The €325bn civil service scheme ABP has accepted an invitation from international activists network Avaaz to discuss its current €68m exposure to three Israeli banks.
Last month, Avaaz urged ABP as well as five other companies – including Barclays and G4S – to divest from Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi and Bank Mizrahi Tafahot, as they are allegedly involved in financing disputed settlements in what is deemed occupied Palestinian territory.
The move comes despite the fund saying in February that it did not view the activities of the three banks as in breach of international law.
In the opinion of Ricken Patel, Avaaz’s director, ABP needed to act quickly to protect its reputation, following 1.6m people worldwide signing the petition requesting divestment.
The petition sought to take advantage of momentum after 17 European Union member states in July urged caution in dealing with businesses profiting from or funding settlements in the West Bank.
It added: “In the wake of the terrible violence unfolding in Israel-Palestine, we, citizens from around the world, are deeply concerned about your companies’ continued investment in companies and projects that finance illegal settlements and the oppressive occupation of the Palestinian people.”
Meanwhile hundreds of critical comments have been placed on ABP’s Facebook account.
Earlier this year, the €152bn Dutch healthcare scheme PFZW, decided to withdraw its investments from the three banks, a decision that was criticised at the time over the manner in which the divestment decision was reached.
Cees de Veer, ABP’s vice chairman indicated that he took the responses seriously. “At the end of August, our board will discuss the case,” he said, adding that the meeting with Avaaz was scheduled for September-end.
For now, ABP is to stick with its investments in Israel. “Until now, we have been unable to establish whether the three banks are involved in violation of humans rights. They merely facilitate payments in the occupied territories,” De Veer commented.
He said that he was not sure whether the banks also issue mortgages to finance building activities in the disputed settlements. “These facts need to be established during our board meeting and talks with Avaaz,” he pointed out.
“However, we noted that the signatories of the petition do not necessarily represent the opinion of the average ABP participant.”
He said that he received 6,000 emails during the past weeks about ABP’s investments in Israel, most of them from abroad.