks and arms firms in the UK.

Campaigners held demonstrations at HSBC branches in Brighton, Manchester and London, dubbing it “the world’s lethal bank” – a play on an HSBC ad campaign marketing the global behemoth as “the world’s local bank.”

“HSBC makes much of its ethical credentials yet its contempt for human right rights couldn’t be starker,” Barnard said. “HSBC’s deals with arms companies make it complicit in the suffering endured by Palestinians.”

A global justice charity, War on Want’s latest report calls for a two-way arms embargo on Israel and for banks to divest from companies that sell weapons to Israel.


A multinational bank with its headquarters in London, the report details how HSBC profits from Palestinian suffering.

The bank holds $231 million worth of shares in BAE Systems, the UK’s biggest arms dealer. It also holds $131 million in Boeing, which provides Israel with Apache helicopters and Hellfire missiles.

In response to War on Want’s research, HSBC referred the charity to its “defense equipment” policy. The document claims that the bank “does not provide financial services to customers who solely or primarily manufacture or sell” weapons.

War on Want describes this as a “gaping loophole” which “narrowly defines weapons companies” meaning that “HSBC can invest in and provide services to a company that is clearly part of the arms and military industry so long as the company also has non-military clients and products, as most modern companies involved in the sector do.”

The report describes Israel as “one of the most heavily militarized states on earth,” pointing out that in 2016, Israeli military expenditure was $18 billion, “the third highest per capita expenditure in the world.”

After their deadly wares have been used on Palestinian civilians by the Israeli military, Israeli arms firms such as Elbit habitually advertise their equipment as “field tested.”

The report also details how banks and insurance companies in the UK provide and manage tens of billions of dollars in loans to companies complicit in Israel’s occupation and war crimes.

The insurance and pensions firm Legal & General holds a staggering $5.8 billion in companies which equip the Israeli military.

End complicity

“It would be very straightforward for Legal & General to end its support for Israeli militarism by excluding any company that supplies military equipment and technology to Israel from its investment portfolio and the portfolios it creates for its clients,” the report states.

It blames successive UK governments for their lax attitude to Israeli repression of the Palestinians.

War on Want calls for a ban on sales from UK companies to the Israeli military, and an end to imports from Israeli arms firms – a two-way arms embargo: “If the government’s own export guidelines were properly applied on a case-by-case basis, the result would be a de facto embargo on arms exports to Israel.”

A 2011 Palestinian call for an arms embargo has already been echoed by the Trades Union Congress, the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and Amnesty International.

“HSBC claims that it has no responsibility for the actions of its clients, even if there is clear evidence that they are acting in violation of international law,” the report concludes. “If HSBC is serious about a commitment to human rights, its first step must be to immediately end its business relationship with companies that arm Israel’s militarized repression.”

War on Want details on its website ways that citizens can get involved in the campaign to stop arming Israel.




HSBC and other UK banks have been terminating the accounts of pro-Palestinian campaign organisations. They claim they are doing so because they are "risk averse", which is pretty rich when you consider their flagrant misconduct and outright criminality in all aspects of the global economy. Here's a link to a BBC report by Peter Oborne from 2015, in which the mechanisms are exposed through which Muslim charities are smeared and their activities curtailed in the banking sector.

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and co-host of our podcast.

He is author of the bestselling book Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn (OR Books, 2023).