The University of Manchester has divested over £10 million from companies – Caterpillar, Booking Holdings, Danone, General Motors, General Electric, Allianz – which have links to Israeli human rights abuses in a colossal win for the Palestine solidarity movement in Britain. This follows a 4-year-long student-led Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions Campaign which is supported by over 100 academics and over 500 students. 

The campaign targeted the University’s investments in Caterpillar Inc., the American construction company responsible for supplying the Israeli military with weaponised bulldozers for use in its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and its siege of Gaza. Caterpillar bulldozers have been implicated in the illegal destruction of Palestinian homes, agriculture, and other infrastructure as well as the construction of the ‘Apartheid Wall’ in the West Bank, in addition to being used for direct military purposes – all illegal under International Law. 

The University of Manchester has also divested from Booking Holdings Inc. which in 2019 was listed on a United Nations blacklist of companies operating in the West Bank, in addition to General Motors, General Electric, Danone, and Allianz, according to a freedom of information request made by student activists. 

The win for activists has come after a persistent campaign over four years which involved protests, rallies, marches, film-screenings, panel events, street stalls, petitions and other grassroots tactics. In 2016 campaigners succeeded in passing a BDS motion at the University of Manchester Students’ Union. In 2018 there was a successful campaign to stop the sale of Sabra Hummus on campus. In 2019, student activists live-streamed themselves storming a Board of Governors meeting alongside the Fossil Free campaign to demand divestment from Caterpillar, gaining over 40,000 views on Facebook. 

Despite the divestment, the University of Manchester still has many ties with Israel’s apartheid regime, including its exchange programme with Hebrew University of Jersusalem which sends students to study on occupied and stolen Palestinian land, in violation of the 4th Geneva Convention. Student activists recently coordinated the publishing of a letter to management signed by over 100 academics condemning the links to Hebrew University. Additionally, the University’s flagship graphene project has been embroiled in links to the global arms trade and the Israeli occupation, as exposed by a report published by former student Huda Ammori in 2018.

Manchester is the second university to divest from companies arming Israel after the University of Leeds did so in 2018. However, overall UK universities still invest £400 million in companies complicit with Israel’s arm trade and illegal settlement economy. In May 2020, activists at Manchester joined with others around the country to found Apartheid Off Campus (AOC), a new network of students and supporters dedicated to ending all UK universities’ complicity with Israeli apartheid. AOC has gained 300 members and over 4,500 social media followers in its first two months and has launched a national campaign against links to the Hebrew University. In July, SOAS announced that it will be ending its relationship with Hebrew University after campaigning by SOAS students and AOC. 

The divestment victory at Manchester, the largest university in Europe, is expected to be a watershed moment for the BDS movement on campuses in the UK.

Frank Roche, Chair of the UoM BDS Campaign stated “This victory has been hard-won and it is a vindication of our militant, grassroots tactics. We would not have achieved it without the determination of dozens of student activists and hundreds of supporters over the course of four years who dedicated their time and energy to the cause of Palestine solidarity. The BDS movement is going from strength-to-strength, victory-to-victory, despite increasing repression from institutions and the state. As Frederick Douglass said, ‘power concedes nothing without demand’, and we have proved that when we demand, unite, and fight – we win.”

Emilia Micunovic, activist with the UoM BDS Campaign and former Chair also stated: “The successful campaign clearly attests to students’ overall outrage in the business-like functioning of British universities and their subsequent role in upholding Israel’s apartheid system. There is still more work to be done at Manchester with its links to Hebrew University and the global arms trade, and we will continue to fight for Palestinian rights – but we are incredibly proud of this victory which will hopefully herald further change in our institutions.”



World Refugee Day, and How Our University Is Part of the Problem

by Emilia Micunovic

20th June marks World Refugee Day. Palestinian refugees are arguably the most forgotten about refugee population in modern history – forgotten about for seven decades. Their population status was even revoked by The White House in 2018 as a means to remove the ‘issue of refugees’ off the negotiation table. There are currently over 7.5 million Palestinian refugees across the globe.

Palestinians have been subject to ethnic cleansing ever since the settler-colonial project began and most violently in 1948 during the Nakba, or Catastrophe, with illegal settlements being built on stolen land till the present day. 

While the right to return is protected by international law (UN Resolution 194), which is why the third demand of BDS calls for promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties, they are prevented from doing so simply because they are not Jewish. For in Netanyahu’s own words, Israel is “The nation-state of the Jewish people, and the Jewish people alone”.

After being uprooted, UNRWA (United Nations Relief Works Agency) was a lifeline for Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, and in camps in The Middle East. Whilst being the only source of education and healthcare for 500,000 Palestinian children, its services provide a basic level of dignity to over 3 million Palestinian refugees who depend on it.

However, in 2018, in a long-term plan to end political and humanitarian aid for the Palestinians and further subjugate Palestinians to collective punishment, and in one move under the auspices of Trump, funding was cut by US$350,000,000. UNRWA has already been forced to cut back on vital services, including the closure of some of its schools.

The UN describes World Refugee Day as a reminder that “all people can contribute to society – even refugees”. However, Palestinian refugees are prevented from returning to their villages and society, as existing Palestinian societies face the threat of being uprooted or bulldozed daily.

How is the plight of Palestinian refugees linked to The University of Manchester?

Historically, Chaim Weizmann – Zionist leader, first President of Israel, and scientist at The University of Manchester – established the Manchester University Students’ Zionist Association in 1908. After his significant contributions to the Admiralty in the manufacturing of explosives earned him immense recognition, he was subsequently the catalyst for creating what he promoted as a “Jewish national home in Palestine”. 

Today, we can still find a plaque of Chaim Weizmann on University grounds – not just a dark reminder of where and when the settler-colonial project in Palestine began (The University had even attempted to ‘celebrate’ the anniversary of the declaration, in partnership with the Israeli embassy and the Zionist Federation), subjugating the population to over 70 years of ethnic cleansing and human rights violations, but also a symbol of the Zionist legacy of which the University maintains its links to the illegal settlements.

Today, the University directly contributes to the plight of Palestinian refugees: It maintains ties with institutions which further the settler-colonial project, such as Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as investing over £10 million in companies which are complicit in human rights violations against Palestinians, such as Caterpillar and Booking Holding Inc. The latter appears on the UN’s first ever blacklist of companies which violate International Law in Occupied Palestine.

We demand that the University ends its ties to Israeli’s settler-colonial regime – perpetrator to the longest refugee crisis in modern history. Until then, BDS stands with Palestinian refugees in their struggle to return to their homeland.