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Reading uni divests from Barclays under pressure from Gaza encampment

June 14, 2024 at 1:30 pm

Rights activists have vadalised 15 branches of Barclays bank in England and Scotland. [twitter/x @Pal_action]

The University of Reading has agreed to divest from Barclays bank following weeks of protests by students from the Reading Friends of Palestine.

In a statement, Vice-Chancellor, Professor Robert Van de Noort, said: “Since I first met with students from Reading Friends of Palestine on 20 May, the first day of their protest at Whiteknights, much has been said and much has been done. Most of this activity has been very welcome: an active expression of, and support for, freedom of speech and debate, in many forms.”

“As I have previously outlined, our existing policies on investments are designed to align our principles with our financial positions. Students have advocated strongly in recent weeks that there is room to extend these policies. And I am minded to agree,” he continued, adding that “this will mean that the University will dispose of bond holdings in three banks under the new exclusion: Bank of America, Barclays, and Wells Fargo.”

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He explained that it is important to hold regular reviews of the university’s Investment Policy, including looking “in more detail at all our ethical positions”, including on “our policies over investments that directly or indirectly support armaments, particularly indiscriminate armaments.” Van de Noort explained that the university will not stop investing in the arms trade entirely, however.

Student representation will be included in the Investments and Development Committee for the first time, he added, giving them a voice in what shares the university holds. He hoped a new system for this will be in place by January 2025.

Responding to the decision, UOR Friends of Palestine said it was “thrilled”, adding: “We are incredibly proud of our campers and grateful to our community, this wouldn’t have been possible without your support. Thank you so much everyone.”

Barclays has faced renewed criticism from rights activists recently. This week, members of Palestine Action vandalised 15 branches of the bank in England and Scotland demanding that it must end its complicity in the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Windows were smashed and branches were sprayed with red paint, to highlight the blood being spilt as a result of Barclays’ investments in arms manufacturers, including Israel’s Elbit Systems.

Read: Swansea University students win over divestment demands

A report released this month found that Barclays now holds over £2 billion in shares of companies whose weapons, components and military technology have been used against Palestinians by Israel. Barclays also provides over £6.1 billion in loans and underwriting to these arms and military technology companies, including holdings of £2.7 million in Elbit Systems. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) calls for a boycott of the bank over its “grave complicity” in Israel’s attacks on Palestinians. Barclays denies this allegation.

Denying such reports, the bank says on its website: “Barclays has been the subject of criticism in relation to Gaza based on two arguments: that Barclays is an investor in these businesses, and that we provide a range of financial services to clients which produce equipment used by the Israeli Defence Force.”

“We have been asked why we invest in nine defence companies supplying Israel, but this mistakes what we do. We trade in shares of listed companies in response to client instruction or demand and that may result in us holding shares. We are not making investments for Barclays and Barclays is not a “shareholder” or “investor” in that sense in relation to these companies.”

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