Welsh council pension funds invest £260m in firms ‘complicit in oppression of Palestine’
A campaign group has criticised local government pension schemes in Wales for having investments totalling more than £260m in companies deemed to be “complicit” in Israel’s war against Gaza or occupation of Palestinian territories.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has produced a database listing all the council pension funds in England and Wales that hold such investments, six of which are in Wales.
Currently local government pension schemes are able to make investment decisions based on ethical principles, but under a bill that has passed through the Commons and is currently with the Lords, that will no longer be possible.
The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill is intended to thwart the campaign aimed at cutting investment in Israel because of its occupation of Palestinian territory and more immediately because of the war on Gaza, where around 24,000 :Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, when more than 1,200 people were killed and hundreds abducted.
Since the Six Day War in 1967, Israel has been occupying Palestinian territory on the West Bank of the Jordan river, as well as East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights of Syria. The occupations are regarded as illegal under international law.
Founded in 2005, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) has sought to damage Israel’s economy because of its treatment of Palestinians. It has stepped up its activity since the invasion of Gaza. One of its missions has been to persuade companies and individuals not to invest in firms that supply arms to Israel or goods and services to the occupied Palestinian territories.
The PSC website shows that six local authority pension schemes in Wales have investments valued at £260,828,957 in companies that fall into those two categories: Rhondda Cynon Taf (with such investments totalling, in round figures, £97.8m), Dyfed (£64.4m), Swansea (£46.4m), Gwynedd (£39.4m), Powys (£9.0m) and Clwyd (£3.7m).
Some of the investments are in arms companies that supply the Israel Defence Forces and others supply goods and services to Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
Examples of the companies invested in by Welsh local government pension funds are described by PSC as follows:
* Lockheed Martin is a long-time supplier of the Israeli army, having supplied them since 1971. They are notorious for the production of F-16 fighter jets, which have been used in deadly Israeli attacks in Palestine and Lebanon. For example, Israel’s 2006 invasion of Southern Lebanon involved wide use of F-16 fighter jets over 1,000 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, were killed. After the attacks, HRW commented that “Israel’s frequent failure to abide by a fundamental obligation of the laws of war: the duty to distinguish between military targets, which can be legitimately attacked, and civilians, who are not subject to attack.
“Lockheed Martin weapons played a major role in Israel’s 2008-2009 and 2014 assaults on Gaza. An extensive investigation by Amnesty International into Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, which killed 1,394 Palestinians, including 345 children, found that Israel’s attacks using Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters and Hellfire missiles often failed to distinguish between civilians and combatants. In some cases there was even evidence that civilians and civilian spaces were deliberately targeted.
* BAE Systems is the world’s fourth largest arms producer. Its portfolio includes fighter aircraft, warships, tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery, missiles and small arms ammunition. BAE owns a factory in Jersualem through its subsidiary Rokar International. Rokar provides systems for combat aircraft and helicopters used by the Israeli military in violence against Palestinians in Gaza.
“BAE has a workshare agreement with Lockheed Martin producing the US F-35 stealth combat aircraft. Israel, for example, took delivery of its first F-35 in 2016. BAE has also worked in cooperation with Lockheed Martin and Rafael to produce and market the naval Protector drone used to maintain the siege of Gaza along the Mediterranean coast.
* Barclays is a British multinational bank and financial services company. Barclays hold approximately £1,2bn of investments in companies that are known to supply the Israeli military. This includes Babcock, BAE and Boeing, Cobham and Rolls Royce.
* HSBC invests over £830m in, and provides financial services worth up to £19bn for companies arming Israel. These investments include up to £100m worth of shares in the company Caterpillar, who supply the Israeli army with bulldozers which are weaponised and used to demolish Palestinian communities, build Israel’s illegal settlements and apartheid infrastructure including the apartheid wall and military checkpoints.
* Booking.com is a travel metasearch engine for lodging reservations. It is owned and operated by and is the primary revenue source of United States-based Booking Holdings and is headquartered in Amsterdam. Researchers have found numerous Booking.com rental listings in illegal Israeli settlements, on stolen Palestinian land. It was included in the UN OHCHR’s list of businesses active in illegal Israeli settlements based on stolen Palestinian land.
* Airbnb. As of 2018, Airbnb had some 200 property listings in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, not including the ones in East Jerusalem. Amnesty International documented an additional 100 listings in occupied East Jerusalem and the occupied Golan Heights. In addition, Airbnb’s listings indicate that the location of these properties are not in the West Bank, but in Israel.
Amnesty International described the bill aimed at ending boycotts of Israel as “draconian”. Its UK CEO Sacha Deshmukh said: “With Israel’s lethal conduct in Gaza being heavily criticised all over the world, it’s utterly bizarre that ministers are trying to prevent members of councils and other public bodies from being able to consider the carnage in Gaza when drawing up and implementing their procurement policies.”
PSC director Ben Jamal said: “It is a national scandal that the wages of local government workers are being invested in companies enabling these catastrophic attacks. Israel’s carpet bombing and ground invasion of the besieged Gaza Strip has caused unimaginable suffering and devastation.”
Cllr Elwyn Vaughan, leader of the Plaid Cymru group on Powys County Council, said: “It’s a matter of concern to many, at a time when there’s widespread support for a ceasefire in Gaza, when we want peace, that our pension contributions are being used to support companies that facilitate the atrocity that’s happening in front of our eyes.”
One pension fund told the Open Democracy campaign group: “The sale of weapons is tightly controlled and companies operating in the sector require explicit government approval in order to gain export licences. The UK Government continues to grant such licences to Israel.”
Another pension fund said: “We do not have an exclusion policy in relation to armament companies in general, however we expect companies to abide by international treaties and conventions and expect that they will have followed domestic and international law in terms of their sales”.
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