18th May 2015

Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign extends solidarity greetings to People & Planet Edinburgh and all students and staff who have occupied and shut down the Charles Stewart House building to end University of Edinburgh investment in arms and fossil fuel companies.  Their campaign goals include calls for elected student representation on the investment committee and structures to hold the investment committee accountable.

We urge all supporters of Palestinian rights to send messages, and if possible, demonstrate your solidarity with the University of Edinburgh divestment campaign occupation on Chamber Street, Edinburgh.  Let us also learn from and follow their example by organising similar campaigns and actions.

The Scottish Government has called for an arms embargo on Israel for the 'depth of inhumanity' they saw in Israel's summer 2014 massacre of Palestinians in Gaza.The grassroots action at Edinburgh University is an inspiration and thus a step towards making real this aspiration shared by many.

More information about the campaign here and here.
Petition: “We want the University of Edinburgh to create a robust responsible investment policy that screens out fossil fuels and the arms trade, and makes the investment process more responsible, accountable and democratic.” Sign here
More information about the Campaign to End Scottish Arms Sales with Israel.

Sofiah MacLeod (Chair)
On behalf of Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Building effective solidarity with the Palestinian people
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.scottishpsc.org.uk

The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to economically pressure the Israeli state to adhere to international law has been gaining traction since its inception in July 2005. From individual to organisational boycotts, divestment by universities and pension funds, there are an increasing number of successes. While companies complicit in human rights violations – such as G4S – are an excellent boycott target, less attention has been paid to a more obscure form of economic security for Zionism in Palestine. The BDS movement has paid scant attention to bonds, but Israel Bonds has acknowledged BDS.

A bond is ‘A debt investment in which an investor loans money to an entity (corporate or governmental) that borrows the funds for a defined period of time at a fixed interest rate. Bonds are used by companies, municipalities, states and… governments to finance a variety of projects and activities.’[i] To buy a bond from Israel Bonds, then, is to assist in strengthening the apartheid state; this method of support is currently being aggressively marketed and juxtaposed against the BDS movement by Zionist agencies.

The US-based Israel Bonds – or the Development Corporation for Israel – was established by president Ben-Gurion in 1951. It is a broker-dealer member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Writing an op-ed in the Zionist organ, the Jerusalem Post, in January this year, CEO Israel (Izzy) Tapoohi Israel Bonds was described as a “record-breaking, strategic asset for Israel”. The article goes on to boast that bond sales of that financial year surpassed $1.12 billion – an increase of 37% from the previous year. The most interesting part is the political:

“A value-added aspect of investing in Israel bonds is the powerful statement it sends to Israel’s adversaries, especially the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Knowing Israel will never be defeated on the battlefield, BDS supporters employ confrontational economic tactics on a wide variety of fronts.”

Tapoohi concludes: “Yet, each and every Israel bond investment sends an unmistakable message to BDS advocates: Israel’s economy will remain strong.” Israel Bonds is hailed as a “dedicated, independent financial pipeline” for the Israeli state.[ii]

For those of us supporting the BDS movement or active within it, this is very flattering and a signal that we must be doing something right. Were the movement a simply a disorganised and incoherent fringe group, it would be ignored, or perhaps mocked.

BDS gets further attention on the Israel Bonds website, in the ‘from the CEO’ section, entitled “Israel Bonds are a Strong Response to the BDS Movement”. It’s Izzy again. He dedicates a whole page to defending the Israeli state and venting spleen on the BDS movement. After going through the usual red-herring platitudes (‘Why pick on little Israel?’ and ‘It’s great for gays and women’) he asserts the real reasons for economic pressure by BDS are:

“First, knowing Israel will never be defeated on the battlefield, they view the economic front as an alternate means of attacking Israel. Second, Israel’s economy represents an outstanding success story. Nothing agitates Israel’s detractors more than another achievement for the Jewish state, and Israel’s economic success is truly an exceptional achievement.”[iii]

Ignoring for a second the trouncing of the IOF by Hizballah in 2006, it is true that economic pressure is a non-violent means by which people living in imperial countries can assist in resistance against Zionism. The second one is clearly a ‘through the looking glass’ moment for Izzy; it’s doubtful that anyone involved in BDS is really motivated through envy of Israel economic ‘success’.

In May this year, Izzy gets another platform to remind the world again:

“Not everyone is applauding Israel’s stellar economic achievements—most especially the BDS movement. BDS advocates employ confrontational economic tactics in the belief they will succeed in isolating and weakening Israel.”[iv]

He is losing sleep over this.

According to the ‘learn’ section of Israeli Bonds website, 75% of investors are retail clients, while 25% are “institutional investors, encompassing states, municipalities, financial institutions, corporations, labor unions, universities and foundations.”[v] In the ‘history’ section, the broker-dealer is said to have a “legacy of achievement”, with proceeds that have “helped cultivate the desert [more on this later], build transportation networks, create new industries, resettle immigrants, and increase export capability”[vi]

If accurate, this means that Israel Bonds is a key agency in advancing land theft, creating apartheid roads for colonies, supporting the arms industry, assisting colonists occupy Palestinian land, the selling of goods produced on usurped land. Not only that, but universities and unions around the world are funding this.

Thirty years after the establishment of Israel Bonds, the Development Company for Israel (UK) Limited (or State of Israel Bonds UK) was created. It is virtually identical to Israel Bonds in aims and in terms of where proceeds are channelled. The website informs the reader that State of Israel Bonds UK has “enabled extraordinary advances throughout Israel”, giving the example of crops being grown in the Naqab, complete with pictures of colonists in their greenhouses. It quotes Ben-Gurion’s European colonial tropes of ‘making the desert bloom’.[vii]

That bond proceeds are important to maintaining occupation, colonisation and apartheid is quite obvious, but in April this year, a new development brought it to the fore. The state revealed that it planned to relocate Israeli Occupation Forces training bases to a single new facility in the Naqab, near Beersheba – a site of recent attempts to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian population – this ‘Training Base City’ plan would be funded through the sale of bonds to meet the first 19 billion shekels of a 50 million total.[viii]

Dissuading people and institutions from buying bonds that fund the Israeli state should not be made a priority for those in the BDS movement, for a couple of reasons. The first is that boycotting and divesting from complicit companies is far easier and more accessible in terms of process and results. The second is that bonds are simply a less-common economic link to Zionism; finding out who bought what number of bonds and at what price could be tedious and unfruitful. However, this is not to say that people in the US should not look out for Israel Bonds activity and those living in the UK aware of State of Israel Bonds UK – both have direct links to the Israeli state, and are therefore unequivocal BDS targets. Those in universities and trades unions can now begin to investigate whether or not their institutions are complicit in Zionist colonialism. The fact that bonds are now being promoted as a panacea to BDS is a hint that bonds must be given more attention by those seeking to strengthen and amplify solidarity with Palestinians.

The original article can be found here: http://revolvingrapids.wordpress.com/2014/05/31/the-bonds-with-zionism/

[i] Definition by Investopedia: http://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/bond.asp

[ii] http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/Israel-Bonds-A-record-breaking-strategic-asset-for-Israel-337529

[iii] http://www.israelbonds.com/about/from-the-ceo.aspx

[iv] http://jewishbusinessnews.com/2014/05/05/israel-bonds-celebrates-israeli-independence-calls-for-investment-in-the-future/

[v] http://www.israelbonds.com/learn/learn.aspx

[vi] http://www.israelbonds.com/learn/history.aspx

[vii] http://www.israelukbonds.com/israel.html

[viii] http://www.haaretz.com/business/.premium-1.583284

 “We do not wish to fund companies that so directly contribute to violations of international humanitarian law,” Ms Halvorsen said at the time...
significant high point in a campaign that is followed attentively, and with some concern, in Israel

Tobias Bruck in Financial Times 19 November 2009

Norwegian finance ministers do not normally have the tools or the temperament to provoke fury among Israeli leaders and jubilation among Palestinian activists.

Elbit Systems - testing weapons on captive Palestinians gives them a competitve edge in arms marketplace Yet those were the reactions when Kristin Halvorsen announced in September that her country’s giant pension fund had excluded an Israeli defence company from its portfolio for “ethical reasons”. The fund, she added, had sold its holding in Elbit Systems because of the company’s role in supplying surveillance equipment to Israel’s controversial West Bank barrier.In purely financial terms, the decision was of little significance. What is more, it remains for the moment an isolated event. But the Norwegian move caught attention because it marked a rare but significant high point in a campaign that is followed attentively, and with some concern, in Israel: the attempt to drag the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians into the economic sphere, and target Israeli companies in pursuit of political goals.

Full article in Financial Times November 19, 2009

 Time to divest

Conference, 19-20 October, Edinburgh

Saturday 19 October

Welcome and Introduction

Maggie Chapman, Scottish Green Party

Maggie told us that Denis Goldberg, South African anti-apartheid campaigner, had said apartheid still exists – In Israel. The Scottish Green Party had endorsed the conference and was the only one of the 5 parties represented at the Scottish Parliament that supported Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). We needed to get BDS on to the agendas of the other parties and, indeed, get it beyond party politics.

Mick Napier, SPSC

Israel was worried about BDS and now had two members of staff at their UK embassy working full time to oppose it. Israel’s international standing was almost lower than North Korea’s.

Opening session

Michael Deas, Europe Coordinator, Palestinian BDS National Committee

Michael reminded us of why the call for BDS was made (http://www.bdsmovement.net/call). We were at an important stage in the growth of BDS. Veolia and Alstrom had lost an estimated $26bn in contracts since the boycott campaign against them started, and Veolia had sold some of their contracts to run buses in the West Bank. Roger Waters of Pink Floyd had taken up the cultural boycott in a big way. For more information see http://www.bdsmovement.net/victories. The question now is how, by extending our activities to the D of BDS, can we have a bigger impact.

In the UK, there had been progress in getting student unions and trades unions (with the STUC leading) to support BDS, but so far, in general, words had not been translated into action.

BDS gives us a wide range of ways in which to show solidarity with Palestinians. It delivers economic pressure on Israel, by knocking unquestioning international support for Israel. It is a focus for education and raising awareness, allowing Palestinian voices and the Palestinian story to be heard. A decision to divest enables financial institutions to make a public stand.

Ingvild Skogvold, Advisor, Norwegian People’s Aid

Ingvild’s organisation (NPA) and a leading trade union (NUMGE) had produced a report Dangerous Liaisons; see http://www.npaid.org/Media/20_Files/Om-oss/Annual-reports/Dangerous-liaisons. The NPA had been working on following up the report’s recommendations.

Although Norway sees itself as liberal, it still has ties and trade with Israel including the settler colonies in the West Bank. The government has a large pension fund with much of its income from oil. The fund holds about 1% of stocks worldwide. Any decision by this fund to divest would have banks following suit. The fund invests in around 7,500 companies. Research by NPA showed that around 50 of these companies had ties with Israel. NPA/NUMGE reduced this list to 12 by assessing for each company:

  • Its “directness of complicity” [more later]
  • Its strategic importance to Israel
  • The readiness of Norwegian funds to act

Anna Baltzer, National Organiser, US Campaign to End the Occupation

The US Campaign to End the Occupation is a coalition of 40 or so institutions formed in an environment in which the US grants Israel $3bn a year. Current action included:

  • Following the decision of Hampshire College to divest from complicit companies in 2009, student unions in 7 other institutions have passed resolutions calling on their colleges to divest.
  • Last year, retirement fund TIAA-CREF dropped Caterpillar from its social choice funds leading to divestment of $73m.
  • Campaigners have targeted Israeli bonds held by State retirement funds in Minnesota with a similar campaign in California.
  • Church groups are beginning to awaken to divestment. The Quakers divested $1.2m from Caterpillar, Veolia and HP and have adopted a no-buy list or ‘screen’ with 29 complicit companies. The Mennonites have now adopted this screen.

Divestment campaigns make clear to fund beneficiaries that they are investing in these bad things and are therefore also complicit, making a distant issue a local one. Divestment campaigning brings Palestinian voices and the Palestinian story to the centre.

Yafa Jarrar, Students Against Israeli Apartheid at Carleton University, Canada

Inspired by the campaign at Hampshire College, US, students at Carleton University, Ottawa, targeted the university’s pension fund for divestment. The fund had investments in 550 companies.

Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) had three demands. The university should divest, refrain from further investment in complicit companies, and work with other universities to develop, adopt and implement a broader policy of Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) for its Pension Fund and other investments, through a transparent and effective process.

The campaign had started in 2009 with research into the ways in which companies were complicit.

The campaign was launched in 2010 with the publication of the report. The student bodies endorsed the report and, by coincidence or otherwise, the board adopted a policy of SRI.

Session 1. Which companies to target: criteria & strategic decisions

Anna Balzter

Each fund will have its own criteria, perhaps including ethical ones, for choosing companies. One criterion is the ‘material principle’, which can rule out a company for divestment if less that 5% of its deeds are bad. It is important to know who are the decision-makers for a fund.

Divestment campaigns are a means of conveying the reality of what’s happening in Palestine.

They also provide opportunities for artistic and creative campaigning endeavour.

Session 2 Choosing funds

Anna Baltzer

Three words for this session: Research, Research, Research. Learn as much as you can about the fund.

Research

  • Who are the decision makers? What relationship can you develop with them? How do they decide? What is the process? What leverage would a campaign have? What account does the fund take of what its clients and regulators think?
  • Can you find out what companies the fund invests in? Does the fund count itself as socially responsible? Have they divested before?
  • Would you have natural allies or a sympathetic public?

A divestment campaign should give a fund’s clients (beneficiaries, individual investors) a sense of their own power. A state fund is one in which all of its investors (all citizens?) have a stake in the companies in which the fund invests. And these investors are not allowed to opt out. If some of these companies are complicit in Israel contraventions, then all the fund’s investors are complicit. A state fund should be obliged to listen to its investors. The business of the fund is usually highly visible and highly regulated.

Some non-state funds (e.g. TIAA-CRFF) may be similarly transparent and accountable.

Ingvild Skogvold

Generally there won’t be a lack of complicit funds to choose from. In Norway, routine reports from each fund will list the companies the fund has money in. The state pension fund is really influential in that other funds will tend to follow any divestment decision it takes.

Some funds employ outside advisers to recommend investments – or even to make the investment decisions for the fund.

Sunday 20 October

Session 3 Building and sustaining a campaign

Yafa Jarrar

Every campaign is unique but there will be common themes: mobilising the team of activists, securing support from a wide range of allies, and negotiating the sometimes complex bureaucracy in the target fund.

Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), the campaign to get Carleton University to divest in complicit companies, began in May 2009 with a programme of research. By January 2010, the team had launched its report in which it asked the university to divest from several companies. A key requirement was to find appropriate ways of explaining the campaign to various audiences. There was a need in some instances for the case to be summed up in a couple of sentences, but also a need for the detail to be set out in a long document. It was important to keep track of the detailed work. The most effective way of doing this was (!) meetings.

Session 4 Organising

Yafa Jarrar

Showed video of students and allies stopping meeting of board of governors at Carleton University (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PGgmXvVQI8).

Final Session

Peter MacDonald, Leader, Iona Community

Palestine was an area in a way familiar to churchgoers. There’d be a map of Palestine of the wall of many a church hall; every child at Sunday school would know the names of many places in Palestine and will have taken part in Nativity plays, and so on. Palestine will therefore have a certain resonance among Christians.

Historically, in Scotland, there are strong links. The Declaration of Arbroath used Biblical references. Once the only songs heard in churches were psalms

In 2012, Peter’s community issued the Iona Call after a meeting to study a document from Kairos Palestine (found at www.kairospalestine.ps). Guest leaders were Rev Dr Naim Ateek and Dr Mark Braverman. The Iona Call was to churches in Britain and Ireland. Churches should now be challenged to respond.

Ingvild Skogvold

When funds respond to calls to divest, it is important for us not to be put off by any financial rationalisations, but to insist on our ethical case. Fund beneficiaries have the right to know how their funds are being invested.

Anna Baltzer

Divestment campaigns can be aimed just as much at raising public awareness as at moving investment money.

Yafa Jarrar

BDS allows campaigners to be creative. BDS should put those targeted on the defensive. BDS allows us to give Palestinians effective solidarity rather than charity.

 

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