BERLIN – Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann announced over the weekend that the bank had sold its holdings in Israeli defense company Elbit Systems. The surprising announcement was made during the annual shareholder meeting of Germany's largest bank.
"Deutsche Bank is out and no longer has a part in Elbit Systems," Ackermann declared.
Before the announcement, representatives of two anti-Israel organizations planned to meet with the shareholders and accuse the bank's management of violating international law and breaching human rights, due to Elbit System's part in operating the separation fence between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and protecting West Bank settlements.
The two groups - International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and Catholic non-governmental organization Pax Christi – referred to Ackermann's announcement as “a major success”.
Their statement implies that the decision to divest from the Israeli firm stemmed from the political and public pressure. The organizations gained the support of the German Umbrella Association of Critical Shareholders.
According to the two groups, as of March 31 Deutsche Bank still had 50,788 shares in Elbit, worth $2.638 million. The bank is ranked 10th among the institutional bodies holding the company's shares in the New York Stock Exchange. It should be noted that Elbit Systems is worth more than $2 billion.
The two pro-Palestinian organizations welcomed Deutsche Bank's decision, which they said was a recognition of ethical standards like the ones of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which recently welcomed Israel, and of the Global Compact organization in the United Nations, which aims to encourage big companies to honor principles of human rights, labor laws and environmental policies and fight corruption.
The groups noted that Sweden and Norway's main pension funds stopped investing in Elbit Systems as well due to its involvement in the operation of the separation fence.
Deutsche Bank refused to address the organizations' statement, which implies that the decision was the result of political and public pressure.
Nevertheless, later in the day Deutsche Bank released a statement denied the divestment, saying the bank did not own any shares to sell.
Deutsche spokesman Ronald Weichert said the bank did not have a stake in Elbit and that its business with the Israel defense contractor was in "trading positions or positions held on behalf of clients."
'Wall creates Palestinian Bantustans'A week before Ackermann's announcement, Deutsche Bank analysts recommended investing in Elbit Systems, in light of the Israeli company's financial reports for the first quarter of 2010.
Over the weekend, Pax Christi published the speech the organization's representative had planned to deliver to the Deutsche Bank shareholders: “Do you still remember the days of apartheid in South Africa? Palestinians call it an Apartheid Wall, because it surrounds them, closes them in, shuts them into enclaves; because this Wall creates Palestinian Bantustans.
"How can Deutsche Bank profit from the oppression of Palestinians? If obvious human rights and international law criteria are violated, will the Deutsche Bank continue to be co-responsible for this?”
Israel was not surprised by the fact that Deutsche Bank decided to sell its "meager holdings" in Elbit Systems. "It was an extremely marginal holding, and the entire move is based on anti-Israel politics," a source in the defense establishment said Saturday evening.
Elbit Systems refused to comment on the German bank's decision on Saturday evening.
Reuters contributed to this report