Pro-Palestine Yale students to hunger strike over university's Israel arms investments

Group accuses famed university of 'complicity in genocide' for investing in companies that supply Israel

Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Reuters
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A group of Yale University graduate students on Friday said they would begin a hunger strike to pressure the famed Ivy League school to divest from companies arming and equipping Israel.

The action comes after the student group Hunger Strikers for Palestine wrote to Yale president Peter Salovey on Wednesday, accusing the institution of “complicity in genocide” in Gaza and demanding that he publicly commit to ending the university's investments in arms firms.

“With the death toll of the genocide climbing daily in Gaza and the invasion of Rafah set to cause catastrophe, it is your moral responsibility to remove our institution from the list of those supporting genocide,” the group wrote.

The letter gave Mr Salovey until Friday to make a public statement. When that was not forthcoming, students said they would begin hunger striking on Saturday.

“President Salovey has failed to respond. The strikers will continue to fast until their demands are met,” the group said in a statement.

A Yale representative told The National that the university is “steadfastly committed to free expression and the right to peaceful protest, values that are foundational to our academic community”.

At the end of last year, the university's Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility was asked to consider a policy of divestment encompassing manufacturers of military weapons.

The committee “has looked into the issue and is preparing to provide an update to the community in the coming weeks”, the representative said.

The representative added that “students participating in a hunger strike are encouraged to consult with clinicians at Yale Health”.

A long-time Yale faculty member told The National that about 10 students were set to participate in the hunger strike, though that number was expected to grow at the weekend.

As of last June, Yale had an endowment of more than $40 billion, according to its investment office.

The student statement said more than $1.3 billion of this is managed by an investment firm with shares in aerospace companies Aerojet Rocketdyne and Howmet Manufacturing, as well as separate investments in US arms companies such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.

Campus tension

Since the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel that killed about 1,200 people and Israel's ensuing war on Gaza, where local officials say more than 33,000 people have been killed, universities across the US have seen a surge in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents.

“For Jewish students, as well as for Muslim as well as for Arab, for those who are just walking by, I think it's been a very difficult climate on campus for all students,” the faculty member said.

“But it has been particularly difficult and scary for students who are outwardly expressing support for Palestine.”

Support for Palestinian causes has come from students of different ethnicities, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds, the staffer said.

In their statement, students said Yale had provided only “repeated silence” after they sent several letters to the president and carried out protests calling on the institution to divest.

“Students have exhausted their means of communicating with the Yale administration about divesting from arms manufacturing,” they said.

They cited a precedent for divesting.

In 2006, Yale stopped investing in companies that “provided substantial assistance to the perpetrators of the genocide in Sudan”, they wrote, arguing that the same principle should be applied now, as Israel is facing genocide charges at the International Court of Justice.

The US has said such allegations are “unfounded”.

On Tuesday, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said there is no evidence Israel is committing genocide in Gaza but far too many civilians have been killed there.

In February, pro-Palestinian protesters at Brown University in Rhode Island ended a week-long hunger strike. They were unsuccessful in trying to force the divestiture of arms companies tied to Israel.

Updated: April 12, 2024, 10:48 PM