Israeli government takes credit for ABP decision not to divest - but is it telling the truth?
Following recent decisions by major European investment funds to cut ties with Israeli entities, the announcement last week by Dutch pension fund ABP that it was not excluding Israeli banks was greeted with some relief by Israel and its lobby groups.
In explaining this decision, ABP claimed that the three banks in which it has investments, Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi and Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot, "themselves do not act in breach of international law and regulations" and that "the stipulations in the UN Global [Compact] have not been violated".
As the Financial Times reported, the statement followed "over a year" of talks between ABP and the Israeli banks over "concerns that they were financing illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian-occupied territories".
Then yesterday, a report appeared in Israel's Maariv/NRG, one of the country's most popular news sites, in which the Israeli government appeared to be taking credit for directly intervening and influencing ABP's decision.
The ministry of foreign affairs has received several dispatches from capitals deemed problematic, whose bottom line was optimistic. It seems this is due to the decision to pursue a more aggressive line in order to reverse the [boycott] trend. The most significant sequence of actions has been taken in the Netherlands. It brought about the prevention of a decision by huge pension fund ABP to divest from Israel.
The report refers to a variety of different actions that were taken to pressure ABP, including mobilising "Christian Friends of Israel", organising a petition, and the Israeli ambassador to the Netherlands Haim Divon initiating several media interviews. However, the Maariv/NRGreport goes on to cite "three additional significant actions which made ABP change its apparent decision".
The first: a strong Israeli message to the Netherlands via the Dutch ambassadors to Israel. The second: American pressure. The Israeli delegation initiated an appeal to Adam Sterling, the Chargé d'Affaires at the US embassy in The Hague. In keeping with the administration's announcement that it was opposed to boycotts of Israel, Sterling delivered a message to the Dutch government, stating that a decision to divest from Israel would not go down well in Washington. In response, the Dutch government asked ABP to tone down. The third, apparently decisively effective action: an implicit message by local businessmen who support Israel, stating that a decision to boycott the latter might harm ABP. Maariv-NRG has learned that the heads of various companies sent messages to ABP, warning that they would withdraw their money from the fund if it harmed Israel.
If true, this would mean that a decision by a private pension fund was influenced by direct interventions in an ongoing process by the Israeli, U.S, and Dutch governments.
However, I contacted ABP today, and over email and telephone a spokesperson categorically denied the report, insisting that ABP had not been contacted by any government or its representatives with regards to its decision on divestment.
All of which raises the possibility that, assuming ABP's denial is true, the Israeli government is looking to take credit for 'victories' that it was not responsible for. In light of recent public statements by business leaders and politicians, it could be a way of reassuring a domestic audience that is increasingly hearing about international boycotts that the government and Ministry of Foreign Affairs are in fact on top of things.
ABP's decision went very much against the grain, with Dutch pension fund PGGM cutting ties with Israeli banks involved in the "financing of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories", and Danish bank Danske acting on similar concerns. The Norwegian government's Pension Fund Global has also recently stopped investing in two Israeli companies because of their role in settlement construction. Indeed, ABP itself said in January that the fund might exclude stocks "as a last resort" if the Israeli banks did not act on ABP's complaints. In 2010, NGO 'Who Profits' documented Israeli banks' involvement in the occupation, noting:
It is evident that Israeli banks provide the financial basis for the construction of settlements, for the sustainability and maintenance of the settlements and for Israeli commercial activity in the occupied territory. Our report clearly illustrates that Israeli banks do not only provide these services and enable these activities, but are also fully aware of the type of activities for which they provide financial support.
Hebrew translation by Ofer Neiman