“World Class Research, Outstanding Learning and Student Experience, and Social Responsibility” are The University of Manchester strategic plan’s three main aims, set to be completed by 2020. The benevolence of the principles echoes the incredible research work that the University conducts, its commitment to investing in local projects that benefit Manchester’s least advantaged, and is further shown by their will to ensure an ethical working environment for all students – free from both discrimination and marginalisation.
This is further reflected in the Students’ Union’s Safe Space Policy that has, in recent years, come under fire for its blocking of certain speakers from talks and events that may result in any demographic of students being offended by hate speech or discriminatory slur. Regardless of stance on the policy and its implications for free speech, the environment that has been created at the University and the Students’ Union is undoubtedly one interested in the prevention of harm, be it mental or physical. However, this environment is apparently limited to state boarders – with the University being an investor in companies that produce weaponry or machinery used to murder and impoverish Palestinian men, women and children.
Hypocrisy can be seen within the University’s mission statement, made clear when looking at the University’s position as a shareholder in seven companies that each provide material aid to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, with the University’s total investment in the companies resting at over twelve million pounds – a figure larger than the cost of 1300 years’ worth of studying an undergraduate degree at the University.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine is highly controversial in nature. While competing perspectives on where public sympathy should lie exist, it is undisputed that the long-term hostility between the two has amounted to an ever-increasing death toll. It is recognised that the United Nations has declared that the occupation of Palestinian territories holds no legal validity, the International Court of Justice has condemned the Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank, and Amnesty International has accused the 2014 Israeli attacks on Gaza of deliberately targeting civilians.
Regardless of where sympathies lie, it is not unintuitive to suggest that the University should have no place in the financial stimulation of any sort of warfare.
The counter argument shifts blame to Palestinian nationalism and the attacks, by Palestinian terrorist groups, on civilian domains within Israel over the past fifty years. Regardless of where sympathies lie, it is not unintuitive to suggest that the University should have no place in the financial stimulation of any sort of warfare.
The link between the University’s investments and the resulting murder and impoverishment is not weak. The University holds £820,133.60 worth of shares in Caterpillar, the company that is responsible for the production of armoured bulldozers which are then specifically adapted to flatten Palestinian homes – one of which killed American activist Rachel Corrie back in 2003 during an attempt to prevent the bulldozer from destroying a Palestinian property. Further to this, the University holds £2,402,549.82 worth of shares in Allianz, the largest investment subsidiary of Elbit Systems, a large provider of drones and other military equipment to the Israeli Defense Forces. Research conducted by Al-Mezan, an NGO based in the Gaza Strip, concluded that drones have killed at least 1,000 people between 2000 and 2010.
Looking deeper than the investment portfolio of The University of Manchester, it can be seen that the University has ties to the Biomedical department at Technion University in Israel – an institute commonly associated with the research and development of weaponry, including the unmanned armed bulldozers used to destroy Palestinian property. According to Huda Ammori, a student involved in campaigns for Palestinian rights, the University has to this day failed to respond to a freedom of information request detailing the extent of its relationship with Technion.
When asked to comment on the affiliations, James Thompson, Vice President of Social Responsibility at The University of Manchester, directed THE MANCHESTER MAGAZINE to the university’s "ethical investment policy". To quote the policy: “The University, together with its Investment Managers, will use its influence in an effort to reduce and, ideally, eliminate, irresponsible corporate behaviour leading to: Environmental degradation; Armament sales to military regimes; Human rights violations; (…)” Yet, the efforts made by the University thus far to divest and disaffiliate can be seen as negligible.
The financial contribution, however menial in the grand scheme of things, sends a clear message: the final result of a financial interaction is of no concern to the investor.
There is currently an attempt to pass a motion through the Students’ Union senate that aims to force the University to comply with its own ethical investment policies. Fronted by the BDS campaign, the group is aiming for the University’s total disaffiliation from the acts that have resulted in such death and impoverishment. Tactics such as these have been endorsed by the National Union of Students (NUS), National Union of Teachers (NUT) the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Unite the Union, and the University and Colleges Union (UCU), more than 30 UK student unions, as well as many other political and grassroots actors across the world.
The differentiation between anti-Semitism and anti-warfare here is crucial. It is important to understand that the university has an extensive investment portfolio, made up of a large number of investments that can be seen to be strictly in line with their ethical investment policy. The relationship between the investment and the product of the company can be partly dissolved through the understanding that the worth of the financial deposits made by the university are in no way large enough to sustain the budgets of any of the companies mentioned. That said, the relationship between the investment and the resulting death-toll is still extremely relevant. The financial contribution, however menial in the grand scheme of things, sends a clear message: the final result of a financial interaction is of no concern to the investor. It illustrates an institution that would highlight their ethical policy to prospective consumers of their product, yet turn a blind eye to the real impact of their investment.
Is the inability to invest in a totally ethical way a consequence of the marketisation of education in the UK? Is it simply an act of negligence and moral dissociation by The University of Manchester? Regardless, with these investments being funded from student’s pockets, the strategic plan set for completion in 2020 may be a much more inaccessible target than previously thought - with the affiliation tainting research, depleting the student experience, and moving further away from being a social responsibility with every Palestinian home destroyed.
In response to THE MANCHESTER MAGAZINE’s request for comment, a spokesperson for The University of Manchester said: “The University adheres to a publicly available socially responsible investment policy which is available on our website. This policy is managed by one of the world’s leading asset management firms.” TMM