New Zealand state pension fund divests from Israeli banks

| Ali Abunimah pour The Electronic Intifada |

New Zealand’s $33 billion national pension fund has excluded five Israeli banks from its portfolio because of their role in financing Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

An assessment by the NZ Super Fund concludes that holding shares in Israel’s biggest banks would violate its responsible investment policy.

The document cites New Zealand’s 2016 vote for UN Security Council resolution 2334 which reaffirms the illegality of the settlements, as well as statements by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he intends to proceed with large-scale annexations of occupied Palestinian land.

Israel’s construction of settlements is a war crime.

It is one of the matters currently before the International Criminal Court, whose judges last month cleared the way for a formal investigation of Israel’s actions in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In a 2018 report, Human Rights Watch documented the essential role Israeli banks play in building the colonies and perpetrating large-scale abuses of Palestinian human rights.

The excluded financial institutions are First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank, Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi and Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot.

All five now appear on the NZ Super Fund exclusion list.

They join other Israeli companies involved in violating Palestinian rights that were already excluded by the fund : arms makers Elbit Systems and Ashot and settlement construction firms Africa-Israel and Shikun & Binui.

The decision by the New Zealand fund indicates growing international momentum to hold Israeli corporations accountable for their role in Israeli war crimes.

Last summer ABP, the biggest Dutch pension fund and one of the world’s largest, stopped investing in two Israeli banks because of their role in settlement construction.

Activists in New Zealand are welcoming the decision by the independently managed national pension fund, but say both the fund and the country’s government must do more.

“The ethical decision by the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to disinvest in Israeli banks should be followed by our government,” the Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa stated on Tuesday.

“The fund still has investments in other Israeli companies, and the fund says it will be paying close attention to any future reports from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights about the culpability of other Israeli companies in illegal settlement construction,” PSNA spokesperson Janfrie Wakim noted.

Wakim observed that the NZ Super Fund excluded Israeli weapons maker Elbit in 2012, “Yet, the New Zealand government has admitted to buying military equipment, ground tested on Palestinians, from Elbit Systems.”