A French investment firm has partially divested from Elbit Systems following pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and a number of international NGOs.
AXA IM – a branch of the French multinational firm specialising in financial services – has agreed to divest from Elbit Systems, an arms manufacturer which has supplied the Israeli army with weapons to be used against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip.
The move came after a several-year-long campaign by two NGOs, "SumOfUs" and "Stop Assistance to Israeli Apartheid", which called on the financial giant to reassess its investments and complicity in the Israeli occupation.
In April 2018, SumOfUs – an international NGO that seeks to counter the power of big businesses – launched an international petition to support Stop Assistance to Israeli Apartheid's campaign. The petition garnered more than 140,000 signatures, causing AXA IM to "quietly reduce" its investments in Elbit Systems and Israeli banks this year.
BDS France explains that AXA Investment Managers, "sold all its shares in the arms manufacturer [Elbit] on December 31, 2018 and told [BDS France] last week 'we do not invest in cluster munition producers'."
BDS France continues: "However, AXA remains linked to Elbit Systems through its subsidiary Alliance Bernstein (AB). Last month, we learned that AXA no longer controls AB – [going] from a 65.6% to 31.7% stake in the company." BDS stressed however that the stake reduction "absolutely does not absolve [AXA] of its complicity in the investments maintained by AB in the arms manufacturer and in five Israeli banks".
The NGOs, therefore, welcomed the decision but called on AXA to go further and divest completely from all organisations complicit in the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Leyla Larbi, a campaigner for SumOfUs, said of the move: "We welcome this decision from the AXA Group [but] we see it as an insufficient first step towards ending AXA's complicity, both direct and indirect, in serious violations of international law and human rights." She added: "We expect AXA to pursue this logic of divestment completely in order to fully comply with international legislation."
AXA's decision to divest follows in the footsteps of other international corporations, including banking giant HSBC which in December also divested from Elbit Systems. After a long-term campaign which saw over 24,000 people email the bank to express their concern over its investments in Elbit and 40 HSBC branches across the UK picketed monthly, HSBC announced that it would cease its links with the controversial arms manufacturer.
Update on 01.32 on 19 April 2019 the piece originally reported that AXA insurance had divested from Israeli arms manufacturers when in fact it was the subsidiary AXA IM