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Foreign Ministry slams Dutch pension firm that divested from Israeli banks
By HERB KEINON AND JTA
08/01/2014
Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor condemns "self-righteousness" of decision by PGGM to cut ties with 5 banks over settlements issue.
 
The decision by a large Dutch pension investment company to divest from five Israeli banks is a “sanctimonious move intended to pander to a certain nefarious trend in public opinion,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said on Wednesday.

“It appears that people who make the decisions for the fund care more about showing an excess of self-righteousness than any sense of reality.

Catering light-headedly to the Israeli- bashing fashion could quickly backfire,” he said.

Palmor explained that if the company followed “one trend,” there would be many other causes that others would seek to promote.

The PGGM company announced its decision to divest on its website on Wednesday from Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank.

According to the statement, PGGM has for several years “been in dialogue with these banks. The reason for this engagement was their involvement in financing Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

This was a concern, the statement said, “as the settlements in the Palestinian territories are considered illegal under international humanitarian law.”

PGGM is among the Netherlands’ largest pension fund managers, with assets in excess of €153 billion ($210b.). Its dealing with Israeli banks amounts to tens of millions of euros, according to Haaretz.

The company also cited its “responsible investment policy,” which excludes investing in bodies involved in “violations of fundamental human rights and labor rights.”

But according to a document released by the company in 2013, PGGM investments abroad include two Chinese banks – Bank of China and China Construction Bank – with offices and activities in Tibet, which is widely seen internationally as land occupied by China. PGGM invests in China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation, or Sinopec, which is exploring for oil in Tibet.

PGGM’s international investments also include the Malaysian palm oil producer Sime Darby, which last year paid a million dollars in reparations to villagers in Liberia amid accusations that the firm had violated their human rights and confiscated their property.

PGGM spokesman Maurice Wilbrink declined to answer JTA’s questions on the scope of his company’s investments in Chinese firms active in Tibet, explaining that the figures were confidential.

It is the latest in a string of large Dutch companies that have cut off ties with Israeli entities.

Last month, the Foreign Ministry summoned the Dutch ambassador to protest what it said were “ambiguous” statements by the Dutch Foreign Ministry creating a pro-boycott of Israel atmosphere in the Netherlands. That protest came after Dutch water giant Vitens canceled cooperation with Israel’s water corporation Mekorot because of alleged infractions of international law.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry subsequently issued a statement saying it “opposes any boycott of Israeli companies or institutions, in line with its standing policy.”

Last August, another Dutch firm, the Royal HaskoningDHV engineering company, canceled its participation in building a sewage treatment plant because it was across the Green Line.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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