Africa-Israel under scrutiny for settlement construction

Adri Nieuwhof, The Electronic Intifada, 22 June 2009

Africa-Israel is the latest target of a boycott campaign by Palestine solidarity activists because of the company’s involvement in the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. American and European financial institutions hold a substantial stake in Africa-Israel Investment, investigations reveal.

Africa-Israel Investment is an international holding and investment company based in Israel whose subsidiary, Danya Cebus, has been deeply involved in the construction of illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). According to research by the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace, the company executed construction projects in the Israeli settlements of Modi’in Illit, Ma’ale Adumim, Har Homa and Adam. In addition, Africa-Israel offers apartments and houses in various settlements in the West Bank through the Israeli franchise of its real estate agency, Anglo Saxon, which has a branch in the Ma’ale Adumim settlement.

Diamond mogul Lev Leviev is Chairman of the Africa-Israel Investment Board of Directors, and holds roughly 75 percent of the company. On 8 March, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Lev Leviev does not have a problem with building in the OPT “if the State of Israel grants permits legally.”

Leviev and his brother-in-law Daviv Eliashov own the company Leader Management and Development (LMD). According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, LMD requested and was granted approval to expand the Zufim settlement with approximately 1,400 housing units. The company has begun construction and in the process, orchards and agricultural lands belonging to the Palestinian village of Jayyus have been bulldozed, and their water wells and greenhouses confiscated.

Israeli settlements in the OPT are illegal under international law. This has been confirmed by numerous UN resolutions and the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on Israel’s wall in the West Bank. The settlements violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” The construction of settlements also violates of Article 53 prohibiting the destruction of property.

Recently, the Norwegian State Pension Fund came under pressure after Norwegian watchdog Norwatch revealed the pension fund had invested $850,000 in Africa-Israel Investment Ltd. According to the research of the authoritative financial source Capital IQ, with its investment, the Norwegian State Pension Fund became the fifth-largest investor in the company. Prior to a visit to the pension fund’s ethics committee, a delegation of the Norwegian Socialist Left Party traveled to the West Bank and Gaza Strip to learn about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. In a 15 May interview with the Ma’an News Agency, the party’s parliamentarian and spokesperson on foreign affairs, Aringgot Valle, stated that “No doubt we as a party cannot support investment in a company that violates human rights, contributes to an occupation and war.” Valle added that if the Norwegian State Pension Fund considers investing in Africa-Israel “then the ethics guidelines must be re-written.”

Norwatch also revealed that private Norwegian banks were involved in Africa-Israel. Banks offered customers the possibility to invest in BlackRock Emerging Europe Fund (EEF), which invests in Africa-Israel.

One of these Norwegian banks, Storebrand made clear to BlackRock that its investments in Africa-Israel are in contradiction with its ethical guidelines during meetings with the company in April and May. However, Christine Torklep Meisingset, head of Responsible Investments at Storebrand, told The Electronic Intifada that the bank decided not to divest from BlackRock EEF. Although she would not provide any information on the discussion, she indicated that Storebrand considered BlackRock’s response satisfactory. However, BlackRock refuses to comment publicly on the discussions.

On 12 June, BlackRock announced its purchase of Barclays Global Investors, a subsidiary of Barclays Bank. Capital IQ lists Barclays Global Fund Advisors as the second-largest investor in Africa-Israel Investments after Lev Leviev. Based on Capital IQ’s most recent information for this year, BlackRock is mentioned as the seventh-largest holder of Africa-Israel shares. After purchasing Barclays, BlackRock is now the second-largest investor in the company after Leviev.

The fourth-largest investor is the Vanguard Group. Vanguard has been the target of a campaign calling for divesting from companies investing in Sudan, because of companies’ alleged complicity in the genocide in Darfur. In sixth place is the US Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association College Retirement Equities Fund. According to Capital IQ, rounding out the top 10 investors in Africa-Israel are Danish fund managers Investeringsforeningen Sydinvest and Swedish AP 1 pension fund, which are the eighth- and tenth-largest, respectively.

As corporations that abet or profit from Israel’s human rights violations come under further scrutiny, financial institutions and their investors face increasing pressure to drop these companies from their portfolios. Most recently, the Swedish pension fund AP7 excluded the French transportation compny Alstom because of its involvement in the Israeli tramway project that runs on Palestinian land, and the Belgian-French financial group Dexia announced it will no longer finance illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.

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