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Activists to camp outside Sheffield bank for 24 hours to protest Barclays' ties to Israeli apartheid

The multinational bank have invested over £1 billion in companies that manufacture military technology used in the assault on Gaza.

Lena Sahar and the camp with Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign

Members of the Sheffield Campaign Against Israeli Apartheid outside the Town Hall last month.

Sheffield Campaign Against Israeli Apartheid.

Campaigners for Palestinian rights will camp outside a branch of Barclays on Pinstone Street for 24 hours later today, to protest against the multinational bank's ties with weapons manufacturers that supply arms to the Israeli government.

Research from July 2022 by War on Want and Campaign Against Arms Trade found that Barclays holds around £1.3 billion in shares of companies whose weapons or military components have been used by Israel against the Palestinians.

In addition, they found that the bank provides over £3.9 billion in loans and underwriting to these companies, which include arms industry giants such as General Dynamics and Elbit Systems.

"We ask Sheffield to declare itself an apartheid-free zone and people to boycott Barclays bank until it ends its complicity in Israel's attacks on Palestinians," said Lena Mussa, a Palestinian refugee living in South Yorkshire who will be protesting outside Barclays later today, and who held a similar vigil outside the Town Hall in January.

The pressure for Barclays to end its ties with Israeli apartheid echoes a similar campaign in the 1970s and 80s, when thousands of activists, students and even local councils boycotted the bank to protest its extensive links with apartheid South Africa.

"The campaign to persuade Barclays to pull out of South Africa went on for 16 years," according to the archives of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement. "Protesters disrupted the bank’s annual general meetings, student unions forced the closure of campus branches and thousands of institutional and individual customers closed their accounts."

Barclays finally withdrew from South Africa in 1986, after a successful campaign saw its share of the UK student banking market fall from 27% to 15%.

Even before the start of the most recent assault on Gaza in October, social justice charity War on Want said that Barclays is now "actively arming, upholding and profiting from Israel’s violence against the Palestinian people."

Rules around shareholder primacy, which force companies like Barclays to put the financial interests of their shareholders above the public good, mean it is likely that the bank will only divest from apartheid and the arms industry generally if it feels these activities represent a reputational risk to its business, as it did in 1986.

A spokesperson for the Sheffield Campaign Against Israeli Apartheid evoked the city's history of resistance to systemic racism, which saw it become a focal point of the anti-apartheid movement against white supremacist South Africa.

"Let's not forget Sheffield's great tradition of solidarity – from the anti-slavery sugar boycott in the 1830s, to solidarity with Chilean refuges in the 1970s and the South African anti-apartheid campaign in the 1980s, when Barclays were boycotted before and paid the price," they said.

Earlier this week, members of the campaign urged Sheffield City Council to revive the same bold stance it took against apartheid in the 1980s, and investigate whether any of its operations or supply chains have links with Israel.

by Sam Gregory (he/him)
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