Thursday, February 6, 2014

Largest Dutch pensionfund ABP decides not to divest from Israeli banks

Bank Leumi branch | Oranit Settlement | May 2011 | Photographed by Who Profits
Branch office of Bank Leumi in the settlement Oranit. Bank Leumi has similar offices in settlements around Jerusalem and on the Golan and its daughter (for nearly 90%),  Leumi Mortgage Bank, which provides mortgages for houses in the settlements has a branch in the settlement Nofei Zufim  

The largest pension fund of the Netherlands, ABP (short for Algemeen Burgerlijk Pensioenfonds), announced Wednesday that it does not intend to divest from its investments in Israeli banks. In a press statement it said that it had concluded that they had not done anything contrary to international law or regulations.
ABP has investments in Israel's two largest banks, Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi, and Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot. The pension fund's announcement came several weeks after the second largest Dutch pension fund, PGGM, said it was divesting its holdings in Israel's five largest banks.

ABP's statement reads:

ABP’s investment policy aims to provide a good and affordable pension for all its participants. Part of the investment policy is the ESG-policy (Environment, Social and Governance policy). This ESG-policy is based upon two objective reference points; international laws and regulations, and the principles of the United Nations Global Compact.
 Every year the ESG policy is discussed by the ABP Board of Trustees, taking into account all aspects such as changes in laws and regulations, as well as societal signals.
 Currently, ABP invests in three Israeli banks. Earlier, within the framework of ABP’s ESG policy, talks have been held with these banks regarding corporate social responsibility. ABP has concluded that these banks themselves do not act in breach of international laws and regulations, and that there are no judicial rulings that should lead to their exclusion. Furthermore, ABP has concluded that the stipulations in the UN Global have not been violated and do not give cause to start a formal engagement process (that possibly could lead to exclusion).

ABP's conclusion that Israeli banks which provide services to the settlements do nothing contrary to international law, stands in stark contrast to the decision taken by PGGM in January. This second largest Dutch pensionfund based its step upon an advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2004. In this opinion the court concluded that settlements in occupied Palestinian territory are illegal and violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
PGGM was no alone in taking such a step. It was preceded by refusals of the Dutch firms Royal HasKoning (engineering) and Vitens (water company) to get involved in, successively, the construction of a wastewater treatment facility in East-Jerusalem and having a partnership with the Israeli water company Mekorot. Only last week Danske Bank and a number of Scandinavian pension funds followed with decisions to divest from Israeli banks. It is somewhat enigmatic how amidst this growing consensus in European business circles, ABP was able to come to a different conclusion. A conclusion that apart from other considerations also may have some sensible political consequences, as ABP is the fund that, among other things, manages the pensions of the employees of all Dutch government institutions.
Branch office of Bank Hapoalim in the settlement Bnei Yehuda on the Golan Heights. 

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