Eyebrows in Jerusalem were raised Thursday when Norway’s Finance Ministry told its $810 billion oil fund to stop investing in Africa Israel Investments and its construction subsidiary Danay Cebus, even though the fund actually has no investments in the firms.
The two Israeli firms were first excluded from the fund, the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund, in 2010 because they were involved in building in the settlements.
Although the ban was lifted in August, it was reinstated now. The Norwegian finance minister said that this was “due to contribution to serious violations of individual rights in war or conflict, through the construction of settlements in east Jerusalem.”
The decision was deemed “odd” in Jerusalem not only because the firm has no investment in Africa Israel and the statement seemed to be mere “posturing,” but also because it was not clear why this company – out of all the companies building in the settlements – was picked out for censure.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry had no comment on the matter.
The timing of the move was also deemed odd in Jerusalem, considering that in September Norway elected a center- right government, headed by Prime Minister Erna Solberg, that has been described by some officials as the friendliest Norwegian government toward Israel since the 1970s.
This friendliness, according to diplomatic officials, has manifested itself in a marked change in the tone of public statements coming out of Oslo.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with Solberg on the sidelines of the World Economic Conference in Davos last week, and before the meeting said of Oslo’s approach to the Mideast that he appreciated “the fact that there is more balance in Norway.”
He said that a balanced and even-handed approach was important for peace.
Government officials said that it was telling that even the governments warmest toward Israel, including Canada and the Czech Republic, strongly object to the country’s settlements policy.
An inter-ministerial meeting, to discuss the creeping increase of European boycotts, which was scheduled for Wednesday was canceled at the last minute and has not been rescheduled.
In addition to banning the Israeli companies, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry also said the huge fund should not invest in Sesa Sterlite, India’s biggest zinc and aluminum maker, because of a risk of environmental damage and human right violations.
Some 63 firms are on the exclusion list after the decision, including some of the world’s biggest miners, tobacco producers and makers of certain weapons – such as cluster bombs.
The Norwegian Finance Ministry did say, however, that it would now allow the wealth fund to buy sovereign bonds issued by Myanmar, after the lifting of international sanctions on the Asian country.
But the fund is now barred from buying sovereign bonds issued by North Korea, Syria and Iran, although none of these countries currently issues sovereign bonds.
“Africa Israel and its subsidiaries operate both in Israel and all over the globe, promoting their business activities according to the legislation applicable in all countries where they operate,” said Africa Israel Investments spokeswoman Dalia Azar-Malimovka.
“Therefore, we can only express regret over the decision regarding Africa Israel and other major Israeli companies.”
The fund, which invests Norway’s surplus oil revenues, is not allowed to invest in firms involved in severe environmental damage, “serious and systematic human rights violation,” such as forced labor, the worst forms of child labor, murder or torture.