Banking giant HSBC divests from Israeli defense firm Elbit

As BDS campaigners claim victory, UK Zionist Federation expresses concern the bank is not applying same rules to defense firms from other countries

In this file picture taken on on June 14, 2013, clouds gather over a sign of HSBC private bank (Suisse) in the center of Geneva. (AFP/Fabrice Coffrini)
In this file picture taken on on June 14, 2013, clouds gather over a sign of HSBC private bank (Suisse) in the center of Geneva. (AFP/Fabrice Coffrini)

Banking giant HSBC has divested from Israeli defense firm Elbit, The Times of Israel has confirmed, with pro-Palestinian activists claiming the move as a victory for the BDS movement. The bank has not formally announced the move.

In a statement posted on its website, the War on Want group said 24,000 people emailed the bank as part of their campaign, and 40 branches of the financial institution were picketed.

According to a 2017 report by the charity, the bank has invested approximately $4.5 million in Elbit, a tiny percentage of HSBC’s global investments.

Ryvka Barnard, War on Want’s senior security campaigner, hailed the move but noted that HSBC has not divested from companies such as Caterpillar, whose equipment is used by the Israeli military.

The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) also welcomed the decision, and called on the bank to cut ties to all companies linked to the Israeli government.

An illustration of Elbit’s search and rescue systems in use (Courtesy)

“HSBC’s announcement demonstrates the effectiveness of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions as a tactic against Israel’s continued flouting of international law and human rights,” said Ben Jamal, PSC director. “We now call on HSBC to stay true to the principle of ethical investment by cutting links to all companies which support Israel’s military regime.”

In response, the Zionist Federation of the UK and Ireland issued a statement expressing concern that the bank was only divesting from an Israeli company.

“We are seeking clarification from HSBC that this new policy is not discriminatory and that any new policy of divestment will be implemented throughout their extensive portfolio of companies connected to the arms industry,” wrote the organization.

“In recent months, outside HSBC locations across the country, a small but increasingly hostile group of anti-Israel activists belonging to the “BDS”/PSC have attempted to intimidate HSBC customers going about their lawful business,” said the Zionist Federation. “If HSBC have indeed succumbed to the pressure of these anti-Israel activists, it will set a worrying trend that should be of great concern to us all.”

Elbit is a tech firm that develops a wide range of defense, homeland security and commercial systems that are sold globally. The firm, whose shares are listed in Tel Aviv and on Nasdaq, operates in the fields of aerospace, land and naval systems, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance systems, among others.

Last month, Elbit completed the purchase of the state-owned Israel Military Industries weapons manufacturer, in a deal estimated at over NIS 1.8 billion ($485 million).

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