OPT: HRW calls on Israeli banks to comply with human rights responsibilities, cease activities in settlements
A 2017 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report refutes claims by Israeli banks that they are required to provide financial services to settlements in the occupied West Bank under Israeli law. HRW analysed Israeli law and international humanitarian and human rights standards applicable to business and found that banks can "refuse to offer a service if that transaction originates, terminates or passes through a settlement as long, as they disclose that they decline to provide services in settlements and apply that policy to all customers."
HRW wrote to the Israeli banks requesting details of their activities in the settlements and explanations about their understanding of the domestic legal framework. Only Bank Leumi and Bank of Israel responded providing brief comments. Bank Leumi said it operates in accordance with the laws of the State of Israel and referred HRW to the Association of Banks in Israel for further questions. While Bank of Israel said that the situation was "complicated and dependent on the circumstances of each and every case on its merits, and therefore, in general, we do not address questions of this nature."
The Association of Banks in Israel declined to comment on HRW questions, however did provide a detailed response to Danish research centre Danwatch for its January 2017 report on investments in Israeli settlements, saying: "[S]etting a policy at a bank, whereby banking services or credit would not be provided in connection with activity in [the Occupied West Bank] constitutes discrimination due to nationality, race, religious group and point of view which is prohibited under the law."
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the Association of Banks in Israel, Israel Discount Bank, Mizrahi Tefahot, First International Bank of Israel, and Bank Hapoalim to respond to HRW's report as well as Bank Leumi and Bank of Israel to provide further comment. The Resource Centre also invited AXA, which holds investments in Bank Leumi, Hapoalim and Mizrahi Tefahot, to respond. Only AXA responded.