Stockholm (NordSIP) – The Norwegian Sovereign Wealth oil Fund has been investing in Israeli banks that finance war crimes, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) which was reported on by the Norway state broadcaster NRK last week.
The HRW report – “Bankrolling Abuse – Israeli Banks in West Bank Settlements” – examines how large Israeli banks support the occupation of the West Bank through their banking services, and thereby how international investors, like the Norwegian oil fund, assist in what the HRW designates as war crimes.
“Israeli banks are active and offer services in Israeli settlements, and in so doing, they contribute to serious violations of international and humanitarian law. Settlements are war crimes: it is illegal for an occupying power to move its inhabitants to occupied territory – and the banks assist in this,” Sari Bashi at the HRW Israel and Palestine Office in Jerusalem told NRK’s journalists. Among other things, the banks cooperate with builders to build homes on illegally appropriated land, she said.
The UN designates Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal under international law, with the UN Security Council stipulating that all construction activity must cease within the next year and a half.
And thus the Norwegian SWF bombshell: according to HRW, the oil fund is one of the largest investors in five of the largest Israeli banks, with over $200 billion invested.
“Institutional investors [such as the SWF] have a responsibility under UN Business and Human Rights Guidelines to ensure that their business activities do not contribute to a serious breach of rights. They must show what is called due diligence to ensure that business activities do not contribute to, for example, discrimination, war crimes or the illegal possession of private property,” Bashi said.
The SWF’s Ethics Council issued a written response to NRK, stating “this is not a new issue for us, and we have been in dialogue with several Israeli banks for information on this topic.”
The fund suggests that it has itself already ruled out investing in several companies on the basis of the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. “These are companies that undertake the building itself. In essence, there will be companies that are directly involved in such business, as we can ascertain. Then there is the question of whether collaborative responsibility is applicable to these banks.”
“We do not deny that banks can be excluded from the fund on the basis of what they help to finance or facilitate, but in such cases, this needs to be assessed in a broader context than just Israeli settlements,” the statement concluded.
HRW’s Bashi encouraged the SWF Ethics Council to take note of its report. “We encourage them to study the report and draw the conclusions they need to make sure that they use public funds according to the Fund’s human rights responsibility and their own responsible investment guidelines.”
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