AXA Divests From Israeli Banks Financing War Crimes Against Palestinians?

April 23, 2024

Following a multi-year campaign by human rights advocates, and in response to shareholder concerns, AXA announces it has no “direct or indirect” investments in any Israeli banks

Campaigners welcome this announcement, but demand proof

[PHOTOS of protests outside of AXA’s Annual General Meeting on April 23, 2024]

April 23, 2024, Paris, France — Today, the CEO of the French insurance giant AXA publicly announced that the company has “zero investments in Israeli banks, direct [or] indirect.”

AXA CEO Thomas Buberl made this announcement at the company’s annual general meeting in Paris, in response to a question by an Ekō-member and AXA shareholder concerned about AXA’s documented shares in Bank Hapoalim.

Bank Hapoalim is one of Israel's largest commercial banks, and it has been denounced by the UN and major human rights organisations for financing and servicing illegal Israeli settlements built on stolen Palestinian land. These illegal settlements constitute war crimes under international law.

It was the first time that AXA publicly acknowledged the pressure it has faced to divest from Bank Hapoalim, referencing “calls for boycotts” and “allegations made on social media in recent weeks.” It was also the first time that AXA publicly announced it does not have any investments in Israeli banks.

Pascal Grandjeat, the AXA shareholder and Ekō-member who questioned the company’s management about its investments, said, “There is no doubt that AXA held 279,000 shares, worth about $2.6 million, in Bank Hapoalim as late as February 15, 2024. As an AXA shareholder, it was important for me to ask about these shares, because we know that Bank Hapoalim is complicit in financing the construction of illegal Israeli settlements built on stolen Palestinian land.”

He added, “While AXA’s CEO failed to acknowledge that the company has held shares in Bank Hapoalim, I was very happy to hear him say that AXA doesn’t currently hold any shares in any Israeli bank. I hope this is true and look forward to seeing financial reporting that backs AXA’s words. I don’t want to invest in a company that is complicit in war crimes, which is what the illegal Israeli settlements that Bank Hapoalim finances are.”

Some fellow AXA shareholders booed when Pascal voiced his concerns about investments that would make AXA complicit in Israeli war crimes, but he said, “I was proud to stand up in a room of over 1000 fellow investors, and express my opposition to any irresponsible and unethical investments that violate the company’s own human rights policies. Some fellow investors booed, but I know I am backed by a growing majority of people around the world who oppose investments that enable the ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights, and that I stood on the right side of history.”

Financial data available on Bloomberg Terminal still reflects that as of February 29, 2024, AXA held 280,167 shares in Bank Hapoalim, worth approximately $2.6 million. There have been no updates to this information on the database, but Ekō and allies are tracking financial data to independently verify that AXA has since sold its remaining shares in Bank Hapoalim.

Daphne Cronin, campaigner with the corporate accountability group Ekō, said, “Ekō has long campaigned to end AXA’s complicity in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, so it’s a win to have forced the company to go on record and to announce, for the first time, that it doesn’t have any shares in any Israeli banks. We know we’ve made AXA pay attention, and we can now better hold AXA to account.”

She continued, “If AXA has divested from Bank Hapoalim like it suggests, this is a win for us and for all people who believe that corporations should not put profits over people. We will continue campaigning until AXA discloses proof to back its words.”

Working alongside other human rights advocates, Ekō has previously succeeded in getting AXA to divest from Israel’s largest arms manufacturer (Elbit Systems) in 2019. In February 2024, Ekō uncovered that, by the fourth financial quarter of 2023, AXA had also divested from Israel Discount Bank and Bank Leumi – two major Israeli banks complicit in financing illegal Israeli settlements.

Fiona Ben Chekroun, Europe Coordinator for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, said, “The campaign to make AXA divest from companies that violate Palestinian human rights was launched in 2015 by French organisations, as part of the global Palestinian-led BDS movement for freedom, justice, and equality. Since then, support for the campaign has grown internationally, with BDS activists successfully pressuring AXA to divest from complicit Israeli corporations. The fact that AXA has felt forced to announce that is no longer invested in any Israeli banks is a win for our movement, and shows that public pressure has real impact. Of course, we will keep monitoring AXA’s investments and if the CEO is misleading AXA's shareholders and customers, our #BoycottAXA campaign will escalate and gain many more supporters.”

She added, “It’s clear that as Israel continues to starve and bomb over 2.3 million Palestinians in the illegally besieged Gaza Strip, and escalates violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, companies like AXA will find it increasingly difficult to ignore public demands to steer clear from complicity in Israel’s war crimes and unfolding genocide.”

While shareholders asked questions inside AXA’s Annual General Meeting, human rights and climate activists joined together to protest outside. They held signs and banners that said “AXA: Stop au soutien à l'apartheid & aux énergies fossiles” [AXA: Stop supporting apartheid and fossil fuels] and “Mouvement climatique solidaire avec la Palestine” [The climate movement is in solidarity with Palestine].

More than 300,000 people have signed Ekō’s petitions calling on AXA to stop financing Israel’s illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land, and to stop supporting fossil fuel expansion. Over 250 organisations, trade unions and businesses have pledged to boycott AXA until its financial disclosures confirm that it has fully divested from Israeli banks and weapons manufacturers that are complicit in violating Palestinian human rights.

Ekō is a global movement of consumers, investors, and workers all around the world, united together to hold corporations accountable for their actions and to forge a new, sustainable and just path for our global economy.