On Thursday at 7:30 am, around three dozen activists rallied outside the Bank of New York Mellon (BNY Mellon) offices at 1201 3rd Avenue, highlighting the bank's financial ties to Elbit Systems, an Israeli defense contractor. The demonstration consisted of strategically blocking the parking garage entrance to draw attention to BNY Mellon's investments of $13 million in the company. 

Elbit Systems, a major player in defense technology, recently announced receiving significant contracts from the Israel Ministry of Defense (IMOD) during the “Swords of Iron War.” Since the onset of the Siege of Gaza, the company has seen a surge in demand for its drones and other weapons of war from the IMOD, surpassing routine levels.

Protesters blocking off the garage. Alex Garland

Additionally, recent disclosures reveal that BNY Mellon owns nearly 68,000 shares of Elbit Systems valued at around $13.4 million as of September 30, 2023. Those figures represent a significant increase of about 22% in shares during the quarter.

The protest outside BNY Mellon aimed to shed light on these financial connections and to urge the bank to reconsider its investments in a company deeply involved in military activities. The choice to block the parking garage entrance was a strategic move, disrupting the building's operations and symbolizing the impact of the bank's indirect support for controversial military actions.

It's worth noting that BNY Mellon also manages the donor fund for Friends of the Israeli Defense Fund, further linking financial institutions to the perpetuation of conflict.

The protest has sparked discussions both online and offline, with supporters praising the activists for their bold stance, while critics question the disruption caused by targeting a specific bank. Some on the street made their opinions known as they screamed at protestors or yelled from their vehicles. Others on the street honked in support or stopped to talk with protestors who were handing out food and coffee and passing out information sheets. 

This person was not happy with the protesters. Alex Garland

While rumors of major South African banks providing banking platforms to “fund” Hamas exist in Israeli media outlets, the story has yet to run as major international news. However, the proof that BNY Mellon invests in IDF contractors is clear, despite its claims otherwise. In a statement to The Stranger, a company spokesperson repeated the claim that they "do not invest in Elbit Systems as it is not part of our securities portfolio" and that "the safety and wellbeing of our employees and clients continues to be our highest priority.” 

As the public becomes more aware of the ethical implications of financial ties to defense contractors such as Elbit Systems, the pressure on institutions to reassess their investment choices is growing. BNY Mellon, along with other major financial players, may face increased scrutiny regarding their role in supporting companies involved in contentious geopolitical issues.

A Seattle police officer and a private security guard shake hands during the demo. Alex Garland

In the evolving landscape of global finance and activism, the demonstration outside BNY Mellon serves as a stark reminder of the intertwined nature of investments, geopolitics, and social responsibility. The conversation around divestment may gain momentum, prompting institutions to consider the ethical dimensions of their financial decisions. Time will tell how financial giants respond to this shifting paradigm and whether they choose to prioritize ethical considerations over financial gains.

While Seattle police arrived early to the location, meaning they likely had a heads up, they had made no arrests as of the time of publication.