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Congratulations: University of Leeds Divestment Success!

University of Leeds has confirmed its divestment from three companies complicit in theĀ oppression of Palestinians through their manufacturing of military equipment sold to Israel.

University of Leeds Palestine Solidarity Group (PSG) called for an immediate withdrawal of all funds in anĀ open letter from companies which supply aeronautical equipment, jet engines and other military components to the State of Israel and the Israeli Defence Force, citing the Universityā€™s own Ethical Investment Policy.

Whilst the open letter called for an immediate withdrawal of funds and had gathered 469 signatures by 1stNovember, a University spokesperson has since claimed it had withdrawn funding on the 15th October forĀ reasons other than BDS. It is claimed the companies in question, Airbus, Keyence Corporation and UnitedĀ Technologies, all fall outside of the Universityā€™s new climate active strategy, and so were no longer viableĀ sources for investment.

Leeds PSG have responded to this claim stating their campaign has been active for over a year, that none of the three companies are targets in the Fossil Free Campaign and that the most recent University portfolio stillĀ contains investments of over Ā£3.5m in Shell and BP.

Leeds People and Planet Society have said, ā€˜The fact that the University is using our campaign to erase theĀ efforts of Leeds PSG, whilst still investing millions in fossil fuel companies, is hypocritical and offensiveā€™.

ā€œHSBC holds over Ā£800m in companies proven to contribute toĀ Israelā€™s military assault on Palestiniansā€

The University of Leeds is yet to divest from HSBC in which it holds Ā£1.3m of shares, but PSG have stated viaĀ their Facebook page they ā€˜will still campaign until the University divests from HSBC and adopts a screening policy to assure us that they will never invest in a complicit company againā€™. HSBC holds over Ā£800m in companies proven to contribute to Israelā€™s military assault on Palestinians. This includes Ā£3.6m worth of sharesĀ in Elbit Systems which produces drones like the ones used to bomb Gaza in 2014 when 2252 Palestinians wereĀ killed, including 551 children.

ā€œCooperation between human rights and environmentalĀ campaigning is a powerful alliance in the larger fight against corporate powerā€

Whilst Leedsā€™ BDS pressure has seen a commendable outcome, it also draws attention to the relationshipĀ between environmental and human rights activism and opens up potential avenues for further collaboration. It isĀ not a coincidence that companies which consistently enable the violation of Palestiniansā€™ basic human rights by Israeli military occupation and assault often also contribute disproportionately towards accelerating climateĀ breakdown.

Leedsā€™ success shows cooperation between human rights and environmental campaigning is a powerful alliance in the larger fight against corporate power which need not be mutually exclusive endeavours. Where transnational corporations show disregard for their involvement in human rights abuses and their contribution to climate breakdown whilst pocketing lucrative profits, our resistance is strongest in solidarity.

Where multinationals act with impunity, Leeds PSG have shown we can encourage our institutions to invest more responsibly with the power of collective action and drawing public attention. Whilst the official statementĀ of Leeds Universityā€™s divestment announcement does not directly cite BDS for inspiring its actions, Leedsā€™ PSGĀ have clearly been successful in scrutinising their Universityā€™s investment portfolio, drawing attention to it andĀ demanding divestment.

Congratulations to University of Leeds Palestine Solidarity Group, and good luck to other organisationsĀ challenging their own institutionā€™s investment portfolios in the fight against enabling Israelā€™s oppression ofĀ Palestinians and for a just and sustainable future.

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