Five of Europe’s largest pension funds have — against EU directives — invested up to €7.5 billion ($8.09 billion) in businesses linked to illegal Israeli settlements, Danish investigative news team Danwatch, reported on Tuesday.
In July, the EU released new guidelines that state that any Israeli entity “seeking funding from or cooperation with the EU will have to submit a declaration stating that the entity has no direct or indirect links to the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights,” Haaretz reported.
According to the Danwatch report, the Government Pension Fund of Norway, Dutch government pension fund ABP, Dutch pension fund PFZW, Danish pension plan ATP, and Swedish pension fund Alecta have a total of €7.5 billion invested in 36 Israeli and international publicly-traded companies, “most of which have long been under public scrutiny because of their activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
The investments, linked to illegal Israeli settlements, reportedly do not comply with the guideliness, according to Danwatch’s documentation.
Of the five, the Government Pension Fund of Norway (SPU), has the largest investment, which amounts to €5.2 billion ($5.6 billion).
In 2015, before the guideline change, the Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees and Norwegian People’s Aid released a report, which found that SPU had invested NOK 64.1 billion ($7.8 billion) in 41 companies that contribute “to the violations of international law and human rights in Palestine.”
At the time of publication, it was unclear whether the amount invested in companies linked to illegal Israeli settlements had decreased since the release of the report, or if Danwatch had not included some of the 41 companies listed by Norwegian Municipal and People’s Aid report.
Of the 41 companies SPU had been invested in at the time of the 2015 report, 13 were involved in “especially severe violations of law that contravene the SPU guidelines.”
The 13 companies were identified as Heidelberg Cement, Cemex, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Alstom, Caterpillar, G4S, Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, Dexia Group, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank.
According to a Ma’an News report in 2009, which also reported on SPU’s investment links to Israeli settlement, the ethical guidelines of the SPU “prohibit any investments in unethical areas, or that may be in contradiction with human rights, gross corruption or severe environmental damages.”
While the United Nations does not consider business links between member states and Israeli settlements to be illegal, it does consider Israeli settlements illegal under international law and considers investors to be “obliged to carry out enhanced due diligence” and show that “their activities do not contribute to negative effects on human rights.”
In November, the European Council on Foreign Relations released a report that detailed the advisories for 18 EU member state, which warned their businesses of “the legal, financial and reputational consequences they could expose themselves to in dealings with Israeli settlement entities.”
Norway was not on the list of countries that released advisories, however Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden were.
Meanwhile, also in November, the Jerusalem Post quoted the Norwegian Ambassador to Israel, Jon Hanssen-Bauer, as expressing that the current Norwegian government is looking to have “a much wider horizon” when it comes to Israel.
“With the current government, we are trying to build up trade and bilateral relationships. We are active in the peace process, we do work together with Israel on that, but we are also trying have a much wider horizon,” he added, according to the Jpost report. It was not clear if the ambassador referred at all to Israeli settlements specifically.
Israel has continuously come under fire for its settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory, which is considered illegal under international law. In December, The UN Security Council voted in favor of a resolution that demanded Israel halt its settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory.
The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement which urges companies, countries and individuals to boycott Israel and its illegal settlements, financially, culturally and academically.
Due to its success in recent years, various companies have divested from Israel and its settlements. Israeli authorities consider the international campaign to be anti-semitic, and the government is currently attempting to ban any individuals supporting the campaign from entering both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.