Christians for Israel’ activists in Holland protest a decision by largest pension fund to divest from Israel
AMSTERDAM (EJP)—Some 350 Dutch Christian activists demonstrated early Monday in front of the headquarters of PGGM, manager of the largestpension fund in Holland, to protest its recent decision to pull out its investments in five Israeli banks,Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank, because they are involved in funding settlements in the West Bank.
The protesters, members of the Christian Foundation for Israel, hold Israeli flags and banners reading ‘’’Stop the Boycott of Israel’’ while distributing pamphlets to the PGGM employees. They were accompanied by Holland’s Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs who denounced the fact that Israel is always singled out while PGGM ‘’should stop invest in many countries.’’
‘’We want PGGM to reconsider its decision,’’ Roger van Oordt, director of the Christzan Foundation for Israel. ‘’
The pension group, whichmanages about 153 billion euros ($208 billion) in funds andhas over 100 million euros investments in Israel, said the reason for its decisionwas its ‘’involvement in financing Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.’’
PGGM said there was “a concern, as the settlements in the Palestinian territories are considered illegal under humanitarian law,” and regarded by international observers as an “important obstacle to a peaceful (two-state) solution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.”
PGGM’s move is the third high-profile divestment in Holland in recent months. In December, state-owned water company Vitens broke off its alliance with Israeli water group Mekorot and earlier civil engineering group HaskoningDHV pulled out of a project to develop a waste water treatment plant in Jerusalem after the Dutch foreign ministry said it could conflict with international law.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the divestment decision was a “sanctimonious move intended to pander to a certain nefarious trend in public opinion.”
Last week, the Foreign Ministry summoned the Dutch ambassador in Israel, Caspar Veldkamp, for a clarification on the PGGM decision to divest from Israel. ‘’This decision is unacceptable and relies on false pretense,’’ the Ministry’s Deputy Director General of the MFA for European Affairs, Raphael Schutz, told the Dutch Ambassador.
He also emphasized that Israel expects the Dutch government, ‘’in the spirit of friendship between our countries, to take an unequivocal stance against such steps, which only wreak damage to the relations between the Israel and the Netherlands.’’
Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans declared last week that his country opposes a boycott of Israel.
‘’The Netherlands opposes a boycott of Israel and does not support sanctions against the country either’’, he told the Dutch public television Nos.
Timmermans made the comments in response to a member of the parliament, Kees van der Staaij, leader of the Christian Reformed Political Party SGP, who said there is a ‘’feeling of a boycott’’ among Dutch firms. Van Der Staaij, who was recently on a visit to Israel, said the PGGM’s decision was ‘’very wrong’’ and that most Dutch did not agree with the idea of a boycott.
Last month, Dutch water giant Vitenscanceled cooperation with 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.”
Van Der Staaij said he opposed any sort of boycotting, stressing that the settlements were a political issue and that Dutch companies needed to work together with Israeli and Palestinian ones, not disengage from them.
While denying that it played any part in PGGM’s divestment decision, Dutch Foreign Minister Timmermans said his country is consistent in its opposition to the settlements and that the cabinet discourages companies from doing business which facilitates this. ‘That has been the policy for years,’ he said.
Timmermans and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte headed a 70-company strong trade mission to Israel in December.
The Netherlands has traditionally been one of Israel’s strongest supporters in Europe but the current government has adopted a slightly harder line. Soon after taking office in 2012, Timmermans criticised Israel’s plans to build new houses in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, saying this would ‘undermine the two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state would exist side-by-side in peace and security’.
Rutte reportedly told his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu that he totally rejects any boycott of Israel and said his country would continue working with Israel’s national water company Mekorot.