Landlord for top Israeli arms firm ignored its own human rights policy

A recent demonstration in support of Palestine Action outside a London court. 

Mohamed Elmaazi

Britain is dragging out criminal proceedings against activists seeking to have Israel’s weapons industry kicked out of the country.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced this week that it will retry six members of the group Palestine Action.

The six are among eight activists who had been on trial during the last two months of 2023 for disrupting the UK activities of Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest privately owned weapons firm.

Of those activists – known as the Elbit Eight – two were completely acquitted. The remaining six were found not guilty on a number of charges, with just one guilty verdict handed down.

The retrial – scheduled to take place in April 2025 – concerns more than 20 charges on which the jury could not reach a majority verdict.

The initial trial – held in London’s Snaresbrook Crown Court – heard how Elbit’s products are used to kill and wound Palestinians.

One significant aspect of the case is that Palestine Action also presented evidence against the real estate company LaSalle Investment Management.

The jury was told that LaSalle had breached its own human rights policy when it leased office space to Elbit.

By doing so, Palestine Action illustrated the difference between the rhetoric of corporations and the reality of their behavior.

Philip La Pierre, head of LaSalle in Europe, admitted that he was unaware of any of the details of the company’s human rights policy when he was cross-examined about it by the defendants’ lawyers.

LaSalle, a subsidiary of the US-based global asset manager Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), rented office space for the headquarters of Elbit Systems UK at 77 Kingsway in London.

The LaSalle website says that, during the third quarter of last year, it managed around $89 billion in assets worldwide.

La Pierre admitted that even after receiving multiple letters from Palestine Action, he still did not seriously examine whether the firm’s relationship with Elbit potentially breached LaSalle’s human rights policy. The letters outlined Elbit’s complicity in Israeli war crimes and cited examples of businesses that divested from the weapons company.

Rupert Bowers was the attorney representing Richard Barnard, a co-founder of Palestine Action.

“So, when these letters [from Palestine Action] arrived on your desk, why didn’t you, having never heard of Elbit before, look into them?,” Bowers asked La Pierre.

“Elbit went through our processes, when we signed the lease, and we didn’t feel there was a further need to investigate our tenant according to our internal compliance systems,” La Pierre insisted.

The “internal compliance systems” referred to by La Pierre consisted of checking UK sanctions lists and the anti-money laundering database provided by the London Stock Exchange. This represents LaSalle’s “Know Your Client” process that companies are required to engage in.

Following intensive questioning by Bowers, La Pierre accepted that LaSalle’s human rights policy is “far wider,” “serves a different purpose” and “assumes a different weighing of options” than the “Know Your Client” process does.

Window dressing?

La Pierre concluded by stating bluntly, “Third party statements, proclaiming certain facts, do not sway us.”

During his closing speech, Bowers asked the jury to consider whether LaSalle’s human rights policy “has teeth” and “governs how the company does things” or whether it is just “window dressing,” “misleading” and “worthless.”

LaSalle is also a signatory of the United Nations Global Compact, which states that businesses should respect and support human rights.

In 2012, Richard Falk, then the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, issued a report in which he recommended that businesses which profit from illegal Israeli settlements – including Elbit Systems – “should be boycotted, until they bring their operations into line with international human rights and humanitarian law and standards”.

“The principles outlined in the Global Compact are clear,” Falk told the UN General Assembly. “Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights and ensure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.”

Mira Hammad was the lawyer who represented Jocelyn Cooney, one of the two activists acquitted in the recent trial.

Hammad briefly cross-examined La Pierre about LaSalle’s participation in the UN Global Compact.

“Did you look into what the UN says about what Elbit does?” Hammad asked.

“No,” La Pierre answered. He added that three years had passed since he received the letters from Palestine Action.

“Not looking into what the UN says but promoting yourself as part of the UN Global Compact… Don’t you see that there is a contradiction between what you say and what you do?” Hammad asked.

Gerard Pounder, the judge in the trial, interrupted before La Pierre answered, appearing to suggest that Hammad had made a comment rather than asked a question. Hammad’s question, therefore, remained unanswered.

77 Kingsway was a frequent target of Palestine Action protests. Seventeen out of the 33 charges considered by the jury related to that address.

The accusations against the defendants included criminal damage, trespass with intent to commit criminal damage and possession of materials with intent to commit criminal damage.

“Lawful excuse”

Pounder told the jury before it started deliberating that the Elbit Eight had a “lawful excuse” to commit property damage if they honestly believed that the owner or landlord would have consented to the damage being done had the owner or landlord been aware of all of the circumstances resulting in the damage being done.

This was the only defense available to most of the charges in this case.

The UK government has made it increasingly difficult to raise more traditional defenses – such as necessity, prevention of crime and the right to protest – in trials concerning direct action protests.

“I thought [LaSalle] would say ‘Thanks for bringing this to our attention we will get rid of [Elbit],’” Richard Barnard from Palestine Action told the court. “If for no other reason than to protect their brand,” he explained.

But LaSalle did not attempt to evict Elbit from its premises and never engaged with the protesters.

The company simply referred the letters to the police, Philip La Pierre told the court.

LaSalle managed the building on behalf of Coal Pension Properties.

Multiple defendants also said that they believed the coal pension fund would have consented to their protest and any damage done had the pension fund been aware of Elbit’s complicity in war crimes. This was due to the decades of solidarity that coal miners in the UK have expressed with the South African anti-apartheid movement, as well as with the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, the defendants said.

LaSalle no longer manages 77 Kingsway. Elbit Systems UK continues to list its registered office at that location but it is unclear whether it still conducts business from there.

Mohamed Elmaazi is a UK-based journalist, who contributes to numerous outlets including Jacobin, The Dissenter and Consortium News.