This week, I’m going to divert from my usual tactic of chatting absolute nonsense to address a rather more serious issue. Apologies to any fans awaiting a sly dig at my predecessor, Reece Parker, but I feel like stooping to the level of hyperbolic name-calling would undermine the tone I’m hoping to convey in this letter in particular. Tune in next week where I will continue to drag Reece’s name through the dirt with the sort of shameless frivolity that only the state of being best friends can afford.
If you’re reading this, then you may have heard the news that an Open Letter to the Vice Chancellor has accused the University of Leeds of investing £2,352,563 in companies which have alleged links to the implementation of human rights abuses against Palestinians. It is, without doubt, an unsettling thought that the university you chose to study at may have played a part, however large or small, in funding the death of another human being. It is an even more troubling thought that a percentage of those investments may have come from the £27,000+ worth of tuition fees you may or may not have so liberally chucked at this university, and which you may or may not be intending to pay back your loans for.
What makes this situation so utterly complex and messy is that it is all very indirect and shrouded in the quicksand-esque political context that allegations which involve the State of Israel inevitably bring. Although it is public knowledge that the University of Leeds invests in HSBC, Airbus, United Technologies Corporation and Keyence Corporation – four companies that can be linked to the implementation of human rights abuses against Palestinians – we must remember that who and what a company chooses to fund with the profits from the investments it receives is not the decision of the University of Leeds. However, it is the responsibility of the University of Leeds to take into account exactly where their investments eventually end up, and to review whether or not they believe it ethical to potentially finance the death of another human being. Claiming ignorance or a passive role in this situation isn’t really good enough.
The precarious issue which the Open Letter balances upon, that of the ‘Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’, is a difficult one, to say the very, very least – I am aware of the problematic nature of referring to the issue as a ‘conflict’, but since this is how it is widely recognised by the mainstream media, that is how I will refer to it. It’s a complex world of clandestine foreign policy that requires an incredible level of nuance and awareness to discuss with even the smallest slither of success. And, being remarkably less versed in the issue than I should be by now, I am far from the one to provide any sort of prophetic comment or salvific solution. That being said, whatever your view on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and where any notion of blame or resolution lies, I think we can all agree that our University should not be pumping money into companies which have any allegeable involvement in armed conflicts, whether in Gaza, Myanmar, Iraq, Darfur, Afghanistan, Syria or any other part of the world. With that in mind, the University should use this opportunity raised by LUU Palestine Solidarity Group to also task itself with reassessing the ethical considerations of ALL of its investments.
While the University of Leeds has a responsibility to consider the ethical ramifications of its investments and I, as Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper, have a responsibility for holding those investments to account, I also have a responsibility for ensuring that the Gryphon represents and speaks on behalf of its entire student body. I am aware that criticisms of the actions of the State of Israel are inextricably intertwined with issues of antisemitism, and that it can be a fairly sudden and slippery slope from trying to report the facts to unintentionally fuelling the rhetoric of antisemitism that seems to be rising around the world. The horrific murder of eleven Jewish people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday 27th October is a harrowing reminder that anti-Semitism remains a real threat and a curse on society, as it always has been. This is without mentioning the fact that anti-Semitic incidents in the UK reached an all-time high last year. There is no place for anti-Semitism in today’s age; there is no place for any expression of hate or prejudice in any of its many forms, and we have to be careful that the news stories we circulate do not result in any student feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome at the University of Leeds. I can acknowledge that many students may understandably take issue with particular elements of PSG’s Open Letter, but I sincerely hope that whatever happens as a consequence of its publication is a productive and open discussion that does not descend into the suffocating partisan politics that these things so often do.
I have signed the letter on behalf of myself as an individual, but I have not signed it on behalf of the Gryphon, as other LUU societies have done. As a society which is made up of from a wide range of students, each with their own political, ethical and moral viewpoints, I would not feel comfortable in unquestionably assuming their agreement with my line of argument. Furthermore, by signing the letter, I am not aligning myself with any pre-determined stance on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. I am signing because I believe that the investments uncovered in the Open Letter are inconsistent with the University’s policy of taking into account “social, environmental and ethical considerations in the selection, retention and realisation of investments”, and because I believe that the University should therefore either review its investments, or review its ‘Policy on Socially Responsible Investment’ altogether.
“Our university should not enable military occupation. Our tuition fees should not fund killing. Our education should not be at the expense of a person’s life.” Those are the powerful words with which PSG conclude their letter. Irregardless of our own political beliefs, and at the risk of depoliticizing perhaps the most pressing international issue of the modern era, if we view these words objectively and not through the blinkered lens of their context, then it is hard to argue to the contrary. I would encourage anyone reading this, whether you are a member of the Gryphon or not, to read the Open Letter in full. Whether you agree with its contents and choose to sign and whether you disagree with its contents and choose not to, by reading the letter you are engaging in the debate and opening yourself up to a productive discussion.
The University of Leeds prides itself on being a space which represents and addresses the concerns of all of its student population – now is the time for it to prove it.