Dutch Pension Giant Ditches Israeli Bank

Dutch Pension Giant Ditches Israeli Banks

Major Israeli financial institutions were suddenly shocked when the Dutch pension fund giant, PGGM, pulled out its investments because of the banks’ involvement in the West Bank.

In financial terms the move is not that significant, given that PGGM had only several tens of millions invested in the banks out of the more than $170 Billion in assets it manages. Yet it is the latest in a string of rebuffs to hit Israel over its Settlement policies.

The move, first reported by Haaretz’s journalist, Barak Ravid, means that the tens of millions of Euros from the fund would be pulled out from five Israeli banks: Bank Leumi, Bank Hapoalim, Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot, Israel Discount Bank and the First International Bank of Israel.

PGGM of the Netherlands, one of the world’s largest pension asset managers pulled investments out of Israeli banks in protest of their involvement in West Bank construction. One of the twenty largest pension asset managers globally, said it has divested from the five Israeli banks because they are involved in financing the construction of Jewish Settlements in the West Bank.

Furthermore, the banks affected have either branches in illegal Settlements or finance the Settlements’ construction. A branch of Bank Hapoalim is located in Askelon, Israel.

In a statement, PGGM explained that the decision to divest came after engagement with the banks made clear they would not halt activities in the Occupied Territories.

➢ “For several years PGGM has been in dialogue with these banks. The reason for this engagement was their involvement in financing Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This was a concern, as the Settlements in the Palestinian Territories are considered illegal under International Humanitarian Law.”

Furthermore, PGGM cites the International Court of Justice’s 2004 advisory opinion that West Bank Settlements are in violation of the Geneva Convention. PGGM’s “engagement” elicited responses from Israeli banks, who said that:

➢ “Israeli law doesn’t allow them to cease providing service to entities connected to the settlements.”

[Haaretz – January 2014.]

Mirav Amir of Who Profits has shown that:

➢ “There is solid evidence of the involvement of most of the major Israeli commercial banks,”

in a long list of financial services to Settlements. These include “special loans” made with the explicit purpose of encouraging Israeli colonization of Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Mirav Amir has also said, most Israeli banks, have branches open in Settlements.

In its statement, PGGM added that it:

➢ “continues its dialogue with a small number of other companies on the same issue and will report on progress through its regular reporting.”

Therefore, that could mean more divestment announcements in the future.
The Dutch pension giant’s move comes a month after a Dutch water company suspended its cooperation with Israel’s national water company because of the latter’s involvement in the Occupied Territories.

The Palestinian led Boycott, Divestment and Sanction [BDS] movement applauded that suspension.

And in September 2013, a Dutch engineering company withdrew its involvement in a sewage treatment plant because it was going to be built in Occupied East Jerusalem.

The Dutch Government has advised businesses in its country to avoid dealing with the Occupation and Settlements.

[Mondoweiss – January 2014.]

Forget Boycotts, Israeli Settlement Goods Should Be Banned

How would you feel if products made in factories built on land taken from you were advertised at the United States largest sporting occasion?

Palestinian villagers see that happen every single day. The Scarlett Johannson saga is the largest episode in a long series of clashes with Israel and its supporters over Settlements.

Johannson resigned her role as a global Ambassador for Oxfam over the latter’s stance on the controversial Israeli company SodaStream.

Andrew Dalack speaking about SodaStream:

➢ “SodaStream insists in its marketing materials that they are ‘Building Bridges, Not Walls,’ but the truth is that it profits from a system of illegal occupation and settlements, based on walls and checkpoints that control, humiliate, and criminalize millions of people.”

[United States Palestinian Community Network – July 2013]

SodaStream has a factory in the Mishor Adumin Industrial Park, which was built in 1998 in Ma’ale Adumin, an illegal Settlement, built in the West Bank in 1975.

Scarlett Johannson was no doubt making a huge fee for promoting SodaStream in a major advertisement that premiered at the Superbowl. We were told that she was not doing it for money.

So, can we expect a massive donation to an appropriate charity, ideally one helping Palestinians?

SodaStream tried to make it about Palestinian labour rights and jobs, while Oxfam was making it about the principle of opposing Settlements. It was all part of the anti-Semitic delegitimization of Israel, screamed enraged Israeli apologists and spokespeople.

However, the issue with Scarlett Johannson was not that she was using Israeli products, but the fact she was using products from illegal Settlements.

These products are not Israeli, nor do they originate from Israel. These products are manufactured and assembled on stolen land, manufactured from stolen resources.

Moreover, just as pressure was building up on Settlements, Israeli apologists have tried to blur the lines between action on Settlements and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] Campaign.

The rationale is simple. As it stands, and it is unlikely to change soon, it is politically toxic for key States, especially in the United States, Germany and Britain, to endorse boycott campaigns against Israel.

That is a political reality.

Scarlett Johannson herself pushed this distortion. Her official statement read:

➢ “She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.”

But Oxfam has nothing to do with Boycott, Divestment and Sanction campaigns. Nothing at all.

In fact, Chris Doyle visited the Palestinian cooperative farms Oxfam supports, those very same farms threatened by the very Settlements Johannson is promoting.

Settlements are quite rightly, illegal and constitute a grave breach of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is incumbent on High Contracting Parties to the Convention to ensure compliance and not to be complicit in such breaches.

This includes the United States and the European Union States [Israel too but it probably regrets signing up]. Action on Settlements is an issue of law.

Oxfam, along with nearly all aid agencies and Human Rights groups, could not itself become complicit in aiding a breach of this convention.

More importantly, States and Countries are doing little or nothing to adhere to their obligations. Why is it still permissible to sell Settlement products in Europe?

Why is it still permissible to sell Settlement products in Canada?

These are products of crime, they further the trade in illicit products and goods and they are directly responsible for the exploitation of Palestinians living under Military Occupation.

Furthermore, these products and goods exploit Palestinian resources and also contribute to the continuing theft of those resources. At best Britain and Denmark have introduced voluntary labelling to make sure consumers know what they are buying.

As was revealed in a ground breaking report by twenty-two Non Government Organizations [NGOs] in 2012, the European Union imports fifteen times more from Settlements than it does from Palestinians.

The reason why BDS started was because the international community failed, failed and failed again to hold Israel accountable to International Law. Furthermore, other States and Countries could also be put in this category but nonetheless such civil society action is a product of the failure of the international system so far.

Settlements are an issue of International Law, an obligation on all States and Countries, while the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement is an issue of personal consumer choice and a campaign to push governments to sanction Israel.
You can debate the pros and cons of BDS but the illegality of Settlements is ironclad and the obligations it imposes on all States and Countries mandatory.

One Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson recently described BDS campaigners as just a fringe group, surprising, given that the entire Israeli cabinet met to debate the issue on February 9, 2014.

Moreover, Israel is more and more Isolated. Its default action is to throw money at public relations companies.

This will not work.

According to the Guardian Newspaper, in 2013:

➢ “Israeli Settlements in the Jordan Valley lost $20 Million, or 14 per-cent of their income because supermarkets in the United Kingdom and Scandinavia are shunning their peppers, dates and grapes.”

Therefore, only a change in Israel’s illegal and immoral policies leading to an end to Military Occupation of both the West Bank and Gaza will bring Israel in from the cold. That will hopefully happen in a peace process, but nothing Israel has done or said in the past would suggest this.

Moreover, States and Countries must follow where consumers have led.

You can find European Union Ministers saying Settlements are illegal nearly every day of the week, but nothing is done. Action will happen.

It will not be a question of whether we should be buying Settlement goods, but why can we?

Settlement products should not have to be boycotted. They must be banned.

[Al Arabiya News – Chris Doyle: February 12, 2014 – Adapted and Edited by: L. Harper]

Omar Barghouti, the founding member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement has said:

➢ “The overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people have endorsed the boycott of SodaStream, and other corporations that are implicated in Israel’s occupation, settlements and other violations of international law.”

The Human Rights activist continued:

➢ “Those who claim that boycotting or divesting from SodaStream would hurt Palestinians are parroting a discredited argument that was proven false in Apartheid South Africa and the Jim Crow South.”

➢ “Nothing hurts the oppressed as much as oppression does.”

Barghouti concluded:

➢ “Injustice hurts us. Occupation degrades our humanity. Palestinian civil society strongly believes that freedom, justice and equality deserve our sacrifice, but we need effective solidarity from the world to achieve our rights.”

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