In 2015, when the “Stop AXA Assistance to Israeli Apartheid Campaign” was launched, the Campaign targeted the French multinational insurance giant AXA for its investments in Israeli banks, which are deeply complicit in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise on occupied Palestinian land, as well as in Elbit Systems, a leading Israeli arms manufacturer facilitating Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.
At that time, AXA held shares of three Israeli banks (Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, Mizrahi Tefahot) and Elbit Systems. AXA - via its wholly-owned subsidiary AXA Investment Managers (AXA IM) and its 64% share of AXA Equitable Holding (AXA EHQ) - was, moreover, invested in all five main Israeli banks (Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank, Mizrahi Tefahot Bank).
Since then, AXA has adopted a mix of investment and divestment decisions (see milestones), while the UN Human Rights Council listed in 2020 all of these Israeli banks in the UN database of business enterprises involved in Israel’s illegal settlements.
Most recently (May 2021), AXA was still a shareholder of two Israeli banks: Bank Leumi (US$ 5 million) and Israel Discount Bank (US$ 1.2 million). It had not reinvested in Elbit Systems whose shares it had sold in 2018. AXA has also sold almost all of its shares in Equitable Holdings, retaining only a tiny share of 0.07% in a process that had Equitable Holdings leave the AXA group and resume its original name EHQ.
At the same time, a new research report of the civil society coalition “Don’t Buy Into Occupation” (DBIO) shows that by May 2021, AXA was also investing in additional companies involved in illegal Israeli settlements, among them General Mills, Manitou, CETCO Mineral Technology Group, RE/MAX Holdings, Solvay and Terex. With a total investment of US$ 845 million, DBIO ranked AXA 30th among the top 100 European investors in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise.
Why campaign against AXA?
Israel is only able to maintain its regime of occupation, colonisation and apartheid over the Palestinian people because of international complicity. Corporations play a key role in this. An insurance company should protect lives, not destroy them. AXA’s investment in Israeli banks that finance Israel’s illegal settlements makes it complicit in grave violations of international law.
Although AXA is a signatory of the UN Global Compact, it doesn’t comply with its principles. Israeli banks help create, sustain and grow illegal Israeli settlements, considered war crimes under international law. The French insurer promotes its ethical guidelines, while violating them by investing in Israeli banks that finance the illegal settlements. AXA has a global responsible investment policy, including “sector guidelines” addressing “controversial weapons” and countries that pose a “political risk”. One would think that Israel’s apartheid and theft of Palestinian land would fit the criteria.
AXA has a “Group Policy on Controversial Weapons” which says that it has taken steps to terminate business ties with manufacturers of cluster bombs, cluster munitions, chemical and biological weapons and makers of their components. Elbit Systems makes cluster bombs and has supplied the Israeli army with white phosphorus, which it used illegally against Palestinian civilians in Gaza, killing and injuring hundreds.
Elbit Systems also produces 85% of the “killer drones” used by the Israeli military against Palestinians. The company supplies surveillance technologies and electronic equipment for the Apartheid Wall in the occupied West Bank, which was deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004. Elbit Systems uses its sales to the Israeli army to market its weapons for export as “combat-proven” – which simply means used against Palestinians. Israel’s security forces have used weapons made by Elbit Systems for brutal and illegal violence against Palestinian civilians, including extrajudicial executions, attacks on unarmed protesters, house demolitions using armoured equipment, mass arrests, in addition to the military blockade and large-scale bombings of the Gaza Strip in 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2021.
Note: AXA divested from Elbit in 2018 and has not reinvested in it since then.
Reports by Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups have confirmed that all Israeli banks are involved in the Israeli settlement industry. They provide special loans for companies, government and individual projects in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (OPT). For example, Bank Hapoalim, one of Israel’s largest banks, finances the construction of housing projects in illegal Israeli settlements in the OPT. It also acts as a guarantor and provides loans to major contractors and construction companies that build in the OPT.
The bank is a guarantor of state loans to the companies that built the Jerusalem Light Rail, an illegal project that is designed to connect settlements together in illegally occupied East Jerusalem. The bank also provides mortgages to homebuyers and financial services to local authorities in illegal Israeli settlements. Bank Hapoalim also discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel, refusing to transfer accounts of Palestinian citizens to branches located in what they consider “Jewish populated areas”. The other banks pursue similar practices and are also part of the backbone of the Israeli settlement enterprise and the associated violations of international humanitarian law and human rights of Palestinians
Since 2020, all main Israeli banks are listed in a UN database for their complicity in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise.
The report of the civil society coalition « Don’t buy into occupation » (DBIO) published on 29 September 2021 shows that by May 2021, AXA had divested from two of the four Israeli banks in which it had investments back in March 2021. It had also not reinvested in Elbit Systems whose shares it had sold in 2018.
AXA has also sold almost all of its shares in Equitable Holdings, retaining only a tiny share of 0.07% in a process that had Equitable Holdings leave the AXA group and resume its original name EHQ.
At the same time, the new DBIO report shows that by May 2021, AXA was still a shareholder of two Israeli banks: Bank Leumi (US$ 5 million) and Israel Discount Bank (US$ 1.2 million). AXA is also invested in additional companies involved in illegal Israeli settlements, among them General Mills, Manitou, CETCO Mineral Technology Group, RE/MAX Holdings, Solvay and Terex. With a total investment of US$ 845 million, AXA ranks 30th among the top 100 European investors in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise.
On eve of AXA’s annual general meeting (AGM), United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Michael Lynk, called on the French insurance giant to fully divest from Israeli banks while activists gathered in several cities across Europe raising the same demand.
Protests took place in several European cities urging AXA to divest from Israeli banks that fuel apartheid: Berlin, Madrid, Brussels, Dublin, Milan, Turin, Pisa, Bologna and Trieste.
12,000 people have signed the pledge to boycott AXA.
In March 2021, the Coalition Stop AXA Assistance to Israeli Apartheid learns that AXA has divested over $1M from the Israeli banks in the last year. Investments by AXA in four Israeli banks (Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, Israeli Discount Bank and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank) declined from US$ 7.14 million in 2020 to US$ 5.95 million in 2021 (to date). This is due to the sale of shares (not due to share price fluctuations).
January: A huge demonstration in front of the Bundestag in Berlin, to protest the Bundestag’s repressive anti-BDS measures, highlighted the demand for AXA to divest.
May: The Coalition Stop AXA Assistance to Israeli Apartheid learned that AXA has tripled its investment in four complicit Israeli banks (Bank Hapoalim, Israel Discount Bank, Bank Leumi and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank). AXA still maintains a 9.03% stake in Equitable Holdings, which has dramatically increased its own investments in five banks (the four mentioned above and First International Bank of Israel) and in Elbit Systems.
June: Prior to AXA’s shareholders’ meeting nearly 5,000 people sent emails to AXA CEOs all over Europe, calling on them to completely divest from the complicit Israeli banks and Equitable Holdings. More than a dozen human rights defenders from five countries shared videos calling for AXA to divest, including the artist Code Rouge, the Jurist Ghislain Poissonier and Annette Groth, former MP of DIE LINKE (Germany). Protests were held in Madrid, Brussels, Antwerp, Berlin, and Paris..
Calls for AXA to divest were also present in protests against Israel’s plans to formally annex large swathes of the occupied Palestinian territory.
During the day of the AXA shareholders’ meeting, the Coalition took over the official hashtag #AXAG2020.
September: The Coalition “Stop AXA Assistance to Israeli Apartheid” calls for the boycott of AXA and launches a pledge calling on individuals, organisations and institutions worldwide to boycott AXA until it ends its complicity with Israeli apartheid and human rights violations.
November: Over 270 organizations from more than 30 countries, including trade unions and businesses, signed the pledge to boycott AXA over the last months due to its investment in Israeli apartheid. Among the organizational signatories to the pledge are Sabeel- Kairos UK, the US’s Benedictine University, France’s trade union Union Syndicale Solidaires and Belgium’s Coordination Nationale d’Action pour la Paix et la Démocratie.
Nearly 10,000 individuals, including US scholar and activist Noam Chomsky, signed the pledge over the last months. Campaigners in Belgium, Italy, Ireland, France, Germany and the Spanish state sent the letter with signers to AXA’s CEOs in their respective countries. Additionally, tens of individuals and organizations have canceled their AXA insurance policies, including the Belgian NGOs Viva Salud, ManiFiesta and Intal Globalize Solidarity.
April: The Coalition Stop AXA Assistance to Israeli Apartheid protest outside of AXA’s Annual General Meeting.
July: SumOfUs asks AXA about its investments in the Israeli banks and Elbit Systems. After “careful examination [we] concluded that these companies did not fall within the exclusion framework of [our] responsible investment policy”. SumOfUs publishes report “AXA: Financing War Crimes” proving that AXA’s investments in Israeli banks and Elbit Systems is over $91 M.
August: Over 25,000 people join action to demand AXA end its complicity with Israeli apartheid.
November: The second global AXA Day of Action included mobilizations all around the world, on the same day as the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People and the 4th global climate strike.
February: Tens of cities across Europe participate in day of action.
May: Over 140,000 people sign petition organised by SumOfUs calling on AXA to divest.
June: Launch of the international Coalition Stop AXA Assistance with Israeli Apartheid
December: AXA IM divests from Elbit Systems. The fully-owned AXA subsidiary divests from Elbit shortly after Elbit acquired IMI Systems, a large cluster-bomb manufacturer. Tens of cities participate in a national week of action in France.
April: Activists protest at AXA’s Annual General Meeting.
August: French campaigners asked about AXA’s investments and activities in Elbit Systems. Alice Steenland, AXA’s head of Corporate Responsibility, replied that AXA did an evaluation and found that “Elbit Systems doesn’t make controversial weapons”. This answer is not accurate since many reports document Elbit’s supply of white phosphorus used during Israel’s attacks on Gaza civilians in 2009.
AXA relies on its good image and contracts with public institutions, civil society organizations and private businesses. Effective grassroots campaigning can pressure AXA to end its complicity Isarel’s abuses of Palestinian human rights.
- Ask AXA to divest from companies violating Palestinian rights!
- Get your organization or union to join the international coalition “Stop AXA Assistance to Israeli apartheid.” Email [email protected]
- Organise a protest outside an AXA office or store and post your picture online with the slogans “Not #ProudToBeAXA” or “#KnowYouCan divest from Israeli Apartheid”.
- Boycott/cancel AXA insurance policies. If you are willing to cancel your insurance policy with AXA due to its investments in Israeli apartheid, please let us know.
For more information contact: Fiona Ben Chekroun, BNC Europe coordinator - [email protected]