UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

Leading Grassroots Group Disputes Divestments by Norwegian Oil Fund

Med Israel for Fred (MIFF) has contested the exclusion of two Israeli companies from Norway’s Oil Fund in letters sent to the Fund’s manager, Norges Bank, and its Council on Ethics.

MIFF is Europe’s largest pro-Israel group with 11,400 members and 30 local associations in Norway.

The Oil Fund (formally called Statens pensjonsfund Utland) invests the surplus wealth generated from Norway’s oil industry.

Norges Bank recently decided to exclude the Israeli companies Shapir Engineering and Industry Ltd (“Shapir”) and Mivne Real Estate KD Ltd (“Mivne”) from the Oil Fund in accordance with recommendations of the Council on Ethics.

MIFF’s letters to Norges Bank and the Ethics Council, based on a draft by UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI), point out that the exclusion of these companies is based on a misunderstanding of relevant international law and also breach Norway’s Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act of 2017 (as amended) and its Boycott Act of 1947.

In particular:

  1. Article 49(6) of the 4th Geneva Convention does not exclude the right of Jewish people to settle voluntarily in Judea and Samaria. On the contrary, the Administration of Palestine was required by the League of Nations Mandate to encourage Jewish settlement in this area and this was confirmed by Article 80 of the UN Charter.
  2. Even if the Israeli government has breached Article 49(6) of the 4th Geneva Convention by allegedly causing the transfer of Israeli civilians into the West Bank, there is no evidence that these companies participated in any such transfer. Mivne is not involved in the construction or use of housing; its activities relate solely to commercial buildings. Shapir has been involved in very limited housing construction, but it has not been commissioned by the Israeli government as part of any policy of transferring Israeli civilians to Judea and Samaria.
  3. Article 49(6) does not prohibit economic activity. Even if a company benefits from a transfer of population, this does not make it responsible for the transfer, as the UK Supreme Court observed in Richardson v DPP. Furthermore, an Occupying Power has a responsibility to facilitate normal economic activity in an occupied territory, as the Court of Appeal of Versailles observed in AFPS and PLO v Alstom and Veolia.
  4. Economic dealings with occupied territories have been treated as legitimate, as demonstrated by the extensive examination of Prof Eugene Kontorovich in his paper “Economic Dealings with Occupied Territories”.
  5. Commercial activity often benefits the population protected by the 4th Geneva Convention and clearly does so in the case of the West Bank, where tens of thousands of Palestinians are employed by Israeli businesses at average salaries three times higher than average salaries paid by Palestinian employers. The employment of Palestinians in Israeli businesses in the West Bank also promotes peace and reconciliation through the good relations created between Israelis and Palestinians working together, as described in the book “Defeating Denormalization – Shared Palestinian and Israeli Perspectives on a New Path to Peace” published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
  6. The reasoning of the Ethics Council is based on a fallacy resulting from a linguistic shortcut. The term “illegal settlement” is an abbreviated way of stating that the establishment of the settlement (allegedly) involved a prohibited transfer of population by the Occupying Power. However, it is wrong to assume from the use of this term that all objects and activities in or near the settlement are illegal.
  7. Israeli companies operating in the West Bank, particularly Mivne and Shapir, are subjected to a different treatment as compared with companies carrying on similar activities in other disputed areas. The Report “Who Else Profits” of the Kohelet Policy Forum identifies many companies involved construction and real estate activities in occupied territories that are not excluded by Norges Bank. This discrimination breaches section 6 of Norway’s Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act. Even if similar treatment is applied to non-Israeli companies operating in the West Bank, it is still indirect discrimination caught by section 8 of the Act, since nearly all non-Palestinian companies operating in the West Bank are Israeli.
  8. The decision also breaches section 2c of Norway’s Boycott Act, which prohibits boycotts if there is no reasonable relationship between the interest sought to be promoted by the boycott and the damage it will entail.

Jonathan Turner of UKLFI commented: “We hope that Norges Bank and the Ethics Council will reconsider this matter in the light of the points made in these letters. Racist divestments such as these are not ethical and do not promote peace or the welfare of Palestinians.”