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Barclays Bank must be held to account over its support for apartheid Israel

An office worker sits at her desk above a Barclays Plc bank branch in the City of London, U.K., on Tuesday, April 26 2022. Barclays is one of the banks along with, HSBC Holdings Plc Lloyds Banking Group Plc and NatWest Group Plc reporting earning this week. Photographer: Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

An office worker sits at her desk above a Barclays Plc bank branch in the City of London, UK, on Tuesday, April 26 2022. [Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

July 28, 2022 at 12:01 pm | Published in: ArticleAsia & AmericasEurope & RussiaIsraelMiddle EastOpinionPalestineUKUS

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We never seem to learn from history, even from the most recent events during our lifetime. Just today, for example, I had a feeling of déjà vu as a press release popped up in my email from the anti-poverty charity War on Want.

The charity is launching a campaign urging people to stop Barclays Bank from supporting an apartheid regime. I actually stopped banking with Barclays in the early 1980s because of its support for apartheid South Africa, and now here I am being told that Barclays is at it again on a banking-apartheid merry-go-round.

The global bank is apparently providing billions of pounds worth of investment and loans to arms companies selling weapons and military technology to the apartheid state of Israel. It is actively “arming, upholding and profiting from Israel’s violence against the Palestinian people,” said War on Want. Barclays acted similarly in South Africa during white minority rule, when the apartheid government persecuted and repressed the non-white population.

I didn’t take my business back to Barclays after the apartheid state collapsed and Nelson Mandela was voted in as the president of the new, truly democratic South Africa. And I certainly will not be opening an account with the bank anytime soon in light of what appears to be a repeat performance in apartheid Israel. I despair, and wonder why Barclays has once again found itself on the wrong side of history. Moreover, I hope that many of its customers follow my example and close their accounts, because such direct protest action works.

The anti-apartheid campaign to force Barclays Bank to withdraw from South Africa started in 1970 and by 1986 it had left the country, albeit to be replaced by First National Bank, which had suspiciously similar branding to Barclays. When the apartheid government in Pretoria declared central Johannesburg to be a “White area” under the Group Areas Act, non-white residents were thrown out with no compensation. Barclays/FNB and other businesses benefited from such ethnic cleansing, the like of which carries on today in the apartheid state of Israel under euphemisms such as “eviction” and “displacement” in places like the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied Jerusalem.

READ: Israel demolishes 2 Palestinian homes in Hebron

Israelis hate it when they are reminded of the parallels between their rogue Zionist state and apartheid South Africa. They also despise being called an apartheid state. It has taken some time to catch on, but the PLO used the term in an open message to “anti-apartheid demonstrators in London” in 1985: voicing support for the “struggling masses of southern Africa”, the organisation pointed out that, “Our stone-throwers and our fighters have the same unquenchable thirst for freedom and justice.” This was followed by a simple, but undeniable fact: “Zionism is apartheid — both systems are based on notions of racial supremacy.”

So former US President Jimmy Carter was following in some very committed anti-apartheid footsteps when he called his 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. More recently, major human rights organisations like AmnestyHuman Rights Watch and B’Tselem have followed suit.

Sadly the present incumbent in the White House, Joe Biden, is more frightened than firm when it comes to standing up to Israel. He certainly lacks the directness and courage of the influential “awkward squad” of politicians that includes Representatives Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar who’ve urged the US president to have some backbone when it comes to dealing with Israel.

Regrettably, here in Britain, the Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer is also in denial about the status of the rogue state squatting in the Middle East. He continues to ignore the fact that brutal violence is at the heart of Israel’s apartheid and occupation regime; and that Palestinians live under the daily threat of lethal violence from Israeli security forces and the hundreds of thousands of illegal Jewish settlers living on land stolen from the Palestinians. And like most Zionists, Starmer refuses to acknowledge the arbitrary arrest and detention of Palestinians, including children; illegal collective punishment through home demolitions and forcible population transfer — aka ethnic cleansing; and intrusive surveillance and control of all areas of Palestinian life.

According to War on Want: “This militarised repression is made possible by international complicity: countries, including the UK, trade in arms with Israel, whilst corporations, including Barclays, invest in these weapons and other repressive technologies. Barclays owns shares worth over £1.3 billion in companies supplying Israel with weapons and military technology used in violence against Palestinians. Barclays provides an additional £4 billion worth of loans and other financial services to these companies.”

The companies referred to include Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest private arms company, which is already a target of pro-Palestine activists as I reported recently in MEMO. It supplies 85 per cent of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — military drones — used by the Israeli army. Elbit Systems weaponry has been used extensively in Israel’s deadly bombardments of the besieged Gaza Strip, home to two million Palestinians. Furthermore, Elbit Systems has been associated with the production of cluster munitions/bombs, which are banned under international law.

Another company, Raytheon, produces bunker buster bombs, used by Israel to target Palestinian homes in the Zionist state’s frequent bombardments of the Gaza Strip.

Caterpillar, meanwhile, supplies the Israeli military with D9 bulldozers, used to demolish Palestinian homes, schools, villages and civilian infrastructure, including sewage and water pipes. D9 bulldozers are also used in the construction of illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

READ: South Africa calls for Israel to be classified an Apartheid State

Just as human rights groups and activists called on people around the world to boycott South African goods under apartheid, Palestinians are calling on people of conscience to support their struggle for justice and human rights, by campaigning to put an end to corporate and financial complicity in Israel’s apartheid regime. To this end, War on Want is joining forces with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Campaign Against the Arms Trade on 9 August for a campaign launch webinar.

“Barclays is profiting from Israel’s regime of apartheid against the Palestinian people, through multi-million-pound investments in arms companies — which supply Israel with weapons used to repress Palestinians,” explained War on Want’s Asad Rehman. “Barclays must divest from companies that facilitate Israel’s violence against Palestinians.”

Rehman will be addressing the webinar along with Ben Jamal of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign; Palestinian writer and researcher Budour Hassan; and Fiona Ben Chekroun, Europe Coordinator of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee.

Most of the old guard from Barclays must either be retired or expired by now, which is a pity because if they were still around today they could advise their successors on the wisdom of divesting from apartheid Israel now instead of enduring another damaging boycott campaign.

The campaign to persuade Barclays to pull out of South Africa went on for sixteen years. Protesters disrupted the bank’s annual general meetings, student unions forced the closure of campus branches and thousands of institutional and individual customers closed their accounts. Does Barclays really want to go through all of that again because of apartheid Israel? I certainly wouldn’t bank on it.

Yvonne Ridley

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.