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Dutch giant ABP rejects calls to divest from Israeli banks [updated]

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ABP, the Netherlands’ €325bn civil service pension fund, has said it will not divest from three Israeli banks due to their alleged involvement in the so-called occupied territories of the West Bank.

In a statement, the board responded to an open letter from Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop for South Africa, who recently waded into the debate over whether the Dutch pension fund should remain invested in the banks.

The board said it would stick with its existing policy for responsible investment and that, “based on objective and rational criteria, the investments are not in violation of national or international legislation”.

Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, argued that ABP had in effect contributed to human rights violations through its €68m investment in Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi and Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot.

The ABP board discussed Tutu’s letter today, together with a petition calling for divestment signed by more than 1.7m people.

The petition was organised by Avaaz, an online civic organisation promoting activism.

The former archbishop’s letter comes as a report commissioned by Avaaz claimed that roughly 50% of the Dutch public believes ABP’s commitment to the banks is “irresponsible”. 

Of the 1,000 respondents to the survey, 10% said ABP’s stakes in the banks were of no concern, while approximately 40% said they had no opinion on the matter.

The survey asked: “If the directors keep ABP’s investments in Israeli banks that support the settlement of Palestinian land by Israeli settlers, would you view their decision as responsible or irresponsible?”

Avaaz said survey results were roughly the same among ABP participants.

The civil service scheme said it also received approximately 1,500 emails in support of the investments from members of the Christians for Israel organisation.

Earlier today, ABP spokeswoman Jos van Dijk said: “We are dealing with very contradictory signals, which make decision-making very complicated.”

Now, ABP has said it plans to maintain its investments in the banks, as it has found no evidence they are involved in human rights violations.

According to the pension fund, the banks have merely facilitated money transfers within the so-called occupied territories.

Earlier this year, the €152bn healthcare scheme PFZW made the controversial decision to divest from five Israeli banks, including those in which ABP is invested.

Readers' comments (2)

  • What resonates with me is “based on objective and rational criteria, the investments are not in violation of national or international legislation” and “We are dealing with very contradictory signals, which make decision-making very complicated.”

    In my opinion the fundamental problem is that individual members have not the possibility to make their own choice. I would regard pension assets as assets from the members to be used to finance their pension. In the mean time they should have the right to make very fundamental decisions on what their money is used for as it is their money. Taking it from here the ABP Board could also have decided to divest 50% of their holdings since it is the wish of 50% of their members to invest elsewhere.

    I know that this is not the way how we have arranged our pension system. What I would add to the discussion is that it is also about listening to the voice of the members on who's behalf the investments are done. Listening to your members, taking your members opinions serious, might lead to other decisions than purely based on "objective and rational criteria"

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  • The survey asked a loaded question, and it is not surprising that the response to the question was slanted.

    Avaaz's question included the statement that Israeli banks support the settlement of Palestinian land by Israeli settlers, but how many people would have queried that statement, despite being made by an activist organisation.

    The board of ABP rightfully made their own enquiries and came to the conclusion that they were comfortable that their investments were morally sound as well as making economic sense.

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