March 13, 2017 | The Jerusalem Post
Israel Calls on Banks in Spain, South Africa, US to Shut BDS Accounts
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is ratcheting up pressure on banks to close the accounts of groups that boycott Israel, including one organization that has links to an internationally recognized Palestinian terrorist organization.
“Facilitating the bank accounts of BDS organizations constitutes support for BDS. Banks maintaining such accounts should carefully consider the danger of running afoul of strict anti-BDS legislation in the US and other countries,” Erdan told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive statement on Thursday.
“Countries have already shut BDS accounts for legal reasons and we urge others to do the same,” he added.
The Post’s ongoing investigative series on financial institutions enabling boycott groups to target Israel revealed that BDS South Africa’s bank account is maintained at that country’s First National Bank.
BDS South Africa – one of the most powerful and aggressive anti-Israel groups internationally – held a series of fund-raisers in 2015 with Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which the US and EU have designated as a terrorist organization.
The BDS South Africa website shows a photograph of Khaled hosted by the group with a caption that reads, “Leila Khaled fund-raising dinner in Rustenburg.” A second photograph carries the caption: “Leila Khaled fundraising dinner in Pretoria.”
Khaled was a key member of a terrorist cell that hijacked TWA Flight 840 in 1969. A year later, she participated in the hijacking of EL AL Flight 219. BDS South Africa termed Khaled a “Palestine icon” on its website. It is unclear whether the money raised was sent via the First National Bank account to the PFLP and Khaled, or held in the account to promote BDS in South Africa and abroad.
Concerns about money laundering for crime and terrorism, as well as anti-BDS laws, have triggered the closure over the past year of BDS accounts in Ireland, US, Austria, France, the UK and Germany.
Nainesh Desai, First National Bank’s business chief risk officer, wrote to the Post: “Due to client confidentiality, First National Bank (FNB) cannot disclose information about any of its customers to a third party.”
In June, the Austrian financial giant BAWAG closed the bank account of Vienna’s Austrian-Arab cultural center, OKAZ, because it hosted Khaled in April.
First National Bank maintains a correspondence bank relationship with the UK’s Standard Chartered. When asked if First National used Standard Chartered to transfer BDS funds and payments for the PFLP, Julie Gibson, a Standard Chartered spokeswoman, said: “Whenever we receive complaints or information about potentially suspicious activity, we look into it.”
Gibson told the Post by phone that an investigation had been opened into the BDS account, but Lauren Callie, a Standard Chartered spokeswoman in South Africa, wrote to the Post that Gibson “made no reference nor commitment to the bank specifically investigating the BSD account with First National.”
According to Callie, Standard Chartered’s official position is as follows: “In line with the bank’s commitment to preventing fraud, money laundering and terror financing, Standard Chartered will investigate any external reports or tipoffs we receive. Regrettably, we are unable to provide any specifics on our investigations, in the interest of client privacy and confidentiality.”
Gibson told the Post that Standard Chartered has terminated correspondence bank accounts in the past but has declined to state the reasons. She added that the bank complies with US laws regarding terrorism.
Standard Charted admitted in 2012 that it violated sanctions against Iran, and paid $667 million to the US government.
The US government reopened an investigation in 2015 against Standard Chartered for additional violations of Iran sanctions.
Numerous Post press queries to BDS South Africa were not returned.
The International Association of Democratic Lawyers – a pro-BDS organization that supports Iran’s nuclear program – has accounts with Texas-based Comerica Bank and Spain’s La Caixa. When asked about Erdan’s statement, Wayne Mielke, a spokesman for Comerica, told the Post: “We decline to comment outside of reiterating that we have a robust compliance program in place at the bank.”
An anti-BDS bill is working its way through the Texas legislature.
Several queries to La Caixa were not immediately returned.
Benjamin Weinthal is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal.