Hundreds at Cambridge ask university head to cut ties with firms aiding Israeli crimes

Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge

Hundreds of people with links to the University of Cambridge have signed an open letter to its vice-chancellor, Prof Stephen Toope. He is “the principal academic and administrative officer of the University, and is its resident head”. The letter called on him to cut the university’s ties to companies that have links to Israeli state crimes.

This comes amid an Israeli offensive on occupied Gaza that has killed around 230 people so far, including 65 children, since 10 May. Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has accused the state of committing war crimes, saying:

Despite the horrifying, lethal consequences of intentionally bombing civilian objectives – which constitutes a war crime – Israel has never been held accountable, or forced to pay any price, for implementing this policy.

This reality will change only when the international community intervenes and uses its leverage to force Israel to change course, before this policy takes a toll on even more lives.

“International law is on the side of the Palestinians”. Is Cambridge?

Over 1,400 people have now signed the letter from Cambridge University Palestine Solidarity Society. They implore the university to “immediately sever formal links and partnerships with BAE Systems, Caterpillar and all other companies or institutions deemed complicit” with “illegal Israeli policies”.

The letter says:

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign, as of 2020, found that 118 UK Universities have investments in companies that are complicit in supporting Israel’s violations of international law. It is shameful that the University of Cambridge is amongst those with the highest investments, standing at an estimate of £109,820,000. According to its website, the Cambridge Service Alliance counts as “partners” companies directly involved in advancing the settler colonisation of Palestinian lands. These include BAE systems, which was one of two founding industrial partners, and Caterpillar. Caterpillar supplies the militarised D9 bulldozers used by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to demolish thousands of Palestinian homes and construct illegal Israeli settlements, while BAE systems provides weapons to Israel, including ‘Head-Up Displays’ (HUD) for F16 fighter aircraft, used by the Israeli military in their bombing campaigns against Gaza and elsewhere.

It adds:

International law is on the side of the Palestinians. The occupation is illegal. The evictions in Sheikh Jarrah are illegal. The bombing of Gaza is illegal. The settlements are illegal. We therefore trust that you, as a scholar of human rights and international law, are well placed to comprehend the gravity of the situation and the hegemonic sanitation of illegality in this context.

“We want our institution to be on the right side of history”

Referring to the April 2021 Human Rights Watch report finding that “Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution”, the letter states:

We stand in solidarity with Palestinians and we are deeply angered by the role played by the University of Cambridge in perpetuating their oppression through institutional links and partnerships with companies whose products are used by Israel to enact policies condemned by Human Rights Watch as constituting the “crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

It also explains that:

as Human Rights Watch clearly outlines in its report, the structures which sustain apartheid and persecution against Palestinians are not restricted to military operations, but are the responsibility of both military and civilian authorities, deploying a wide range of tactics to deny Palestinians their rights.

It ends with the following plea:

We want the University of Cambridge to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We want our institution to be on the right side of history.

Main article image via Suicasmo/(CC BY-SA 4.0)