Japanese trading giant Itochu to cut ties with Israeli defense firm over Gaza war

One of Japan’s biggest trading firms, Itochu, has decided to end its partnership with a major Israeli defense company due to the war in Gaza.

The sprawling conglomerate, best known outside Japan for its Family Mart chain of convenience stores, said its aviation unit will cut ties with Elbit Systems, which bills itself as Israel’s largest defense contractor, by the end of February.

The decision was made following a January ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) — the top court of the United Nations — and guidance given by Japan’s Foreign Ministry to observe the court’s findings in “good faith,” a spokesperson for Itochu told CNN on Tuesday.

Last month, the ICJ ordered Israel to prevent genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, but stopped short of calling for Israel to suspend its military campaign in the war-torn enclave, as South Africa, which had filed the case to the court, had requested.

The court said Israel must “take all measures” to limit the death and destruction caused by its military campaign, prevent and punish incitement to genocide and ensure access to humanitarian aid

Itochu’s announcement was first made Monday by Tsuyoshi Hachimura, the company’s chief financial officer, during an earnings presentation.

Itochu Aviation, Elbit Systems and Nippon Aircraft Supply signed a cooperation agreement in March 2023, months before war broke out between Israel and Gaza.

Itochu, which reported revenues of $104 billion in 2023, has faced small-scale, student-led protests in Tokyo against its partnership with Elbit since January. Its Family Mart chain has also been the target of calls for boycotts in Muslim-majority Malaysia over the agreement.

Hachimura sought to explain the deal on Monday, telling investors: “The partnership was based on a request from the Japan’s Defense Ministry for the purpose of importing defense equipment for the Self-Defense Force necessary for Japan’s security.”

During a November earnings call, Elbit CEO Bezhalel Machlis said the company had “ramped up production” to support the Israel Defense Forces, which uses its services “extensively.”

— CNN’s Hanako Montgomery and Heather Chen contributed reporting.

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