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News > Israel

HSBC: War Crimes, Not BDS, Behind Divesting from Israeli Arms Maker

  • A resident rides his bicycle near what activists say is an exploded cluster-bomb shell in the Syrian town of Douma in November.

    A resident rides his bicycle near what activists say is an exploded cluster-bomb shell in the Syrian town of Douma in November. | Photo: Reuters

Published 4 January 2019

HSBC said it cut ties with Elbit Systems over the production of Cluster bombs, which are considered dangerous because they release small bomblets over a wide area, posing risks to civilians.

HSBC issued a statement Friday clarifying that its decision to pull out of the Israeli defense company Elbit Systems a few weeks ago was not related to the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, but instead with the company’s decision to produce the widely-banned and deadly Cluster munitions.

BDS Victory: Banking Giant Pulls Support From Israeli Arms Firm

“HSBC’s decision to divest from Elbit Systems was not the result of campaigning by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and it is not indicative of support for the movement’s objectives,” Stuart Levey, HSBC’s chief legal officer and group managing director, wrote to The Jerusalem Post.

“HSBC’s decision was based on our long-standing defense policy whereby we do not invest in companies linked to the production or marketing of cluster munitions. We test our shareholdings against this policy, assisted by an external, evidence-based ratings provider,” he wrote.

“Following a recent acquisition by Elbit Systems, our investment in the company is no longer consistent with our defense policy with respect to cluster munitions, and Elbit Systems joins a number of other companies, including some major US defense contractors, that are impacted by this policy,” Levey explained.

While Israeli media is arguing that the HSBC statement clarifies that BDS did not score a victory, the headlines in the Israeli outlets ignore the fact that the bank is, in fact, is divesting from Elbit Systems over making the deadly cluster bombs, which are frequently used by the Israeli armed forces against Palestinians. The bombs have been banned by many countries in the world over high civilian casualties, which could amount to war crimes. 

Also despite the company's statement distancing itself from the BDS campaign, in order to avoid any international backlash due to fierce Israeli attempts to falsely link the peaceful, anti-occupation movement to anti-Semitism, BDS and many of its allies had received confirmations from HSBC that the grassroots campaigning against the Israeli company has been a factor in the bank’s decision to end its relationship with the arms enterprise.

The bombs are considered dangerous because of the fact that they release many small bomblets over a wide area, they pose risks to civilians both during attacks and afterward.

Unexploded bomblets can kill or maim civilians and/or unintended targets long after a conflict has ended, and are costly to locate and remove.

Cluster munitions are prohibited for those nations that ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions, adopted in Dublin, Ireland in May 2008. The Convention entered into force and became binding international law upon ratifying states in August 2010, six months after being ratified by 30 states.

The United States used such bombs in its war on Vietnam and civilians continue to suffer the consequences of the unexploded bombs left over decades after the war ended. The U.S. had airdropped more than 200 million cluster bombs over Vietnam and Laos.

Now, some 80 million unexploded bombs and air-dropped cluster munitions left over continue to maim and kill men, women and children.

Saudi Arabia and its allies have also been using cluster bombs in Yemen, where over 10,000 people have been killed since the start of the Saudi-led assault on the country in March 2015.

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