EXCLUSIVE'Profiting from Destruction'
French-Based Insurance Giant Accused of Destroying Palestinian Livelihoods
AXA and its affiliates are heavily invested in occupied territory settlements and the illegal Israeli Security Wall.
The extent to which multinational insurance giant AXA invests in Israeli companies which make arms and finance illegal Israeli settlement expansion, has been revealed by a corporate watchdog.
Research by SumOfUs has shown how AXA has investments worth more than $91 million in arms manufacturer Elbit Systems and five major Israeli banks.
The report states that AXA’s investments “may expose the company to criminal prosecution for complicity in gross human rights violations, including war crimes under both French and International law”.
SumOfUs is urging the France-based insurance giant to divest from these firms in order to comply with international human rights standards and French law.
Elbit Systems is Israel’s biggest arms maker and produces internationally banned cluster munitions, white phosphorus bombs and drones for the Israeli military.
“The Israeli army buys weapons from this company and tests them on Palestinian civilians to see how they kill, maim or injure; then, this company goes on to export its weapons under the label ‘battle-tested’ or ‘combat-proven,” the report notes.
A spokeswoman for the AXA Group said the company does not finance the production of weapons banned by international law.
“Last year, within the framework of our controversial weapon policy, we decided to divest from Elbit Systems when they acquired a company that manufactures cluster munitions,” she added.
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However, the report reveals the company remains indirectly involved in Elbit Systems through its subsidiary AXA Equitable Holdings, which “invests more than $1.2 million” in the company.
Leyla Larbi, campaign manager at SumOfUs, said that its withdrawal in December last year did not clear AXA of investing in Elbit Systems in previous years. “The group is freeing itself by replying that they are disinvested and that AXA Equitable Holdings is only a subsidiary, but this does not clear them legally,” she said.
AXA and its affiliates also hold tens of millions of dollars worth of shares and bonds in Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, Mizrahi Tefahot Bank, Israel Discount Bank and First International Bank of Israel.
The report states that all of them are investing in settlement infrastructure projects, and that several other NGO studies – including one conducted by Human Rights Watch – “confirm the involvement of these banks in the Israeli settlement sector”.
The investigation finds that all six companies are also investing in the “Israeli security barrier” in the West Bank or “apartheid wall crossing the occupied Palestinian territories”, described as “contrary to international law” in a 2004 advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice.
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Despite this, the insurance giant maintains it “has one of the most complete and ambitious responsible investment policies”.
“In accordance with this policy, the AXA Group does not finance activities nor companies subject to sanctions by international authorities,” the spokeswoman said. “Our investments in Israeli banks have absolutely no vocation to finance the expansion of the occupied territories.”
She added: “For several months, a group of [BDS Movement] activists calling for the boycott of the State of Israel has been disseminating fragmentary if not false allegations about some of the AXA Group’s investment in Israel.”
Groups from nine countries in Europe and the Arab world have joined the Coalition Stop AXA Complicity with Israeli Apartheid, which has launched an online campaign and organised demonstrations outside the company’s offices and at its annual shareholders’ meeting in Paris. More than 140,000 people have signed a petition backing divestment, including more than 10,000 of the company’s clients.
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“An insurer should protect lives,” said Alys Samson Estapé, Europe coordinator for Palestine’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC). “Instead, AXA is profiting from the destruction of Palestinian lives and livelihoods.”
BDS France coordinator Imen Habib added: “Israel can only maintain its regime of occupation and apartheid over the Palestinian people through support from governments and companies such as AXA.
“As long as AXA maintains its investments in these Israeli banks and Elbit Systems, protests by our growing global coalition will intensify.”