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Activists expose UK university’s links to Israel weapons manufacturer  

Activists taking parts in the 'Big Ride' blockade a UK-based Elbit Systems subsidiary. Image taken on August 8, 2016
Activists taking parts in the 'Big Ride' blockade, a UK-based Elbit Systems subsidiary [File photo]

Relations between the University of Manchester (UoM) and Israeli arms manufacturers have been exposed in a new report by student activists. Members of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement revealed the web of connections between the university’s commercial arm and several weapons companies including Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) which produced drones that were used during the Gaza onslaught of 2014.

In the report “Entangled Graphene, Arms, Israel and The University of Manchester”, the activists document several cases of collaboration and commercial ventures between companies tied to UoM and Israel.

UoM is said to be a pioneer in the research and development of Nanene, which is a particular type of graphene, a material that is thought to be 200x stronger than steel making it the strongest material known. According to the report, in October 2017 a contract was signed between Versarien, which is a commercial partner of UoM and Israel Aerospace Industries, the state corporation that was deeply involved in the attacks on Gaza.

READ: Manchester University must reveal its relations with Israeli institutions

UoM is alleged to have jointly participated in EU funded projects with the main Israeli drone producers including IAI and taken part in ventures with Elbit and Rafael.

The discovery was made through a series of Freedom of Information requests by students who revealed that it had taken six months as well as intervention by the Information Commissioner before the university answered any questions related to their investigation.

UoM had come under fire for its controversial links with Israeli institutions last year when the university disciplined students for protesting against Israel.  The university claimed that the students were punished for “trespassing on a roof during Israeli Apartheid Week” but the students said their protest was meant to put pressure on UoM to “divest from firms that abet the apartheid regime of Israel”.

UoM BDS Campaign - Cartoon [Latuff]

UoM BDS Campaign – Cartoon [Latuff]

Trust between UoM and students broke down even further after the university refused to share details concerning its relation with Israeli institutions. The body regulating data protection in the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), found the university to be in violation of the government act issued in 2000 by not disclosing information requested by a student activist over its controversial ties.

In the latest chapter of the feud between UoM and pro-Palestinian student activists, the universities controversial ties are further exposed. The report mentions the CEO of Versarien, who is reported to have admitted to the connection between the commercial arm of the university and Israeli companies. “Dealing with any Israeli company is challenging,” confessed Neill Ricketts, “and this is a defence company so there’s a huge amount of confidentiality and even to get a quote is a real achievement. What we have here is the ability to be able to take our materials and work closely with the guys in not only in aircraft but in defence projects and space projects and so on.”

READ: Calls for UK to ensure arms supplies to Israel are used lawfully

Ricketts, who praised UoM for its production of the various methods and techniques in the development of graphene exuded: “This is massive news for us as a company and for the industry in general. The Israeli Aerospace Industry do not put press releases out as a rule, and they’ve been very kind to us in allowing us to name them. They’re extremely enthusiastic to use these next generation materials in their products”.

In its statement to MEMO concerning details raised in the report UoM said: “The University of Manchester partners with many different academic and industrial organisations. We have a robust partnership process and all the University’s research is tested against our nationally recognised ethical criteria.”

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