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Palestine activists have 2 billion opportunities to pressure for divestment

May 30, 2020 at 10:39 am

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

Local government pension schemes hold direct investments worth more than £2.3 billion in companies involved in Israeli war crimes and apartheid, it was revealed this week.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) on Friday published a new database documenting the many ways that local government employees’ pension contributions are being misused by management to invest in the Israeli occupation.

The new research details a long list of companies involved in Israeli occupation – both Israeli and international – that the pension schemes have their monies invested in.

These include HSBC, Barclays bank, General Electric, Microsoft and Serco.

These firms all have well-documented involvements in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. You can look up your own nearest local government pension scheme to see which complicit firms, if any, it is invested in.

The database is simple to use, and provides clear and concise details on how much each scheme has invested, and exactly how each company is complicit.

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Most of these schemes have “ethical investment policies” – but as so often is the case, these policies are merely window-dressing and PR.

Activists now have a golden opportunity to pressure their local government pension schemes to divest from these companies.

Successful divestment campaigns could in turn easily lead to the divestment of such firms from Israeli occupation in the long run.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has scored many such wins over the years – a phenomenon so worrying that the Israeli government has for the last five years had an entire ministry (“strategic affairs”) dedicated to a semi-clandestine global war against the movement.

Palestinians in Gaza protest against German Parliament decision on BDS, in Gaza on 23 May 2019 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Palestinians in Gaza protest against German Parliament decision on BDS, in Gaza on 23 May 2019 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

The PSC’s new database comes off the back of its most recent court victory. The Supreme Court ruled in April against the Tory government’s 2016 regulation prohibiting local authorities from divesting from Israel (technically against any foreign government, but in reality, the measure was aimed at protecting only Israel).

The PSC in November published a similar database of British university investments in firms complicit with the Israeli occupation.

Israeli colonies in the West Bank, remember, are a war crime under international law.

Yet, the managers of both British universities and British local government pension schemes are happy to invest in Israeli and international institutions which are deeply involved in building, outfitting and financing these illegal settlements built on stolen Palestinian land.

With the recent court victory, campaigners and activists now have a great chance to put pressure on these institutions to divest.

Amoral (and often immoral) companies like HSBC, Microsoft and the like, very rarely have an ideological commitment to the Israeli state’s official ideology – Zionism. As ruthless capitalists, they care only for their bottom lines.

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With enough sustained pressure by activists, victory can be achieved, because they often do not want the hassle of the damaging publicity of being associated with human-rights abusing regimes, when they are such a small part of their overall investments.

Although the sums involved are huge, for the multi-billion-dollar companies involved they are relatively small fry.

That is how victory was achieved at Leeds University in 2018 – a small group of activists, backed by wider networks, were able to mount enough pressure that the university relented and divested from three out of four companies targetted by campaigners.

Of course, after the fact, university officials denied having conceded to BDS demands – but that is almost always the case. Corporations and big institutions dislike setting the precedent of having conceded to any form of people power.

Nonetheless, the facts are the facts, and the campaigners’ goals were mostly achieved.

Such concrete, strategic and tactical wins are the essence of the BDS movement’s successes.

The scale of local government pension fund investments in complicit companies involved in the Israeli occupation may seem intimidating. However, this should instead be viewed as an opportunity – two billion opportunities, in fact – to achieve concrete victories for the Palestinian people, right here in the belly of the beast, the very country whose colonial machinations led to the dispossession, and ultimately the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in the first place.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.