REUTERS - Dutch pension fund ABP, the world's third largest, on Thursday rejected calls from activists including South Africa's Desmond Tutu to disinvest from three Israeli banks they accuse of financially aiding the occupation of Palestinian territories.
The petition site Avaaz had called on ABP, the Dutch public employees' pension fund, to disinvest from Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank, in which it has holdings totalling about 51 million euros.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the champions of South Africa's struggle for democracy, had said in a letter to the fund's board that the investments helped enable the expansion of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territories.
ABP said its board had decided not to change its ethical investment policy, which only bans investments in companies that violate the UN Global Compact, an international ethical investment yardstick, as well as companies that make cluster bombs or landmines.
The pension fund, which had 309 billion euros in assets invested worldwide at the end of 2013 and nearly three million members in the Netherlands, said it had also received letters from activists urging it to remain invested in the three banks.
"There are calls in favour of, as well as against, divesting from the Israeli banks," the fund said in a statement.
"The fund takes all signals very seriously and understands the unrest and the emotions that are caused by the conflict in Gaza," it said.
ABP spokeswoman Jos van Dijk said on Wednesday that, while the United Nations had criticised Israel's settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, the world body had not accused the Israeli banks of breaking international law.
In January, PGGM, another Dutch pension fund, decided to pull its investments from five Israeli banks, including the three targeted by Avaaz.
An open-ended ceasefire is now in place in Gaza after seven weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist rulers of the coastal strip, in which Palestinian health officials say 2,139 people, most of them civilians and including nearly 500 children, have been killed. Israel, whose own death toll stands at 64 soldiers and six civilians, launched its offensive on July 8 with the declared aim of ending rocket salvoes onto its territory.