Hackney Mayor says she supports ‘ethical divestment’ following meeting with pro-Palestinian demonstrators

Hackney Mayor Caroline Woodley. Photograph: Hackney Council

Mayor of Hackney Caroline Woodley has put on record her support for “ethical divestment” following a meeting with pro-Palestinian campaigners who have set up camp outside the Town Hall.

Woodley spoke to the two founders of the camp, Max Geller and Heather Mendick, as well as Leila (not her real name), who has lost more than 100 family members and friends in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The meeting was organised to discuss the demands of the camp, which has been stationed in the Town Hall square on Mare Street since 9 May.

Protesters are calling for the council’s pension fund to divest its stocks in Elbit Systems Ltd, a supplier of equipment to the Israeli Defence Force.

They are also asking for the twinning relationship between Hackney and the Israeli town of Haifa to be scrapped, and for the borough to instead twin with a town in Palestine.

In a statement to the Citizen, Mayor Woodley said that when she was asked during the meeting “specifically for my views on divestment, I asserted support for ethical divestment”.

Members of the camp have vowed to stay put “until the council divests”.

Woodley also told the Citizen: “As a public institution, we are constrained in the action we’re able to take unilaterally, and I understand that this can be more than frustrating.

“I call on the government to bring scrutiny and transparency, to support ethical investment, and to uphold international humanitarian law.”

“It shouldn’t be that controversial,” said Leila in an interview with the Citizen following her meeting with the mayor.

“Hackney is a diverse borough which tries to present itself as progressive, and many people are shocked that money at a council level pension scheme comes from a place so obviously harmful.

“Even if there’s disagreement about other issues with Palestine, there’s a general agreement about divestment.”

Leila explained that the camp’s demands go further than just divesting from Elbit: “We want the council to adopt an ethical investment policy, so they don’t profit from anything that causes suffering.”

Talking more specifically about her meeting with the mayor, Leila said: “She made it clear that she was there to listen, and I felt she was receptive, but nervous.

“And I understand why – they [Woodley and council chief executive Dawn Carter McDonald] are in new roles, and anyone who’s taken a stance on Palestine has been punished by national Labour.”

She added: “We’re grateful that this issue is now being prioritised, and I hope [the council] will try to make a decision.

“Mainly, I hope the mayor will be bold, so we can be proud of the money generated for Hackney.”