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How British universities are fuelling Israel's human rights abuses Open in fullscreen

Anu Shukla

How British universities are fuelling Israel's human rights abuses

Palestinian protesters wave a national flag near the concertina wire at the Israel-Gaza border [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 January, 2020

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British universities invested an estimated £456m in companies claimed to be financing Israel's military industry, illegal settlement industry, or production of technologies used in the surveillance of Palestinians.
British universities have invested an estimated £456 million in companies alleged to be linked to Israel's violation of Palestinian human rights, a study by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign found. 

The companies, it is said, are claimed to be financing, or are directly involved in Israel's military industry, illegal settlement industry, or are involved in the production of technologies used in the surveillance of Palestinians.

The FOI results, collated into a database seen by The New Arab, includes a list of "complicit" companies and the total amount that each establishment is alleged to have invested in them. It also indicates whether or not each institution has an ethical investment policy.

The information was obtained after FOI requests were sent to 151 universities across the UK, each of which was asked about the market value of direct investments and investments in funds.

The data also combines information from Bloomberg's international database, detailing investments of each fund.

It finds there are 44 British universities with "complicit" investments of more than £129.2 million. An average "complicity percentage" of 3.78 percent was calculated for the sector and applied to "total endowment figures" found in the public accounts of the universities which refused the FOI requests.

There are 44 British universities with "complicit" investments of more than £129.2 million

The total sum of complicit undisclosed funds for these universities was calculated at over £327 million, taking the total estimated amount to more than £456 million for the whole sector.

Of the 151 FOI respondents, Manchester Metropolitan University [MMU] topped the list as biggest investor with its £27.7 million direct investment in just one financial institution: Barclays.

Barclays is reported to hold investments worth £1,167.6 million in companies supplying weapons to the Israeli military, including BAE Systems, Rolls Royce and Boeing.

MMU's Ethical Investment Policy states it "does not intentionally invest directly or through collective funds in fossil fuel companies, arms companies or corporations complicit in the violation of international law."

It outlines its definition of ethical investment as: "Investing in businesses that demonstrate a morally positive and sustainable approach to the environment, governance and society."

MMU did not respond to a request for information about its investments.

Barclays is reported to hold investments worth £1,167.6 million in companies supplying weapons to the Israeli military, including BAE Systems, Rolls Royce and Boeing

The University of Glasgow is ranked second highest investor with a £15.53 million portfolio split across 30 companies alleged to be complicit in the human rights violations of Palestinians. The highest amounts are invested in HSBC (£3.93m), Barclays (£1.9m), Cisco Systems (£1.38m), Samsung (£882k) and United Technologies (£274k).

While HSBC has divested from Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit Systems, according to War on Want, it still "continues to do business" with companies such as Caterpillar "whose bulldozers are used in demolition of Palestinian homes", and in "BAE Systems, whose weapons are used in war crimes by Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other repressive regimes."

Imperial College London is ranked third highest investor in the list of respondents with £12 million of direct investments and complicit fund investments. Its top four investments valued at between £2.1 million and £2.9 million are split between Samsung, Cisco Systems, Lockheed Martin and Check point Software Tech.

PSC campaigns officer Huda Ammori told The New Arab it was "shocking" to see British universities "fuel Israel''s human rights abuses" despite the fact the "majority hold so-called ethical investment policies".

The FOI requests revealed that of the 151 establishment, 81 hold such ethical investment policies, which 'seek to eliminate unethical investments such as those linked to human rights abuses.'

Andrew Smith from the Campaign Against Arms Trade told The New Arab that universities as public institutions "should be working to have a positive social footprint, adopting ethical investment policies and not be offering financial support to companies."

Universities as public institutions 'should be working to have a positive social footprint, adopting ethical investment policies and not be offering financial support to companies'

But despite the existence of such policies, the data revealed some universities continue to invest, partner with or receive sponsorship from "complicit" institutions and companies.

Among them, is also claimed to be the Royal Academy of Music [RAM]. Its £9.12 million investment portfolio spreads across 36 companies alleged to be complicit in building technologies used by the Israeli state against Palestinian civilians. Such technologies include the F-17 fighter jet, supplied by Lockheed Martin to the Israeli Army and in which RAM has invested £48.5k.

According to Amnesty International, the F-16 has often failed to distinguish between military targets and civilians.

But the institution makes the biggest chunk of its investment in the world's sixth largest arms company to the tune of more than £4.9 million. QinetiQ, a former subsidiary of the Ministry of Defence is a defence, aerospace and security company, and a leading supplier of military robotics. It joined the British Army Watchkeeper drones programme in 2007, alleged to be tested on Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

It joined the British Army Watchkeeper drones programme in 2007, alleged to be tested on Palestinian civilians in Gaza

Other RAM investments include British security company G4S (£129.2k), known to co-run Israeli prisons in which Palestinian activists are alleged to be tortured and held without trial. The company is also known to provide equipment and services to Israeli military checkpoints.

The Royal Academy of Music did not respond to a request for information about its investments.

The University of Edinburgh has a total £7.3 million in "direct complicit investments", followed by the University of Manchester with £6.75 million, and the London School of Economics, which splits a £4.25 million of mostly fund investments between 39 companies, including HSBC, Barclays, Microsoft, Honeywell, Israel Chemicals and Check Point Software Tech.

Seventh biggest investor in complicit investments is the University of Birmingham, investing £4.57 million in companies including Israel Chemicals, reported to be the sole provider of white phosphorous for the US Army, and which uses the substance to make projectiles/shells for the Israeli Army.  

About its investments, a spokesperson for the University of Birmingham told The New Arab, "Our primary focus when making investments is ensuring that we can continue to invest in high quality teaching, world leading research and the very best facilities for staff and students now and in the future."

Despite its investments, the institute has claims that it "expects that any investment managers working on its behalf" also considers "an end to international conflict including a prohibition of companies which produce armaments."

Meanwhile, Manchester University confirmed it has direct investments totalling almost £7 million in companies including Barclays, HSBC, Samsung, and Caterpillar.

The institute dedicates its third biggest investments to Samsung, which has a Tel Aviv based sales outlet for the company's defence subsidiary, Hanwha Techwin, which built South Korean military robot sentry, the Samsung SGR-A1.

A spokesperson from Manchester University told The New Arab: "We have developed a Socially Responsible Investment Policy [SRIP] which allows the University, as a charity, to pursue an ethical investment approach, whilst minimising any potential negative impact on our investment returns.

"The University's Board Finance Committee, which determines our investment policy, will continue its considerations of ethical investments. As a university, we work closely with our investment managers to ensure our portfolio complies with our published SRIP and considers Environmental, Social and Governance issues as well as financial factors."

A UN Commission of inquiry, established to investigate the deaths of 189 Palestinians during weekly Return March demonstrations in Gaza between March 30 and December 31, 2018, announced that war crimes may have been committed by Israeli soldiers.

Real-time data analysis by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) has revealed there were more than 1,020 direct attacks targeting civilians perpetrated by Israeli soldiers in Palestine between January 1, 2017 and December 7, 2019. This includes attacks by Israeli security forces, as well as by Israeli settlers and rioters.


Anu Shukla is a freelance journalist based in London

Follow her on Twitter: @AnuShuklaWrites

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