Hundreds of protesters took to the streets last weekend as part of a nationwide ‘Day of Action for Palestine.’ The demonstrations, alongside demands for a ceasefire in Gaza, represent a call to boycott Barclays due to alleged financial ties with Israeli-linked arms and technology companies.
Saturday’s march from Newcastle Civic Centre to Monument was one of over 50 demonstrations held at the weekend in towns and cities across the country, including Darlington, Leeds and throughout London. Events were spread over Two days with a march in the capital on Sunday which saw half a million in attendance.
Organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and its partners, the action sought to boycott the UK bank due to what it describes as “substantial financial ties” with “companies supplying weapons and military technology to Israel.”
The protests began just a day after Friday’s historic ruling at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which found that Israel’s actions in Gaza could constitute a “plausible risk” of Genocide.
Prior to the verdict, Newcastle’s former Lord Mayor, Habib Rahman, quit the Labour Party over its inaction on racism and islamophobia and its stance on Gaza. The council member, a long-time PSC supporter who made history as the city’s first Black or South Asian Lord Mayor, was one of over 30 councillors to tender resignations over the issue since October.
In a letter to Sir Keir Starmer, Councillor Rahman, who has represented the Elswick ward for 13 years, said he could not accept the Labour leader’s “inhumane position in support of the Israeli government’s continuous bombardment of innocent Palestinian people.”
North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll took to social media to pay tribute to the Councillor, who will continue to sit as an independent and called for an investigation. The elected official who said the Councillor “served his community with dignity” and “understands racism” is also a vocal supporter of a ceasefire.
Speaking at a PSC rally earlier this month, Mayor Driscoll said: “There have been too many crimes against humanity where no one has spoken out. Well, we’re speaking out. Never again must mean never again. We will not remain silent about Genocide.”
The independent politician, who resigned from the Labour Party last year after being barred from the selection process, asked demonstrators: “Where is your MP? Where is your Police and Crime Commissioner? Why are they hiding from you?” and encouraged attendees to write to candidates standing for election in the coming year and “ask them to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, ask them to condemn the Genocide.”
Tyneside has seen weekly demonstrations since October, including a ‘Day of Action’ in November, when an estimated 1,800 assembled for a march arranged by the PSC’s Newcastle branch as part of another cross-country campaign calling for a ceasefire.
In a statement before Saturday’s march, PSC Director Ben Jamal said: “The UK government is complicit but so are financial institutions like Barclays Bank that continue to fund and invest in arms companies directly involved in creating the catastrophe that has overtaken Gaza.”
The organisation head added: “It is morally indefensible to arm Israel, just as it was morally indefensible when Barclays propped up South African apartheid for decades. History is going to repeat itself – just like anti-apartheid activists did then, we will force Barclays to stop banking on Israeli apartheid and stop funding a genocide in Gaza.”
The London-based group cites findings from the Don’t Buy into Occupation Coalition (DBIO) and independent research organisation Profundo, claiming that the UK bank provides over £1bn in investments and over £3bn worth of financial services to weapons and technology firms including Israel’s Elbit Systems Ltd.
A document published by Profundo in December 2023, which references reports from a coalition of organisations across the globe, describes Elbit’s “tight” relationship with Israel’s military apparatus and claims the company “extensively provides products and services to the Israeli Military.”
This was not the first time the UK financial institution has come under fire due to such connections. In 2015 Barclays seemed to cut ties with the arms manufacturer, following a high-profile campaign launched after it was revealed that the bank held $2.9 million of shares in the company.
According to PSC, the Nine companies, which include some of the world’s biggest arms manufacturers such as General Dynamics and QinetiQ, are instrumental in providing weaponry, components and military technology currently being deployed in Gaza.
As Israel’s largest private arms company, Elbit, which aided in the construction and maintenance of the wall in the occupied West Bank, is no stranger to controversy, as the acquisition in 2018 of cluster bomb manufacturer IMI Systems caused the firm’s name to be associated with the globally banned munitions.
In a 2019 interview with the Jerusalem Post, Elbit’s then Vice President David Vaknin said that IMI would “not be continuing its prior activities with respect to cluster munitions” and that future munitions activities would be “conducted in accordance with applicable international conventions or US law.”
The use, production and stockpiling of cluster munitions were prohibited as part of the Convention on Cluster Munitions adopted by 107 nations in 2008. As of a 2023 report from Cluster Munitions Monitor, Israel, the United States and Russia were “the only countries to both produce and use cluster munitions” not to accede to the international treaty.
In a response to the PSC claims, a spokesperson for the UK bank stated: “Barclays does not itself intend to make any direct strategic equity investments in the Defence and Security Sector”, pointed to the provision of client services which “may result in Barclays holding shares in those companies” and referred to a prior statement on defence and security.
This earlier statement, published on their website in April 2023 refers to “careful and appropriate consideration to business relationships” with all clients, including those operating in defence and security, stating: “We assess each proposal on a case-by-case basis and legal compliance alone does not automatically meet our requirements for support.”
The document states that Barclays conducts reviews where appropriate on clients in the defence industry, a process which they claim assesses risk considerations including “Clients’ association with controversial weapons banned by international treaty agreements” and “the human rights track record of the client, their counterparties, or the region(s) within which they operate.”
The statement claims that “Barclays has no appetite for certain activities” including “Providing any Financial Proposition to companies known to trade in, or manufacture cluster munitions and their components in violation of the International Convention on Cluster Munitions.”
The PSC’s campaign looks to continue in the coming weeks with further protests and calls for Barclays customers to close their accounts on another ‘Day of Action’ in February.