The European Union is expanding its partnership with Bank Leumi, a major financier of Israeli settler colonies on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.
The EU claims to oppose Israel’s construction of settlements in the occupied territories, a war crime.
However, on Monday, Emanuele Giaufret, the EU ambassador in Tel Aviv, trumpeted news that the European Investment Fund and Bank Leumi are expanding a loan program for tech companies in Israel.
Called LeumiTech, the program was launched in 2016 with an initial $100 million.
Under the expanded partnership, the EU’s European Investment Fund will provide guarantees for up to $620 million of LeumiTech loans.
Expanding Colonial Settlements
Last year, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing how all major Israeli banks, including Bank Leumi, actively participate in dispossessing Palestinians.
As an example, the report states that one settlement, financed to the tune of $53 million by Bank Leumi, was advertised as a “charming town in the center of Israel … with a breathtaking, pastoral view, among olive trees and blooming squills.”
That settlement, Alfei Menashe, is, in fact, built on land stolen from the Palestinian village of Azzun.
Bank Leumi finances settlements and their infrastructure across the occupied West Bank, according to watchdog Who Profits.
“Settlements inherently contribute to serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,” according to Human Rights Watch.
“Companies, including banks, that conduct business in or with settlements cannot mitigate or avoid contributing to these abuses, because the activities they conduct take place on unlawfully seized land, under conditions of discrimination, and through a serious violation of Israel’s obligations as an occupying power.”
The group has urged banks to completely “cease doing business in or with Israeli settlements” because, “in Human Rights Watch’s view, these activities inherently contribute to serious abuses.”
The involvement of Israeli banks in the systematic theft of Palestinian land has prompted some financial institutions to divest from them.
The European Union, however, is keen to keep the money pouring in through its investment fund.
Supporting Israel’s War Industry
In addition to supporting and promoting a bank that is deeply involved in theft of Palestinian land, EU backing for LeumiTech is another channel of support for Israel’s war and espionage industries, given the close ties they have with tech companies.
The European Investment Fund is providing the LeumiTech loan guarantees as part of Horizon 2020, the EU science program that delivers funds to Israeli weapons firms.
The close ties between Israel’s tech sector and its military was highlighted by LeumiTech CEO Yifat Oron, who told Newsweek last month how many Israeli entrepreneurs “started with military-oriented technologies.”
Oron herself previously worked in the Israeli defense ministry, running its research and development budget.
LeumiTech seeks to promote military-linked companies. In 2016, for instance, it sponsored a “pitch-off” – a competition among Israeli firms for investment funds.
One of the winners was Arbe Robotics, a company which, according to the newspaper Haaretz, “has roots in the military and homeland security.”
The EU is in effect rewarding and incentivizing Israel for testing weapons on Palestinians, particularly the two million caged in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Bank Leumi itself directly supports and sustains Israel’s military, for example with programs aimed at “increasing the eligibility of IDF recruits’ access to better positions during their military service.”
During Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 550 children, Bank Leumi sent “gift packages” to the families of soldiers.
“Every employee who returned from reserve duty during this period received an additional vacation day to rest and reorganize,” according to the bank’s annual report.
Photo: EU ambassador to Tel Aviv Emanuele Giaufret, left, at a ceremony for Horizon 2020 grant recipients last year. The EU uses the science program to channel funding to Israel’s war industry. Source: Twitter.