The University of Leeds in England has pushed backed against claims that it divested from three companies in response to a petition by supporters of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign.
The school’s statement came after Leeds’ Palestine Solidarity Group (PSG) alleged on Saturday that the university had become the first in the United Kingdom to withdraw its holdings from companies over their ties to Israel.
The group had launched a BDS initiative on October 24, which included an open letter calling for the university to immediately divest more than £2 million in holdings in four companies: HSBC, United Technologies, Airbus, and Keyence Corporation.
PSG’s alleged success was touted by the UK’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign and reported on by the websites Middle East Monitor and Electronic Intifada. The latter outlet linked to a university statement in the student-run Gryphon newspaper, which acknowledged that we “have divested of our holdings in Airbus, United Technologies and Keyence Corporation which were all held indirectly in a Global Equities Fund.”
Yet a Leeds spokesperson explained that the action was taken as a result of the university’s recently adopted “climate active strategy, the purpose of which is to drive behavioural change supporting decarbonisation via a combination of divestments and engagement.”
The university added that it maintains “no direct investment in armament companies,” but will “continue to monitor the HSBC position and are in dialogue to understand investments in this area.”
The spokesperson for Leeds told The Algemeiner on Tuesday that it had only become aware of PSG’s open letter on October 25, after the university had already withdrawn its holdings from three of the four targeted companies.
“The University adopted a climate active strategy in May this year,” the spokesperson said. “Implementation of that strategy triggered the sale on 15 October of the University’s indirect holdings in Airbus, United Technologies and Keyence.”
The spokesperson added that in order to comply with its climate active strategy, the university had sold pooled investments that included holdings in “a large number of companies” — Airbus, United Technologies and Keyence among them.
While the BDS campaign has gained traction on some European and North American university campuses in recent years, many administrations have rejected the movement as antithetical to academic freedom and refused to divest their holdings in targeted companies. Supporters of the movement claim it seeks to pressure Israel to respect Palestinian human rights, while critics say it aims to replace Israel with a Palestinian-majority state.