EXCLUSIVE: Bringing it all back home – how Cornwall Council helps Israel wage war on Palestine

Posted By on 19th December 2023

By Graham Smith

Cornwall Council has invested millions of pounds in companies operating in occupied Palestine.

The death toll in Gaza now exceeds 20,000 since mid-October.  More than a third of the civilians killed are children.

Israel’s response to the Hamas attack of 7th October is now attracting international condemnation.  British politicians from all parties, initially silent because of their tacit support for Israel, are increasingly finding it difficult to conceal their horror.

But more than 3,000 miles from County Hall, and so far without question from Cornwall councillors, several firms operating in occupied Palestine benefit from cash funnelled through County Hall’s pension fund.

Although Cornwall’s investments are mixed in with those of several other local authorities, the status of the decades-old conflict in the Middle East should not be a surprise to local councillors.  Even their own pension fund advisors, Brunel, describe the companies as operating in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Three weeks ago Cornwall Council’s pensions committee met to consider its “responsible investment policy.”  The members of this committee are particularly keen to talk about climate change although last year they did also call for disinvestment from Russia, following the invasion of Ukraine in March 2022.

Brunel did subsequently disinvest, in line with UK sanctions against Russia.  The “pasty pound” denied to Vladimir Putin was worth only 0.3% to the council’s pension fund.

In financial terms, a similar disinvestment from the Occupied Palestinian Territories would be hardly noticed.  But the political consequences would be wide-ranging.

Cornwall Council’s 38-page “responsible investment” document contains a brief section on “human rights and social issues.”  This expects “all companies to comply with internationally recognised human rights principles such as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business Human Rights.”

It seems clear that by delegating its definition of “human rights” to the UN, County Hall has little choice but to accept that its investments in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are highly questionable.

According to the UN, many of these companies provide “services and utilities supporting the maintenance and existence of settlements" and "the use of natural resources, in particular water and land, for business purposes" in occupied Palestine.  In recent years Scandinavian countries, such as Denmark and Norway, have withdrawn investments from several of these companies.

It would be difficult for Cornwall Council to act unilaterally against a particular company but it would have an ally in Greater Manchester council, which is already calling on the Local Government Pension Fund to put pressure on firms to undertake audits of human rights abuses.

Brunel says it is already on the case, promising to “engage with a number of companies - a large number of whom do not appear to have sufficient human rights due diligence processes in place, or even a human rights policy. The Forum will consider voting recommendations on these, given that the OPT (Palestine) is definitively a conflict zone, and such zones require enhanced human rights due diligence.”

Greater Manchester had previously indicated it was prepared to push the issue to a vote if there were no improvements – and that was before the most recent catastrophic escalation of the conflict.  Brunel says it is “monitoring” the situation.

In 2021 Brunel wrote to 17 Israeli companies operating in occupied Palestine seeking reassurances about human rights.  Only one replied.

“The hope is that companies operating in the Territories will understand the importance of undertaking these Human Rights Impact Assessments,” said Brunel in 2021.  “Not only to highlight where the companies might be complicit in human rights infringements, but also to provide insight on potential investment risks for shareholders.”

The campaign to pull investments from Israeli companies which are operating in Palestine is supported by the local government union, Unison.  It has published a 50-page guide for council workers alerting them to how their pension funds are being used in the Middle East.

In 2002 the South African political activist, Rev Desmond Tutu, gave his backing to the disinvestment campaign.  In 2006 the Church of England General Synod voted to disinvest from the construction firm Caterpillar, which supplies armoured bulldozers to the Israeli Defence Forces as they seek to flatten Palestinian communities.

Cornwall Council’s pensions committee is not due to meet again until March.  The death toll in Gaza by then cannot be imagined.  The conflict is now spreading to Yemen and Lebanon.

Meanwhile County Hall continues to fly the Ukrainian flag, as a declaration that it is not neutral on the question of wars in faraway places.

In 2018 Cornwall Reports drew attention to how Israel has successfully lobbied local MPs Steve Double, Derek Thomas and Sheryll Murray for political support.

In 2020 Cornwall Council adopted – without any debate - a highly controversial definition of “anti Semitism” which seeks to conflate criticism of Israel with hostility towards all Jews.

Right:  You can do it if you really want to - how Cornwall Reports covered last year's denial of the "pasty pound" to Vladimir Putin

If you tolerate this, then your children will be next.....Cornwall Council's pension fund is helping several companies profit from the war in Palestine

The Church of England says pension funds should not be invested in companies like Caterpillar, which provides the armoured bulldozers which Israel uses to flatten Palestine.  Below, Cornwall Council cash is invested through Brunel, which has a number of accounts with companies which operate in the occupied territories

All photos above: Creative Commons

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