International Banking Giant Refuses to Cut Off Israel, Despite Boycott Calls

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A BDS flag hangs off New York's Manhattan Bridge, August 2014.Credit: AP

The SWIFT international banking network on Monday published a special announcement in which it rejected calls by pro-Palestinian organizations to disconnect Israeli banks from its networks due to the occupation on the West Bank and Israel’s alleged war crimes during the course of Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip.

“SWIFT and its stakeholders have received calls to disconnect institutions and entire countries from its network,” according to the announcement. “SWIFT services are designed to facilitate its customers’ compliance with sanctions and other regulations, however SWIFT will not make unilateral decisions to disconnect institutions from its network as a result of political pressure.

“SWIFT regrets the pressure, as well as the surrounding media speculation, both of which risk undermining the systemic character of the services that SWIFT provides its customers around the world. As a utility with a systemic global character, it has no authority to make sanctions decisions.

“Any decision to impose sanctions on countries or individual entities rests solely with the competent government bodies and applicable legislators. Being EU-based, SWIFT complies fully with all applicable European law.

“SWIFT will not respond to individual calls and pressure to disconnect financial institutions from its network.”

In recent weeks several pro-Palestinian organizations that are members of the BDS movement, which is trying to promote a boycott, sanctions and the diversion of investments from Israel, took steps to convince SWIFT to disconnect Israeli banks from its network. The pro-Palestinian activists, some of them bankers, emphasized in their requests to SWIFT that disconnecting the banks of South Africa from the network during the apartheid regime was a sanction that contributed dramatically to the country’s downfall.

SWIFT, whose headquarters are in Brussels, operates the largest international money transfer mechanism and controls over 80 percent of the financial transactions and secured electronic money transfers worldwide. About 10,000 banks and financial institutions in 210 countries subscribe to the network.

In March 2012, as a result of a dramatic round of sanctions approved by the foreign ministers of the European Union, SWIFT decided to disconnect 25 Iranian banks from its networks. The step was unprecedented in its severity in terms of the economic pressure imposed on Iran, and led to a situation where the Iranian banks were unable to transfer money electronically anywhere in the world.

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