Today CATU members and Palestine solidarity organisations, including Dublin for Gaza and the IPSC have occupied AXA’s European HQ in Dublin in opposition to AXA’s profiting from Israeli occupation and Ireland’s housing crisis. We are calling for a consumer boycott of AXA and its recently acquired subsidiary, Laya Healthcare. In taking this action, CATU has followed the lead of Palestinian organisations calling for the boycott of companies with economic relations with Israel. This is based on the recognition that Israel is only able to maintain its regime of occupation, colonisation and apartheid over the Palestinian people due to international complicity.
AXA is one of the priority targets of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement due to its wide variety of investments in Israeli financial institutions. It holds shares in two Israeli banks including Bank Leumi (which is itself an investor in the Clarence Hotel, Dublin) and Israel Discount Bank. In December 2022, the coalition Don’t Buy into Occupation (DBIO) launched a report exposing the fact that in the period of January 2019 – August 2022, 725 European financial institutions, among them AXA, subsidized apartheid Israel’s colonial settlements with US$115.5 billion in shares and bonds, and US$171.4 billion in loans and underwritings. The most recent DBIO report ranks AXA number 24 in the top 100 European investors in apartheid Israel, in part due to its investment in companies directly involved in the colonisation of Palestine, amongst them Caterpillar, Volvo, IBM, Siemens and Airbnb.
However, AXA’s profit driven and exploitative model of development is not limited to Palestine given that, since 2018, it has also become a major investor in the private rental sector in Ireland through a multi-million euro joint venture with Kennedy Wilson. This joint venture currently owns 1,173 units across three high end developments – Clancy Quay in Kilmainham, The Alliance in Irishtown and Sandford Lodge in Ranelagh. Speaking to the Irish Examiner, a spokesperson for AXA and Kennedy Wilson stated that they are looking for more development and investment opportunities in Dublin and other cities in Ireland taking advantage of the fact that Dublin is an “attractive destination” for investment because of “demand outstripping supply” – referring to the fact that tenants desperate for a place to live have no choice but to pay astronomical rents. Last year AXA’s revenue was €3.74bn (£3.3bn) in the UK and Ireland, up 4% from the previous year. It has a global portfolio of residential property valued at over €9bn.
As part of its joint operations with Kennedy Wilson, AXA is involved in a new ‘build-to-rent’ development of 232 new apartments in Stillorgan on the former Leisureplex Site. According to the Irish Times, the apartments will “cater to the upper end of the rental market”, meaning they will be unaffordable to the vast majority of people. As set out in the planning conditions the development must be operated as ‘built to rent’ by an institutional landlord for at least 15 years, and “no individual residential units shall be let or sold separately for that period.” This development has also been destructive for the community and is highly unpopular in the area because Stillorgan Bowl, which later became Leisureplex, was a valuable community space. Sarah, a local CATU member explains: “it was the only place around Stillorgan to hangout. It was really lots of people from all ages would go to. For me at least it was a big part of the area and there is nothing around that is similar to it. It was a huge loss for when it got torn down.”
We should also look at the history of AXA’s investment partner, Kennedy Wilson, the second largest corporate landlord in Ireland with a total of 2323 rental units, which will reportedly increase to 3,300 by the end of 2023. A snapshot of Kennedy Wilson’s record can be gained by looking at its involvement in disputes lodged with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) which shows that it has been involved in 19 cases concerning overholding or terminations of tenancy (i.e. evictions) since 2016 with the majority concerning tenants who fell into rent arrears and were being evicted for this reason. The fact that the average monthly rent being paid in these cases was €1783 – the highest being €2277 for an apartment in Sandford Close, Ranelagh – means it’s hardly surprising some tenants ended up in arrears in the first place. This situation also shows how corporate landlords like Kennedy Wilson can use the RTB process to quickly and efficiently recoup rent arrears and evict ‘problem tenants’. This is also most likely only a tiny fraction of the total number of evictions carried out by Kennedy Wilson because most evictions are never contested through the RTB.
AXA’s profiting from both Israeli apartheid and the housing crisis in Ireland makes clear the links between our struggle as tenants and working-class people in Ireland and that for the liberation of Palestine. The resources and wealth it extracts through the illegal occupation of Palestine help to consolidate its position as a key player in the housing market in Ireland while the extortionate rents squeezed out of Irish tenants go to support ethnic cleansing and genocide in the West Bank and Gaza. We can thus see that our struggles cannot be separated: There is no liberation without the liberation of Palestine. CATU will continue to find ways to fight corporate landlords such as AXA and encourage our local branches and other organisations to continue to target AXA and other companies profiting from the occupation of Palestine.