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Dutch pension giant boycotts Israeli banks

Dutch pension giant boycotts Israeli banks, G4S faces OECD investigation

Ben White

Dutch pension fund giant PGGM has withdrawn all its investments from Israel’s five largest banks because of their complicity in West Bank settlements. The report in Israeli newspaper Haaretz was apparently confirmed by PGGM this morning.

The Israeli banks targeted are Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot, the First International Bank of Israel and Israel Discount Bank.

Citing a source, Haaretz said that PGGM – which has reported assets of €131 billion – spent months informing the Israeli banks that their ties with both settlements and other companies also involved in settlements, was problematic from the point of view of international law. The Israeli paper pointed out that PGGM’s “decision is liable to damage the banks’ image, and could lead other business concerns in Europe to follow suit”.

There are two interesting points to note here. Firstly, PGGM’s process has shown the limits of ‘dialogue’. After engagement with the five banks, the Dutch company realised that simply expressing concern was insufficient. As the report put it, “since [PGGM] had not managed to alter [the banks’] conduct with regard to the settlements via dialogue, and since no change in the situation seemed likely in the foreseeable future”, divestment followed.

Secondly, the rationale behind PGGM’s decision highlights the weakness of those who push a ‘settlement products only’ boycott strategy. The Dutch realised that “it would be impossible to create a firewall between its investments in Israeli banks and the banks’ activities in the territories”, and thus opted for boycott even of banks that only had “indirect” ties to settlements.

Haaretz noted that the news about PGGM follows hot on the heels of similarly-motivated decisions by other Dutch companies:

Last month, the Dutch water company Vitens announced that it was suspending cooperation with Israel’s national water company, Mekorot, given the latter’s operations in West Bank settlements. A few weeks earlier, another Dutch company canceled a contract to build a sewage treatment plant that it had signed with Jerusalem’s water company, Hagihon, because the plant was to be located over the Green Line.

Israeli settlements have been condemned as illegal by bodies such as the UN Security Council (Resolution 452), the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the UN General Assembly, the International Court of Justice, and numerous human rights groups like Amnesty International.

Meanwhile, it was reported yesterday that multinational security group G4S “is facing an investigation by international authorities into its alleged activities in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories”.

Staff at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development will be looking to see if the corporation’s involvement in supplying equipment for checkpoints “is in contravention of its guidelines for multinational enterprises – a set of Government-backed recommendations for “responsible business conduct” overseas.”

Last month, the UK government updated its Trade and Investment website to warn British businesses about “the risks of involvement in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including potential damage to a company’s reputation”, adding that the government does “not encourage or offer support to such activity”.

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