While Denmark’s largest bank, Danske Bank, may be planning to boycott Israeli financial institutions that operate in the West Bank, the Danish embassy is a loyal customer of Israel’s largest bank and plans to remain so, according to Denmark’s ambassador to Israel.
“Indeed, the embassy has an account at Bank Hapoalim, and we have no plans at this stage to change that,” Ambassador Jesper Vahr was quoted by Hebrew news site Walla as saying. “It is a private decision of the bank, and the government of Denmark has no connection to it. The bank makes these decisions independently.”
According to a Foreign Ministry official in Jerusalem, the situation highlights one of the biggest issues with boycotts.
“These are decisions of private companies that operate in a free economy, and they decide where they invest their money,” the official said. “This is precisely the biggest problem with the boycotts. When we are talking about the decisions of governments, there is somebody we can approach. When we are talking about private companies, though, our hands are tied.”
Two weeks ago, two of Europe’s largest financial service institutions announced they would terminate all joint operations with Israeli banks that deal with Jewish settlements in the West Bank, deemed by the European Union and others to be illegal under international law.
Sweden’s Nordea Bank and Denmark’s Danske Bank, both the largest banks in their respective countries, are considered to be two of Europe’s most important financial institutions, serving together over 16 million customers across the continent. The banks hold billions of dollars’ worth of assets.
According to Walla, Danske Bank recently updated its list of companies with which it does not engage on ethical grounds to include Israel’s Bank Hapoalim, which has several branches in settlements across the Green Line and has invested in numerous projects throughout the West Bank.
Nordea Bank, meanwhile, demanded of Israeli banks Leumi and Mizrahi-Tefahot to immediately make public their operations in the West Bank.
An official statement released by the Swedish bank two weeks ago cited concern over “possible violations of international norms” that the Israeli banks might have committed.
EU guidelines published in July mandate a denial of European funding to, and cooperation with, Israeli institutions based or operating over the Green Line, and a requirement that all future agreements between Israel and the EU include a clause in which Israel accepts the position that none of the territory over the Green Line belongs to the Jewish state.
In December, Dutch water company Vitens, which provides water to 5.4 million people in the Netherlands, announced that it would discontinue all joint ventures with Israel’s national water supplier Mekorot, in protest over the Israeli company’s operations in the West Bank
“The company concluded that it would be very difficult to develop joint ventures together, considering the fact that they cannot be seen as divorced from their political context,” a company statement said. ”We follow international law.”
Earlier in December, the UK Trade and Investment agency discouraged British firms from entering into business deals with companies located in or associated with West Bank settlements.
The agency warned businesses of the “clear risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements,” which are “illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible.”
The report urged firms contemplating economic or financial involvement in settlements to seek legal counsel on the matter, and also addressed the “potential reputational implications” that could result from dealing with businesses beyond the Green Line, as well as “possible abuses of the rights of individuals.”