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How Denmark is Financing the Israeli Occupation

by Tyler Torrez
The Danes are turning their backs on human rights. In 2015, they refused to buy Elbit System's Israeli guns, because the manufacturer continues to supply almost all of the IDF's equipment, which is used against the Palestinians, military or not, with the resultant widely reported collateral damage. Now, the government is negotiating the purchase of the ATMOS howitzer without a second thought, and seems to have the approval of the very people who were opposed to it in 2015!
For decades, Scandinavian countries have been ostensible paradises of social democratic progress, free from ambiguous human rights policies, dubious contracts with foreign firms with questionable corruption records or populist public policies regarding immigration. Why, then, would the Danish Defence Minister, Venstre’s Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, enter into negotiations for an artillery system with an Israeli company widely condemned for supplying military hardware used against Palestinians in the West Bank, and criticised continuously by activists for its corruption, lack of moral compass and profiteering from human misery? All this just 7 years after Denmark’s very public acknowledgement of Israel’s illegal expansion into the West Bank through the divestment of certain Danish pension funds.

It was recently announced that Denmark would be entering into negotiations with Elbit Systems to plug a “critical gap” in its defence capabilities, namely by buying a fleet of new artillery systems and “the rocket launchers [that] complement [them]”, according to the Danish Ministry of Defence. This represents an extraordinary flip-flop from the Danish government, which back in 2015 signaled its support for a series of divestments from Danish pension funds from four companies over their complicity in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. For a country seemingly dedicated to socially responsible investing, this apparent divergence from any recognizable commitment to the most basic ethical approach and support of human rights is confounding. Mette Frederiksen’s government should reconsider.

Elbit systems, a history of supporting human rights abuses against Palestinians

Elbit systems has been in the news a lot recently. Following a sustained 18-month pressure campaign by activists led by Palestine Action against the arms trade and for Palestinian rights in the United Kingdom, Elbit announced in was closing its Elbit Ferranti factory in Oldham, a town in northwest England. “This is momentous news, brought about by the sustained actions of the Oldham community and pro-Palestine activists, who besides many British campaigners include Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians,” said Andrew Feinstein, founding member of Shadow World Investigations and executive director of Corruption Watch. “It reflects that in Britain, as in many other countries, the Israeli war machine is not welcome. Celebrating campaigners have made clear they will continue their actions until Elbit, and all Israeli arms companies, no longer operate in the UK.”

Elbit indeed has a long history of aggressively acquiring arms companies in order to expand its reach and capabilities in surveillance and deadly weapons production, particularly its military drones, which have been consistently used against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. In addition to drones, the firm also develops artillery systems, and optical, targeting and navigation components, adaptable for NATO-produced equipment, surveillance equipment and cyber security products. Notably, Elbit produces components integrated into the illegal separation wall in the West Bank and border surveillance systems used in the occupied Golan Heights.

The firm’s acquisition in 2018 of IMI Systems from the Israeli government directly implicates it in the forced displacement of Bedouin communities in the Naqab (Negev). Its production and export of the Hermes killer/surveillance drones to armies around the world, including countries with questionable democratic records like Azerbaijan, has led to significant human suffering. Azerbaijan has a long history of human rights abuses in the framework of its ongoing conflict with Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh. According to the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights reports, Israeli drone strikes killed at least 1941 people in Gaza alone between 2006 and 2014.

Aside from humanitarian concerns, Elbit has been embroiled in a number of affaires involving fraud and corruption as far afield as Zambia and the United States, further damaging its fragile international reputation.

A Danish Backtrack

Considering Elbit’s plethora of dubious commercial activities, its complete disregards for human rights, its direct implication in the persecution and displacement of entire communities in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, why has the Danish MoD decided to proceed with negotiations? In truth, it is perhaps not the business of military personnel, but of politicians.

This reversal of posture is all the more disappointing considering Denmark’s virtuous approach to the Israeli occupation back in 2015. The blacklisting of four Israeli companies by third largest pension fund in Denmark, Sampension, for the financing of illegal settlements in the West Bank, fully supported by the leading Danish political parties The Social Democratic Party, Venstre and Det Radikale Venstre was laudable. Furthermore, the left-wing party, Det Radikale and SF vehemently opposed the purchase of arms from Elbit and threatened to veto any deal. "The settlements in the West Bank are illegal, and so is the construction of the wall, and I believe in principle that of course Denmark should not buy weapons systems from suppliers who have one or the other problem with international law," said the Radikale's then defence spokesman, Martin Lidegaard, to Berlingske in October 2015, when the Danish MoD was considering artillery guns from Elbit Systems.

Fast forward to 2023 and the picture has changed, according to the party's current defence spokesperson Sofie Carsten Nielsen. The Radikale are on the verge of abandoning their position due to the Defence ministry’s “urgent need” for new artillery, a rather sudden reevaluation of the party’s core values…

In contrast, the banking and business sectors seemingly display more enduring convictions... Several pension funds in Scandinavia have withdrawn their investments from Elbit Systems. So have Danske Bank and Germany's largest bank, Deutsche Bank. Norway's Oil Fund has also withdrawn investments from Elbit Systems. Reasons include Elbit's involvement in the illegal settlements and the illegal apartheid wall. The Danish government seems no longer to share such concerns…

Denmark’s efforts to strengthen institutions and organisations to create a sustainable Palestine and a peaceful end to the conflict were commendable back in 2015, so why throw it all away? And, perhaps the most serious question of all: while one can perceive a complete backtrack by certain politicians and an unconditional alignment with the interests of the international military-industrial complex, is there any true leftwing party remaining in Denmark committed to the fundamental rights of human beings?
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