Protest over Superfund's phosphorous investment

IN PROTEST: A crowd of about 60 have gathered to chant outside the Superfund building in Auckland.
IN PROTEST: A crowd of about 60 have gathered to chant outside the Superfund building in Auckland.

Police have arrested six people for chaining themselves to the Superannuation Fund office during an anti-Israel protest.

The group - five women and one man - had been locked up in the 12th storey Queen St building since midday.

They have now been escorted to Auckland Central Police station and are facing charges of trespassing.

A police spokeswoman said they had been asked to leave but declined to go voluntarily.

"At the request of management of the business they were removed," she said.

Superannuation Fund chief executive Adrian Orr earlier met with protesters and heard their concerns over the fund's shareholding in an Israeli chemical company.

Orr had a constructive conversation with the group, a Superannuation Fund spokeswoman said.

Outside protesters lay down on the street and shouted messages of support for their chain-gang friends.

Nathalie Jaques, a student at Auckland University, praised those arrested for "putting their body on the line" to raise awareness around the situation in Gaza.


Earlier today Anti-Israel protesters had chained themselves to the entrance of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund office. 

Outside the office, the group of mostly students had yelled in solidarity with those who were chained up.

People Against Israel Apartheid spokesman David Mayeda said the bloodshed in Gaza forced members into the "dramatic" step.

"It is about making a stand and gaining public awareness," he said.

"This is quite dramatic and it needs to be. It adds to the protests and marches that we've had already."

They were protesting against the fund over its decision to continue investing in white phosphorus maker Israel Chemicals.

They are opposed to the investment of New Zealanders' tax money in companies that they say profit from Israel's violence against Palestinians.

Protest spokeswoman Nadia Abu-Shanab said white phosphorous was used by the Israeli military in Gaza in 2008-09 in densely populated areas, "causing extreme human suffering and loss of life among men, women and children".

She said the fund "continues to invest in companies which supply Israel with the means to attack civilians and in companies which profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem".

"These investments are an affront to international law and the principles of human rights," she said.

Fund chief executive Adrian Orr said today that a review of the fund's portfolio found no grounds for excluding Israel Chemicals and had found no evidence that Israel Chemicals' products had been used against civilians in the Gaza conflict.

"Our analysis suggests Israel Chemicals operates within national and international laws and conventions New Zealand has signed," he said.

The fund was responding to calls to divest its holding in the company, which supplies white phosphorous to the United States military for use in ammunition. 

The product is highly incendiary but its technical military function is as a smokescreen.

Its use as a weapon against civilians is illegal.

Israel said last year that it would find alternatives to white phosphorus after condemnation of its use on civilians during the 2008-09 Gaza conflict, the fund said.

Although white phosphorus did not appear to have been used in Gaza this year, Orr said, the fund would reassess if evidence emerged to the contrary.

"We continue to follow the United Nations investigation into this distressing conflict."

He said fund divestment decisions were based on government and international policy on the arms sector.

"We take our lead from national and international laws, conventions to which the New Zealand government is a signatory, and significant policy positions of the New Zealand government," he said.

"We have excluded companies involved in weapons banned by conventions which the New Zealand government has signed, such as cluster munitions and landmines.

"Acting consistently with these principles is the basis on which we fulfil our obligation to avoid prejudice to New Zealand's reputation as a responsible member of the world community.

"It is not our role to make government policy."

The fund has a passive $900,000 investment in Israel Chemicals, one of more than 6000 global equity stocks in its portfolio.

Labour defence spokesman David Shearer, who worked for the UN in some of the conflict zones where white phosphorus was allegedly used, this month called for the fund to sell its Israel Chemicals stake.

"We should be divesting from that [shareholding] immediately," he said.

"New Zealand should not be investing in any type of munitions that can be used in the way Israel is using them at the moment.

"It is absolutely unacceptable and I think most New Zealanders would agree. I don't believe it is right.

"There are plenty of good investments in the world without having to invest in armaments."