G4S requested UK intervene after Israeli minister’s criticism
The multinational security and incarceration firm G4S wrote to the UK government after an Israeli minister threatened it for yielding to pressure from activists with the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and deciding to sell its business in Israel and the Palestinian territories last year. This was revealed in emails obtained by the Financial Times under a freedom of information request.
G4S asked the British government to intervene after an Israeli minister accused the security company of bowing to pro-Palestinian activists in its decision to sell its business in Israel and the Palestinian territories last year.
The request, details of which were released by the Foreign Office under the Freedom of Information Act, highlights the delicate position of multinationals doing business in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. The settlements are considered illegal by the international community and were condemned in a UN Security Council resolution that Britain supported last month.
G4S sold its Israeli business, which included the installation of security equipment in prisons in Israel and Ofer Prison in the occupied West Bank where Palestinian prisoners are held, last month to FIMI Opportunity Funds, an Israeli private equity group, for an estimated 425m shekels (£89m).
The decision followed years of protests and the disruption of its annual general meetings by campaign groups including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Group, a Palestinian-led movement that claimed the sale as a victory.
When it announced plans to sell the business last May, G4S said it was for commercial reasons. But Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister of public security, strategic affairs and information, told the Jerusalem Post newspaper at the time that the company had bowed to activists’ pressure in its decision to pull out of the business.
“While almost all companies ignore the intimidation, a tiny minority give in,” Mr Erdan said. “For example, BDS was a factor in the decision of security company G4S to sell their operations in Israel. Giving in to BDS was a mistake, both morally and financially. Companies that take such politically-motivated decisions must pay a price, and they will.”
In an email shortly after Mr Erdan’s remarks, G4S requested the Foreign Office “reach out to Mr Erdan to discuss this matter”.
“Essentially, our message is aligned to the British government — we do not support boycotts. We are also confirming that our decision is purely commercial,” G4S said.
It added this week that the emails were part of “normal discussions” with the Foreign Office because it did not want the government to be “blindsided and to make sure the government knew we were on the same page”.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the government had not approached the Israeli government on behalf of G4S. “G4S routinely keeps the Foreign Office informed of its business operations in Israel,” she said.
Part of Mr Erdan’s brief is to counter the BDS movement, which is modelled on the boycott movement that targeted apartheid in South Africa. Benjamin Netanyahu’s government describes the campaign as anti-Semitic and a strategic threat to Israel.
Steps the government has taken to fight the movement include supporting anti-boycott laws in US states and European countries that could see companies face punitive action if they are deemed to be supporting a boycott.
The details of G4S communication with the Foreign Office comes amid signs of a shift in British policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict towards a more overtly pro-Israeli views, with one eye on the new Donald Trump administration.
Britain, along with Australia, this month dissented from a resolution upholding the two-state solution at an international conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Paris, citing reservations about the fact that Israel opposed the meeting, and that it was taking place just days before Mr Trump’s swearing in as US president.
Diplomats in Israel said this, combined with a move by Britain the following day to block the EU foreign affairs council from adopting the conference’s resolution, represented a shift in UK policy. Britain insists nothing has changed.