Dutch pensions group divesting from Israeli banks over settlements

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA) — A Dutch pension administrator will divest from five Israeli banks over their activity in the West Bank.

PGGM announced its decision to divest from Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank on Tuesday on its website, citing the pension investment firm’s “responsible investment policy.”

The text cited the banks’ “involvement in financing Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. This was a concern, as the settlements in the Palestinian territories are considered illegal under international humanitarian law.”

According to PGGMs policy paper, the company excludes investing in bodies involved in “violations of fundamental human rights and labor rights.”

But a document released by the company in 2013 showed PGGM investments abroad include two Chinese banks — the Bank of China and China Construction Bank — with offices and activities in Tibet, which is widely seen internationally as land occupied by China. PGGM also invests in the China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., or Sinopec, which is exploring for oil in Tibet.

Yigal Palmor, a senior spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said PGGM’s divestment indicated a double standard.

Decision makers at PGGM, he said, were “discombobulated by the rising anti-Israel discourse in Holland, and resorted to an excess of self-righteousness. This sanctimonious moralism comes across as all the more awkward as it is now clear that PGGM applies a different standard in other areas of the world.”

Palmor added that the “double standard probably derives from the assessment of the reaction” because, whereas Israel responds to criticism with statements, “others reply by heavy-handed economic sanctions.”

PGGM spokesman Maurice Wilbrink declined to answer JTA’s questions on the scope of his company’s investments in Chinese firms active in Tibet, explaining the figures were confidential. Any further information about PGGM’s move, he said, was in its statement.

The company had a marginal investment of several dozen millions of dollars in Israeli banks out of billions it invests all over the world, according to the NRC Handelsblad daily. The paper reported PGGM was Holland’s second-largest pension administrator.

PGGM’s international investments also include the Malaysian palm oil producer Sime Darby, which last year paid $1 million in reparations to villagers in Liberia amid accusations that the firm had violated their human rights and confiscated their property.

 

 

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