Dear Hackney Council…

One of our members Vicky Guedalla’s letter responding to Hackney Couuncil’s statement about stopping investing in Israel’s illegal occupation is excepted on p.12 of the August edition of the Hackney Citizen. The full version of her letter is below.

I am a member of the Labour Party and of the Hackney Palestine Solidarity campaign. I write in response to the statement made by Cllr Chapman, Chair of Hackney Council’s Pensions Committee, which is published on the Council’s website.

I was struck first by Cllr Chapman’s statement that “Hackney Council does not directly invest council taxpayers’ money in companies”. But what is in contention is not taxpayers’ money. The Pension Fund belongs entirely to its beneficiaries – Hackney’s employees, past and present, whose deferred earnings constitute the Fund. No wonder they have never been consulted about how their money is used if there is doubt in the mind even of the Pensions Committee Chair about who it belongs to!

Cllr Chapman distinguishes between “direct” investment and investments managed by external managers. The difference that this makes to the ethical issue is one that escapes me. It might make the process of divestment more complex, but the fact that doing something that is right would be difficult is no reason not to do it.

I take little comfort in being told that the Pensions Committee will “continue to monitor relevant legislation, court decisions and other developments”. It is after all well over a year since the Supreme Court put it beyond doubt that non-financial factors may be taken into account by local authority pension fund administrators, provided there is no “significant” risk of financial detriment and “where they have good reason to think that scheme members would support their decision”. What has resulted from the Committee’s monitoring so far? As for being part of a forum which is “actively engaging with companies cited by the UN…”, words almost fail me. It reminds me of sanctions and boycott busters justifying continued trade with UDI Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa – misguided at best. Any miracle-working skills capable of reforming Elbit Systems would be better applied to overcoming the obstacles to divestment.

Part of Cllr Chapman’s statement engages in mere shadow boxing. The divestment campaign has not suggested that the Fund can “make investment decisions based on moral or political grounds alone”. It neither should nor legally could. Its task is to make ethical investment decisions that are consistent with its fiduciary duty to protect the fund. The council seems confident of its ability to do so in respect of decarbonization, why not in respect of the Occupied Territories?

I struggle to grasp the ethical relevance of the argument that one of the obnoxious investments (in Elbit Systems) is worth only a small fraction of the value of the external fund which contains it. Every little helps, as the slogan goes. And Elbit is far from the only complicit company in which the Hackney Pension Fund invests. Yes, it invests via externally managed funds, but that doesn’t justify holding our noses and ignoring the stench.

I question the quality of advice the Pension Fund is receiving. £1.5 million to dispose of the existing fund sounds a lot, but we are given no idea of the context in terms of the costs of administering the Fund as it is, or what leverage Hackney might have in negotiating. I understand that specialist financial advice on divestment is available. Sometimes the answer you get depends on the question you ask.

Why is the response of the Pensions Committee Chair to the evidence of so much popular support for divesting from companies profiting from illegal activity in the Occupied Territories not simply, “Yes. It is difficult, but we are committed to divestment and are actively seeking a way”?

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We demand Hackney Council divest

On Saturday 19th June we gathered outside Hackney Town Hall to hand in our petition to the council in which we demand that our council “follow through on your ethical commitments and divest the Hackney Local Government Pension Scheme from all companies that operate in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.

That the petition attracted over 58,000 signatures reflects widespread and growing anger at the injustice of Israeli apartheid and at the violence of Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. 

While most of the signatures came from the UK and many of them from Hackney, the petition went all over the world including to Palestine and to Israel.

Speakers at the event included Nic Lee of Hackney Green Party, Trade Union Liasion Officer for Hackney North and Stoke Newington Constituency Labour Party George Binnette, Kathryn Johnson from the Hackney Trades Council and Sybil Cokc from the national Palestine Solidarity Campaign, as well as Hackney PSC co-secretaries Sussan Rassoulie and Heather Mendick.

Although we were disappointed that Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville and Councillor Rob Chapman, Chair of Hackney Council’s Pension Committee, were not present to receive the petition, we are pleased to see Rob Chapman sending a response to Change.org who hosted our petition. 

We hope that he will now engage directly with Hackney Palestine Solidarity Campaign and take action to divest the council’s local government pension scheme from companies that are complicit in Israeli human rights abuses on occupied Palestinian land.

The Council has issued a full statement regarding the issue on their website but has not replied to most of our emails.

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Our Petition for Hackney Council to divest from the Israeli occupation reaches over 55,000 signatures

Our petition demands that Hackney Council follow through on their ethical commitments and divest the Hackney Local Government Pension Scheme from all companies that operate in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Research published by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has uncovered LGPS funds collectively hold at least £3.2bn in companies complicit in Israel’s grave breaches of international law and Palestinian human rights. Hackney specifically holds investments in Elbit, Israel’s largest arms manufacturer, and in Caterpillar, who produce the bulldozers used to demolish homes, schools, waterpipes and other key infrastructure, in order to make way for settlements. These and other companies are listed by the UN Human Rights Offices as complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories.

Israel can only maintain its grave violations of Palestinian human rights because of products, equipment and services it receives from complicit companies. These companies are complicit through supplying the Israeli military with weapons and other technology used to oppress Palestinians; providing technology and equipment used to maintain Israel’s infrastructure of military occupation, such as its checkpoints and the apartheid wall; and investing in Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, built on stolen Palestinian land.

Our campaign is supported by Hackney Unison, Hackney Greens, Hackney South and Hackney North Labour Parties.

You can find out more about these investments and about what action you can take via this link to the national campaign site.

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Hackney PSC supports huge national demos against Israeli violence, ethnic cleansing and apartheid

On 15th and 22nd May there were huge demonstrations in central London in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. These were attended by an estimated 100k and 200k people respectively with smaller demos happening around the UK for people unable to travel to London. Hackney PSC had a strong presence at these demos with our own banner and those of the local Hackney North and Hackney South Labour Parties and with about 25 of us meeting together in Hackney to travel into central London.

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Hackney PSC Fundraising Dinner

Come dance to local Klezmer band Don Kipper and enjoy fantastic Turkish fare with us to raise money for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign!

The ticket includes dinner and entertainment not including drinks. Beverages available for purchase at the bar. Vegetarian/vegan options available.

Please share widely with your contacts!

FB event: https://www.facebook.com/events/343599832876774/

Get your tickets at: https://www.tickettailor.com/events/hackneypsc/205874

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