POLITICS

Russell Brand Wants Big Business To Stop 'Profiting From Gaza Conflict'

13/08/2014 16:21 | Updated 13 August 2014

Russell Brand has called on big banks, pension funds and other businesses to cut their investments or deals that "facilitate the oppression of people in Gaza".

Fresh from taking Fox News presenter Sean Hannity to task for his coverage of the Israel-Gaza conflict, the comedian has issued an emotional appeal for people to sign a petition urging firms to pull their investments.

Citing Barclays as an example, Brand said that the British banking giant manages "the portfolios of an Israeli defence company called Elbit, which makes the drones that bomb Gaza."

"The message they give us is the exact opposite of the reality, they're acting like they're part of our community," he said. "But if we're aware of the reality of what they do, then we have the power to influence them."

Brand called on people to sign a petition on the Avaaz campaign website to "aggravate" the firms into reconsidering their investments.

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The petition, which currently has nearly 1.7 million supporters, appeals to the heads of Barclays, British private security giant G4S, computer giant HP, French firm Veolia, Dutch pension fund ABP and bulldozer manufacturer Caterpillar to pull their investments.

"In the wake of the terrible violence unfolding in Israel-Palestine, we, citizens from around the world, are deeply concerned about your companies’ continued investment in companies and projects that finance illegal settlements and the oppressive occupation of the Palestinian people," the campaigners say in their petition.

"17 EU countries recently issued warnings to their citizens against doing business or investing in illegal Israeli settlements. Given those legal considerations, you now have the opportunity to withdraw investments and respect international law. This is a chance to be on the right side of history."

The firms targeted by the petition have previously defended their controversial investments.

A spokesperson for HP said that "respecting human rights is a core value" of the business, adding that the software giant's systems used at Israeli checkpoints allow people to "get to their place of work or to carry out their business in a faster and safer way".

The global security giant G4S, which employs 6,000 people in Israel, reportedly provides and maintains screening equipment for some military checkpoints on the West Bank, as well as managing security systems at the Ofer Prison and the Israeli police department in the occupied territories.

The security firm hired a human rights professor to review their operations, who concluded that there was no case against G4S on the grounds of complicity with alleged war crimes committed by Israel.

Caterpillar has insisted that it "shares the world's concern over unrest in the Middle East", but that it has "neither the legal right nor the means to police individual use of its equipment".

ABP, the world’s third-largest pension fund with €300bn of assets, told the Financial Times that the Israeli banks it invests in, that are accused funding "the colonisation of Palestine", do not breach international law and that there were "no judicial rulings that should lead to their exclusion”.

Brand's call action over Israel is much stronger than the UK government's current stance, with business secretary Vince Cable threatening on Tuesday to stop twelve exports licences to Israel if violence resumes in Gaza.

Since 2010, the British government has licensed £42 million worth of military exports to Israel, including targeting systems and drone components.

Cable announced that the UK would halt the export of components for radar systems, combat aircraft and tanks, in the event of "significant hostilities" breaking out once more, amid fears the equipment could be used by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) in Gaza.

The move was condemned by anti-arms campaigners, with Andrew Smith from Campaign Against Arms Trade telling the Huffington Post UK: "It is a very weak position and it will be seen as a sign of political support for the Israeli government."

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