Dutch pension giant divests from 5 Israeli banks

by Asa Winstanley, Electronic Intifada, 13th January 2014

Dutch pension fund PGGM announced on the front page of its website today that it had withdrawn tens of millions of Euros worth of investments from five Israeli banks.

The fund cited the banks’ unethical and illegal practices in the West Bank.

PGGM said in statement that it had been in discussions with Bank HapoalimBank Leumi, the First International Bank of Israel, the Israel Discount Bank and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank for several years.

The fund had tried to convince them to reconsider their financial backing for Israel’s West Bank settlements which “are considered illegal under international humanitarian law” – but to no avail.

PGGM said “given the day-to-day reality and domestic legal framework they operate in, the banks have limited to no possibilities to end their involvement in the financing of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

This is a reference to 2011 Israeli legislation which outlawed any form of boycott, rendering it a legal tort – something punishable with potentially heavy fines.

PGGM manages the pensions of 2.5 million people and claims assets worth more than €153 billion ($208 billion).

More BDS on the way

Today’s news is the latest boost for the burgeoning boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Things have reached such a stage that one Israeli lawmaker now considers BDS “the greatest threat” facing Israel.

And Israel’s so-called justice minister (and war crimes suspect) Tzipi Livni admits BDS is “moving and advancing uniformly and exponentially.”

Indeed, in a foreshadowing coda to their statement today, PGGM makes it clear that it “continues its dialogue with a small number of other companies on the same issue.”

Israeli banks have been a BDS target for some time.

In the 2011 book that I edited with Frank Barat, Mirav Amir of Who Profits showed 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.

Indeed, Amir said, “most Israeli banks” have branches open in settlements. This is another example of how Israel has erased the 1949 “Green Line” ceasefire boundary, and rules the entire historic land of Palestine de facto as one state – an apartheid state where half of the population has no say.

In November, after a sustained BDS campaign, the US pension fund TIAA-CREF divested over $1.2 million worth of shares in French firm Veolia. The company provides infrastructure and transport services to illegal Israeli settlements.

In June 2012, Norway excluded Israel’s largest real estate firm from its government pension fund, also citing settlements.