Pro-Palestinian protestors descend on Town Hall to demand end to Israeli weapons investment and Haifa twinning

Camped out: protestors at Hackney Town Hall, Friday 10 May 2024.

Camped out: protestors at Hackney Town Hall, Friday 10 May 2024. Photograph: Hackney Citizen

A group of pro-Palestinian campaigners are camped out in front of Hackney Town Hall to protest against Hackney Council’s links with Israel, in the light of that state’s attack on Gaza.

The protestors, who set up their tents yesterday (Thursday 9 May 2024), have said that they will not dismantle the encampment until the council agrees to their two demands.

The first is that Hackney Council “immediately cease its investments in Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest weapons company.”

The second demand it that the local authority “severs its twinning with the Israeli city of Haifa.”

They are also demanding that the local authority should “fully divest from Israel’s occupation and genocide and build links with Palestine.”

According to data obtained by the protestors, the council’s pension fund currently holds £25,700 in stocks of the company Elbit Systems Ltd, a supplier of equipment to the Israeli Defence Forces.

A local activist at the Town Hall stated: “The council divested from Russia very fast after they invaded Ukraine, and it isn’t that hard to find an investment fund which isn’t complicit in genocide.

“The council just can’t be bothered to do it, and would rather ignore us. That’s why we’re here and will stay here until they finally come to the table”.

The encampment includes half a dozen tents, signs, chalked political messages on the paving outside the Town Hall, a large Palestinian flag, as well as protestors making speeches and handing out leaflets.

At one point they were joined by Cllr Claudia Turbet-Delof, who is one of four councillors currently suspended by Hackney Labour party for voting to hear a motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, and to hear a motion supporting an internal investigation into how Labour handled the case of former councillor Tom Dewey.

Hackney Council says its hands are tied over its pension fund’s investment in “business activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.

The fund has passive investments worth £1.9m in “companies conducting business activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, pensions committee chair Cllr Kam Adams (Labour party) has said previously.

However, the fund does not “directly own any stocks or shares in individual companies”, Cllr Adams told the Citizen following a protest on 7 February.

“All of the fund’s equity investments are held indirectly; the Hackney Pension Fund owns units in externally managed pooled investment funds which in turn own the underlying investments,” he reiterated.

The only way to divest from the stocks listed would be to dispose of the investment fund and find an “alternative solution which would guarantee exclusion of those companies”, he said.

Town Hall protest Friday 10 May 2024

Photograph: Hackney Citizen

The organisation that runs exchanges between Hackney and Haifa has defended the relationship.

Last month, Martin Sugarman, chair of Hackney Anglo Israel Friendship Association (HAIFA), told the Citizen that the agreement has evolved over the years.

He said that the focus now is on “work and skills, rather than holiday junkets which most twinning in the UK used to do or still does”.

HAIFA has run an exchange programme between Homerton Hospital and the Rambam Healthcare Campus in Haifa since 1995.

The programme has been on hold since Covid, and the pause has continued amid the ongoing violence.

Sugarman has said no financial assistance is given to HAIFA by Hackney Council, and that the council has “never actually participated except to give strong moral support to the twinning and to host well-attended welcome receptions for guests from Haifa, and bon voyage teas for our groups going to Israel”.