The Electronic Intifada / October 8, 2020
A UK body representing pension funds worth almost $390 billion is demanding answers on corporate involvement in illegal Israeli settlements.
The Local Authority Pension Fund Forum has “started correspondence” with companies cited by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the United Nations “as having human rights concerns through their operations in the Israeli settlements” in the occupied West Bank, local councillors were told in a Wolverhampton committee meeting last month.
Wolverhampton is a city in the Midlands near Birmingham.
Like the majority of UK local government pension schemes, the West Midlands Pension Fund to which Wolverhampton belongs is a member of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum.
The body says it promotes “the highest standards of corporate governance and corporate responsibility.”
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign said that West Yorkshire Pension Fund had also confirmed in a letter to activists that it was “seeking information” from French transport corporation Alstom over its involvement in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
PSC last week welcomed the forum’s move, but said it didn’t go far enough.
“All funds must now follow suit and take immediate steps to address their complicit investments, beginning the process of divesting from companies complicit in Israel’s violations of international law,” said PSC director Ben Jamal.
Painstaking research released by the PSC in May revealed almost $3 billion worth of investment by UK local government pension schemes in companies that are complicit in Israeli war crimes.
Since then, the PSC has revealed further investments worth more than $1.67 billion in complicit companies – a grand total of almost $4.8 billion.
Many of the companies highlighted in the research have been blacklisted in a United Nations database for their involvement in Israeli war crimes, including Alstom.
The UN finally released the database in February, after years of unexplained delays.
In April, the UK’s highest court struck down an anti-divestment rule imposed by the government.
The Conservative government had decreed that local authorities could not use their pension policies “to pursue boycotts, divestment and sanctions against foreign nations.”
Tories including Boris Johnson himself singled out Israel as the reason for the rule.
The government has announced its intention to bring in a new law which could nullify the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Israel lobby opposes
The Israel lobby has also been mobilizing its forces.
Within hours of the PSC press release announcing the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum’s move, Conservative Friends of Israel released a statement on their website condemning local authorities who “undertake boycotts that could undermine foreign policy.”
It quoted a recent Parliamentary statement by Luke Hall – a junior minister in the local government ministry – saying that the government would bring in a new law on the issue “as soon as parliamentary time allows”.
Hall had been asked by Labour MP Rupa Huq “what plans the Government has to bring forward legislative proposals to allow local authorities to pursue boycotts, divestments and sanctions” in light of April’s Supreme Court ruling.
A spokesperson for the local government ministry told The Electronic Intifada on Thursday that the government “remains committed to its manifesto pledge to ban public bodies from imposing their own boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns.”
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has launched a new website to help activists and pension scheme members organize to put pressure on funds to divest.
The initiative is being supported by the UK’s three largest unions: UNISON, Unite and the GMB.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada; he lives in London