by Lady Michelle-Jennifer Santos, Chief Visionary Founder & Owner
January 31, 2014 (TSR) – The Kingdom of Norway, the owner of the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, shows its muscle by blacklisting and divesting funds from two Israeli companies profiting from illegal Israeli occupation and apartheid policies against Palestine.
Norway’s finance minister Siv Jensen has ordered its $820 billion oil fund to stop investing in two Israeli firms, Africa Israel Investments and Danya Cebus, on ethical grounds based on the recommendations from the Royal Ethics Council.
This is the second time the Ministry excluded the companies and said that they have “not independently reviewed all details of the recommendations, but find it sufficiently proved that investments in the above companies will pose an unacceptable risk violation of observation and exclusion”.
The official statement says,
Norway’s Ministry of Finance received on 1 November a recommendation from the Royal Ethics Council to exclude Africa Israel Investments and Danya Cebus from the Fund as a result of their participation in serious violations of individual rights in war or conflict through construction in East Jerusalem. The companies were excluded during the period August 2010 to August 2013 on the basis of similar activities. The Ministry of Finance has decided to follow the Council’s recommendation.
“Africa Israel and its subsidiaries operate both in Israel and all over the globe promoting their business activities according to the legislation applicable in all countries where they operate,” said Africa Israel Investments spokeswoman Dalia Azar-Malimovka according to Reuters.
“Therefore, we can only express regret over the decision regarding Africa Israel and other major Israeli companies,” she added.
In November 2009, Norway excluded the same companies from the Fund on the same grounds. The blacklist was lifted last year in August on the premise that both have no plans to perform the same activities in the future. However, that is not the case now.
According to a website that monitors companies that profit from the illegal Israeli occupation, Who Profits, Africa Israel Investments is a holding company controlled by Lev Leviev. The company holds 85% of Danya Cebus, the main subsidiary construction company which builds in multiple settlements in C-Jerusalem, which is considered as an equivalent to the construction of Israeli settlements in the rest of the West Bank.
As a contractor, Danya Cebus has built Green Park project in Matityahu East in the West Bank settlement of Modi’in Illit. It has built a housing project for Ya’asour in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Edomim. It has built projects for the developer Heftziba in the Har Homa, Ma’ale Edomim and Adam settlements next to Jerusalem, and it was hired to complete some housing projects there after the developer Heftziba had gone out of business.
Africa-Israel also owns 26% of the Alon Group which has a monopoly over gas supply to the Gaza Strip, and controls the Blue Square retail chain, which has branches and offices in multiple settlements throughout the Occupied Territories. It also owns the Holiday Inn label in Israel, Hamei Tveria – Tiberias Hot Springs, and Negev Ceramics.
In October 2010, in an official letter to Who Profits, Africa-Israel stated: “Neither the company nor any of its subsidiaries and/or other companies controlled by the company are presently involved in or has any plans for future involvement in development, construction or building of real estate in settlements in the West Bank.” However, the company soon after received a 78 million shekel contract to construct the C-Jerusalem project in the settlement neighborhood of Gilo in East Jerusalem.
Subsidiary companies of Danya Cebus, whose CEO is Ronen Ginzburg, include Derech Eretz Construction (CJV) (33%), Derech Eretz Joint Ventures 18 (50%), IMB – Israel Metro Builders (40%), Danya Dutch (Netherlands), Danya Cebus Cyprus (Cyprus), Rumbrol Trading (Cyprus, 97.6%), Danya Cebus Rom (Rumania), Danya Cebus Rus (Russia), Yuvalim Man Power (Israel).
Israel’s ambassador to Norway, Naim Araidi, is disappointed over the decision of excluding the two Israeli companies.
Araidi also belongs to the Druze minority in Israel. The Druze call themselves Ahl al-Tawhid “the People of Monotheism” or al-Muwa??id?n “the Unitarians”. Druze is an offshoot of Ismailism, a branch of Shia Islam.
“We are disappointed and sad because we thought of a new era in relations between Israel and Norway. For us, Jerusalem is a city, we do not distinguish between the east and west of the city. This is a surprising decision, and we hope it is based on a mistake”, says Naim Araidi to the Norwegian media, NRK.
Araidi believes that the Fund’s blacklist and its decision to not invest in Israeli companies has far more serious implications, than if it were a private company that did it.
“This is the Norwegian state, the Kingdom of Norway, so this is politics. It is very dangerous because it can affect other investments in Israel”, said the ambassador.
Finance Minister Siv Jensen retorted against criticisms by Pro-Israel politicians and groups with the decision saying that this was a matter of ethics, not politics according to her Dagsrevyen TV interview. She said that she made her decision based on the recommendation of the Ethics Council.
Jensen is also the leader of the conservative liberal party called Progress Party. It is the first time the party is in the highest level of government.
“We Mean Business with Peacemaking”
Many countries deem Israel’s settlements illegal and an obstacle to peacemaking.
“Since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles, the donor community has invested more than $23 billion into “peace and development” in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), making it one of the highest per capita recipients of non-military aid in the world. However, the aid has not brought peace, development, or security for the Palestinian people, let alone justice,” noted by Alaa Tartir and Jeremy Wildeman in a policy brief from Al-Shabaka on the devastating effects of neoliberal – radical free-market – economic policies and failed aid strategies in Palestine since the Oslo accords were signed 20 years ago last September.
The Norwegian sovereign wealth fund owned stocks in 41 Israeli companies in 2008.
The Kingdom of Norway has maintained its official stance against the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a violation of international laws, and demand it to be stopped immediately as it is considered as one of the greatest threats against peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Its investments in Israeli companies has dropped significantly due to its consistent violations and profiteering from the occupation.
Many people, including politicians, in Norway are angered over the systematic violation and inhumane treatment of Palestinians and their freedom of movement. The occupied Palestinian land, the West Bank, has now over 500,000 illegal Israeli settlers.
The West Bank is, by international and sovereign state laws, a Palestinian territory.
The Viking Fund Fairytale
The Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund, called the Government Pension Fund Global, has achieved great growth in recent years and is recorded as an asset of the Norwegian government which now equals about two times the nation’s income.
Oil and gas are financial drivers for many of the sovereign funds in the world. Norway is the seventh largest oil exporter.
Seventeen years after the Norwegian Finance Department deposited the first 2 billion NOK, the fund has now reached 5.1 trillion crowns, or about $820 billion, as of December last year due in large part to the rising price of oil. Theoretically, that makes each of Norway’s 5,096,300 people a millionaire in crowns, NOK.
Converted into dollars, the fund’s crowns (spelled “krone” in Norway) per capita is now about $161,660.
By comparison, the US debt of $17.3 trillion is 102 percent of GDP. That is $54,733 owed by each American. But if you add all the unfunded liabilities of the government, then each American owes $1.1 million, according to USDebtclock.org.
Since 1996 until the end of the third quarter of 2013, the fund has given a return on investment equivalent 1.572 billion NOK. During the same period, the state has installed 3,239 billion NOK fund from oil and gas revenues.
Since 1998, the fund had an annualized return of 5.5 percent on average. At the end of the third quarter, the annual net return of 3.96 percent per annum, measured over the last ten years.
In the third quarter could Petroleum Fund report a turnaround in performance after a tough second quarter. Since it has thus growth continued and by the end of September to the beginning of December, the fund added on additional 289 billion NOK.
Used for investments that benefit the economy and its people, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global was created to be an intergenerational savings to secure income from a fossil fuel resource and to prevent “Dutch Disease,” or the economic phenomenon when an increase in natural resources leads to a decline in other sectors like manufacturing or agriculture.
The sovereign wealth fund is integrated into Norway’s fiscal budget: 4 percent of the fund’s assets can be spent each year by the government. Unlike the Alaska Permanent Fund, no dividends are paid out each year to its citizens.
After Norway, the country with the second-largest sovereign wealth fund is Saudi Arabia with over $675 billion, followed by the Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates with $627 billion, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute. Alaska has one of the highest sovereign wealth funds of the U.S. states with about $47 billion.
New Strategy: Highest returns, Lowest Risk
Norway Finance Minister Siv Jensen, who also attended the Bilderberg meeting in 2006 and the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, said the nation’s $820 billion wealth fund should pursue the highest returns amid opposition demands that the investor place more focus on ethics and the environment.
“I believe strongly that you shouldn’t mess around with people’s pensions,” Jensen said in an interview in Oslo. “We have an overall responsibility to have a long-term, good financial-investment profile that provides the highest possible returns at the lowest possible risk.”
The fund has missed a 4 percent return target over the past decade, in part as financial market turmoil that started in the U.S. and spread to Europe led to record losses according to Bloomberg.
So far, the government has proposed boosting the fund’s focus on emerging markets and clean energy. It’s currently mandated to hold 60 percent in stocks, 35 percent in bonds and 5 percent in real estate.
The fund is the safety net of Norway as gold is no longer included in Norges Bank’s international reserves. Norges Bank sold 33.5 tons of gold bars in the first quarter of 2004. (See press release)
Norges Bank has sold the gold bars in the central bank’s gold reserves, with the exception of seven gold bars reserved for exhibition purposes and 3 ½ tons of gold coins that were part of the “gold transport” to England in 1940. The gold shipment from Oslo on the morning of 9 April 1940 consisted of 818 cases weighing 40 kilos each, 685 cases weighing 25 kilos each and 39 kegs weighing 80 kilos each. The total shipment weighed 53 tonnes whereas the gold bars weighed about 48.8 tonnes. The value of the shipment in 1940-kroner was NOK 120 million. The assets were revalued and recorded at NOK 240 million in July 1940.
Revenues from the sale of gold totalled USD 447.4m, which is equivalent to approximately NOK 3.1bn — a cheap spot price which in hindsight made many upset as the Kingdom lost billions on the sale.
Many companies in stock around are worried when blacklisted because the Norwegian fund is usually held up around the world as a model of how to run a sovereign fund. Norway takes into account ethical rules encompassing human rights, some weapons production, the environment and tobacco when deciding on its investments.
About 63 firms are on the blacklist, including some of the world’s biggest miners, tobacco producers and makers of certain weapons such as cluster bombs and nuclear weapons, many of which are American military industrial complex companies.
Minister Jensen, who took office in October, is preparing a white paper to be released in April that will provide new strategy recommendations.