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Dutch pension firm stops boycott of Israel banks

January 10, 2019 at 3:22 pm

Activists come together to protest outside branches of HSBC bank over shares in an Israeli arms company accused of manufacturing internationally banned weapons [Ryan Ashcroft]

A pension firm in the Netherlands has removed five Israeli banks from a blacklist it previously created in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The firm PFZW – (Stichting Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn, also known as PGGM) – is the second-largest pension fund in the Netherlands and regularly invests its assets overseas. PFZW had previously invested in a number of Israel’s major banks but in 2014 divested from these organisations in support of the BDS movement, citing “ethical concerns” over the banks’ presence in the occupied West Bank.

However yesterday Dutch-Jewish newspaper Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad (NIW) revealed that the Israeli banks – including Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot, First International Bank of Israel and Israel Discount Bank – have been taken off the blacklist, suggesting they are once again eligible for PFZW investment.

Though NIW did not offer an explanation as to why the banks were removed from the blacklist, the newspaper mentions that PFZW’s initial decision to blacklist the banks was influenced heavily by Cornelis (Cees) Flinterman, a long-time BDS activist who was appointed to the pension fund’s Advisory Board for Responsible Investment in 2007. Flinterman is no longer listed as a member of the board on PFZW’s webpage, suggesting that his absence may be significant in PFZW’s decision to backtrack on its original decision.

READ: US civil rights activist denied award due to support for BDS

Although MEMO reached out to Flinterman for comment, at the time of publication no answer had been received.

Though PFZW’s decision will be seen as a blow for BDS, in recent months the movement – which calls for a boycott of organisations complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories – has seen a number of high-profile victories. In December, major banking firm HSBC announced that it has divested from Israeli drone manufacturer Elbit Systems, which sells weapons to the Israeli military. HSBC’s decision came after a coordinated campaign which saw over 24,000 people email the bank with concerns over its investments in Elbit Systems, as well as monthly picketing campaigns outside scores of the organisation’s UK branches.

HSBC had also come under pressure from its own investors, including the University of Leeds which in November became the first UK university to divest from firms supplying the Israeli army. Following a student campaign, the university made the decision to divest from three companies which were found to be complicit in the violation of Palestinian human rights: Airbus, United Technologies and Keyence Corporation. HSBC was placed under review by the university’s investment managers for its provision of loans to Elbit Systems, Caterpillar and BAE Systems, all of which sell weapons and military equipment to the Israeli government.

READ: UK pro-Palestine group wins right to challenge ban on BDS in Supreme Court