How AXA insures life while investing in death

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The French insurer AXA is the second-largest insurance provider in the world, with operations based in more than 60 countries that total over 100 million clients. It is also the world’s second-largest financial services company by revenue and invests hundreds of billions of dollars in thousands of companies. With its massive international budget and sway, AXA has the power to promote its goals of becoming “the most sustainable company in the world” and “maintaining the highest standards of integrity,” yet instead it chooses to invest in apartheid.

AXA’s investments are handled through two different AXA subsidiaries: AXA Investment Managers and AXA Equitable Holdings. Hiding behind these two subsidiaries, AXA is currently investing over $90 million in five Israeli banks–Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, Bank Mizrahi Tefahot, First International Bank of Israel, Israeli Discount Bank. Those five banks directly invest in infrastructure and housing projects in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory. A report by SumOfUs earlier this year states, “AXA is involved in the illegal Israeli occupation — which may expose the company to criminal prosecution for complicity in gross human rights violations, including war crimes under both French and International law.” I, for one, am shocked that a massive, multinational corporation would have anything but the highest regard for human rights.

AXA also invests more than $1 million in Elbit Systems, the largest Israeli weapons manufacturer and the top weapons supplier to the Israeli military. These weapons are used against protestors demanding their rights in Gaza and to surveil Palestinian communities along Israel’s apartheid wall. Elbit Systems is the world’s leading exporter of military and surveillance drones and it markets its products as “battle-tested” (on occupied Palestinians). It is also under contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to build the “Integrated Fixed Towers” security project along the US-Mexico border, perpetuating a system of border militarization and migrant deaths.

If all of these heinous investments in death and destruction weren’t enough, investing in Elbit also opens companies like AXA up to legal prosecution. Elbit manufactures cluster bombs which directly violate the UN Convention on Cluster Munitions (though Elbit continues to deny this is the case, Elbit’s continued involvement in the manufacture of cluster munitions has been cited as a reason for divestment this year and referenced by the EU parliament as recently as last month. For more information on this, the report by SumOfUs clarifies). By investing in Elbit and funding the manufacturing of these cluster bombs, AXA is violating international law. In addition, because France, where AXA is headquartered, is a state party to the UN Convention on Cluster Munitions, that means AXA’s investments violate French domestic law, too.

However, because investing in Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, Bank Mizrahi Tefahot, First International Bank of Israel, and Israeli Discount Bank merely violates international law regarding occupation, AXA Investment Managers continues to invest in them. The potential prosecution under broader domestic French and international cluster munitions law did lead to AXA Investment Managers divesting from Elbit Systems in April of 2019, but even then AXA only appeared to divest from Elbit.

How could it be that AXA is still invested in Elbit if AXA Investment Managers divested? That’s where AXA’s affiliate, AXA Equitable Holdings, comes in. AXA Equitable Holdings is a combination of two businesses: AXA Equitable Life Insurance and AllianceBernstein. Though it has been selling shares in AXA Equitable Holdings for a seemingly-unrelated purpose, AXA maintains a stake in the company and AllianceBernstein houses AXA’s investment in Elbit.

What this means is that AXA has given up enough shares in one portion of one of its subsidiaries to hide its investments in Elbit from those who might attempt to hold it accountable. The entirety of AXA Equitable Holdings (including AllianceBernstein) is based in New York and, coincidentally or not so coincidentally, the United States is not a state party to the UN Convention on Cluster Munitions. If we were, investing in Elbit would be illegal under our domestic law; because we aren’t the only potential legal recourse for investing in Elbit is international law which goes largely unenforced. By operating this subsidiary and affiliate under it in the United States, where prosecution under international law is unlikely and prosecution under domestic law is impossible, AXA is able — in a disgustingly sneaky way — to continue investing in Elbit Systems without facing any legal consequences.

Through its investments in five Israeli banks and Elbit Systems, AXA is taking funds from clients around the world who come to AXA looking for security and instead, using them to fund destruction. How can a company be “committed to maintaining the highest standards of integrity,” as AXA claims it is, and yet profit off of war crimes and human rights abuses? How can a corporation claim to insure and protect its clients lives and wellbeing while taking their money to fund companies which profit from apartheid?

This hypocrisy is why CODEPINK is partnering with a coalition of Palestine solidarity groups from around the world to tell AXA it’s time to divest: for real this time. You can join us by signing on to our petition and by joining the international social media day of action on November 29th. The people of Palestine need more than just empty words and hidden investments to try and skirt around international law. AXA needs to divest ALL of its subsidiaries from ALL companies funding apartheid. Until it does, it will never be the corporation it claims it is.

Updated: November 21, 2019, 2:50 p.m.

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