Exclusive: Cambridge’s wealthiest college to divest from arms companies

MEE revealed in February that Trinity College Cambridge has investments in Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest arms manufacturer

Imran Mullah

People enjoy the sunshine while punting past the Wren Library, part of Trinity College, on the River Cam in Cambridge, north of London, on 9 September 2023 (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

Trinity College Cambridge, the University of Cambridge’s wealthiest constituent college, has decided to divest from all arms companies, Middle East Eye can reveal.

This comes after MEE revealed in February that Trinity had £61,735 ($78,089) invested in Israel’s largest arms company, Elbit Systems, which produces 85 percent of the drones and land-based equipment used by the Israeli army.

MEE also reported that the college has millions of dollars invested in other companies arming, supporting and profiting from Israel’s war on Gaza.

In response to this report, on 28 February the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (CJP), a UK-based rights group, issued a legal notice to Trinity College warning that its investments could make it potentially complicit in Israeli war crimes.

The ICJP indicated in its legal notice that “officers, directors and shareholders at the college may be individually criminally liable if they maintain their investments in arms companies that are potentially complicit in Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

MEE has learnt from three well-informed sources close to Trinity’s student union that the college council, responsible for major financial and other decisions, voted to remove Trinity’s investments from arms companies in early March. 

According to these sources, the college decided not to announce that it would divest from arms companies after an activist defaced a 1914 portrait of Lord Arthur Balfour, who authored the infamous Balfour Declaration, inside the college by an activist on 8 March. 

The incident prompted widespread media coverage in the UK – and condemnation from British MPs, including Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden.

MEE has contacted Trinity College Cambridge for comment.

MEE revealed in February that the college also has investments worth approximately $3.2m in Caterpillar, a US-based heavy equipment company that has long been the target of boycott campaigns for its sale of bulldozers to the Israeli army, and multiple other companies involved in Israel’s war – including General Electric, Toyota Corporation, Rolls-Royce, Barclays Bank and L3Harris Industries. 

Trinity has not committed to divesting from all these companies.

On Thursday, an open letter written by Cambridge academics and signed by more than 1,700 staff, alumni, and students from the university was published, expressing support for protesters who set up a protest encampment earlier this week that calls on the university to end any potential complicity in Israel’s war on Gaza.

Around a hundred students gathered on the lawn outside Cambridge’s King’s College on Monday, where they erected tents and demanded the institution commit to divesting from companies involved in Israel’s war. 

They joined students at over 100 universities worldwide who have set up similar protest movements.

The encampment’s organisers told MEE they are demanding that Cambridge University discloses all its relationships with companies and institutions “complicit in the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine”.

On Thursday, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak summoned the vice-chancellors of 17 universities to an “antisemitism roundtable” at Downing Street and urged them to take “personal responsibility” for protecting Jewish students. 

That same day, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland’s most prestigious university, announced it will divest from Israeli companies involved in the occupation of Palestine after a sit-in by students protesting against the war on Gaza.

Since the events of 7 October, when a Hamas-led attack on southern Israel killed 1,171 people and resulted in more than 200 being taken back to Gaza as captives, the enclave has been under total siege and deprived of basic necessities while facing a devastating bombing campaign by Israel.

More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed and around 1.7m displaced, in what was described at the International Court of Justice in January as a plausible genocide.

Nearly 77,000 people have also been wounded, according to health officials. The figures exclude tens of thousands of dead who are believed to be buried in the bombed-out ruins of homes, shops, shelters and other buildings.

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