Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Pro-Palestine demonstration outside Axa office

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Pro-Palestine activists gathered outside the offices of Axa Insurance on Tuesday to protest the French insurance giant’s alleged ties to firms operating in Israeli settlements.

Demonstrations organised by the Cork Palestine Solidarity Campaign (CPSC) took place outside the insurer’s offices on South Mall where concerns were raised about the company’s alleged links to several Israeli banks operating in occupied Palestine.

Protestors described Tuesday as a “national day of action,” with Axa branches throughout the country being picketed by demonstrators. The CSPC are one division of the wider Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign which has organised protests against Axa in 13 counties.

Axa’s South Mall office remained shut on Tuesday, with a notice on the building stating the branch “is currently closed for staff training.”

The CPSC has claimed that Axa “invests in Israeli firms that finance the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.” Axa said it has no investments in these firms.

However, according to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, a Palestinian-led initiative targeting companies economically involved in Israel, Axa had invested in three Israeli banks operating in occupied Palestine. 

Earlier this month, the BDS movement announced that Axa had divested around €9.4m of shares from two of these banks, the Israel Discount Bank and Bank Leumi at the end of 2023, but that it still owned shares of around €2.6m in Israeli-owned Bank Hapoalim.

Speaking at the demonstrations on Tuesday, members of the pro-Palestine movement told the Irish Examiner they were pushing for Axa’s “complete divestment” from banks operating in occupied territory.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, a spokesperson for Axa said it has “no investments in any of the banks cited in recent calls for boycott.”

“The Axa Group is committed to conducting business to the highest ethical standard,” the spokesperson added. 

“AXA’s investments comply with all applicable laws and regulations and respect all internationally recognised human rights principles. This is also the case for AXA’s investment in the Middle East Region.”

‘Proof needed’

Speaking at the protests, Sinn Féin Councillor Mick Nugent said evidence of Axa’s full divestment needs to be provided. “The BDS Campaign states otherwise,” said Mr Nugent. 

“The BDS Movement states Axa and the companies it is aligned with are providing funding to Israel. Until that is comprehensively disproved, Axa remains on the BDS list.”

Mr Nugent added that Cork City Council had adopted several motions in support of the BDS Movement, with demonstrations outside Axa “part of that same campaign which was endorsed by the City Council.”

In its Human Rights Policy, the Axa group says it recognises that, “as one of the world’s largest companies, our business may involve potential adverse Human Rights impacts.” 

“We are determined to respect Human Rights both in our own operations and in our insurance and investment business.”

It added that the policy “aims at preventing Human Rights abuses and reflects AXA Group’s adherence to general and sectoral international standards.”

Pro-Palestine activists have protested for months against major companies, criticising their activity during the conflict in Gaza. Earlier this month, CPSC protestors staged demonstrations outside the Cork branch of RTX-owned Collins Aerospace amid claims that its parent company produces weapons used by Israel against civilians in Gaza. 

Up until earlier this month, the Irish State had more than €4m invested in companies operating in illegal Israeli settlements, however, Finance Minister Michael McGrath announced at the start of April that it would divest from six of these companies “as soon as possible” over the coming weeks.

In the six months since the war in Gaza erupted, more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks.

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