Harvard University is being urged to divest from companies complicit in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, according to a report in student paper the Crimson.
The calls are led by campus-based organisation Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine, a movement backed by – among others – African and African American Studies Professor Cornel R. West.
According to the Crimson’s analysis of the Harvard Management Company (HMC)’s latest filings, HMC “had over $194 million directly invested in Booking Holdings, a company that a United Nations human rights body ties to Israeli settlements in Palestine”.
Booking Holdings is the parent company of a number of travel-related businesses such as Booking.com, with the latter named by Human Rights Watch in 2018 as listing properties in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“They basically broker rentals on land stolen from Palestinians who themselves can’t stay in those listings”, said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director for Human Rights Watch.
“Booking — by brokering these rentals in West Bank settlements — is helping to entrench the settlement enterprise,” he added.
The Crimson additionally reported that Harvard also “holds $294,988 in indirect investments through Exchange Traded Funds in other companies on the list that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released in February” of businesses linked to illegal settlements.
“Exchange Traded Funds, or ETFs, are exchange-traded securities that often contain small investments in hundreds to thousands of other companies that meet certain criteria,” the report explained.
“The list from the UN includes 112 business entities, 20 of which — including Booking Holdings, Expedia, General Mills, and Motorola — fall within the ETFs Harvard is invested in.”
Sarah H. Gold, a volunteer with the Palestine Advocacy Project and a student at Tufts Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, said the investment in Booking Holdings equates to “profiting off war crimes”.
“Harvard is a world-renowned institution. What it does matters. People are watching. People look to it. And what it’s doing right now is profiting off of war crimes,” Gold said.
Hind Awwad, a member of the steering committee of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, told the Crimson: “We’re particularly troubled that Harvard is investing in Booking Holdings, owner of Booking.com, a company that profits from stolen Palestinian homes and lands.”“We urge the administration to divest from this, and all, companies on the UN List.”
HMC spokesperson Patrick S. McKiernan stated that HMC takes “environmental, social, and governance factors (ESG) factors that may impact the performance of our investment” into account in its investment decisions.
“HMC strongly believes that considering all data is not only in line with our fiduciary duty, but simply something that thoughtful investors do,” McKiernan wrote.