Protesters demand that McGill divest from companies linked to Israel. What does that mean?

It is a request that the student unions of many universities have long requested.

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Among the main demands of protesters at the pro-Palestinian camp at McGill University is that the school divest from companies they say support Israel’s war against Hamas. It’s a request that student unions at many universities have long called for, and one that has recently resurfaced as protesters stage protests at schools across North America.

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What does divestment mean?

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Basically, the protesters are asking McGill to sell his holdings. in your stock portfolio They say they are linked to companies whose activities may be related to Israel’s conflicts with the Palestinians or that are profiting from the war. They include companies such as Lockheed Martin, in which McGill has invested just under $520,000, as well as Thales SA ($1.3 million) and Safran ($1.5 million), all defense contractors.

The groups’ list includes companies they say provide supplies such as communications equipment and fuel to the Israeli military, and companies that have operations in occupied territory.

It also includes several large Canadian banks, targeted for their apparent stakes in weapons manufacturers; Canadian grocers selling Israeli products; and companies that have expanded into the country or plan to do so, including Shake Shack, Open Text Corp. and Johnson & Johnson.

Activists say they want McGill to sell about $73 million in stock when all the companies on the list are included. McGill’s total endowment is worth $2 billion.

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Some have also called for McGill to cut ties with Israeli universities, arguing that they are “complicit in the Israeli regime.”

Students have been trying to pass anti-genocide policies and motions,” McGill student Leila Khaled said this week, explaining the camp. “Students have tried peaceful protests, rallies, workshops, classes and many other methods to get the university to divest from companies that make weapons and have refused.”

Pro-Palestinian McGill students who began a hunger strike in February had similar demands.

Is McGill likely to comply?

No. There have been numerous attempts by student unions over the years at McGill and other universities in Canada and the United States to have their schools adopt boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) mandates against Israel. Although union votes may have been successful, including at the Université du Québec à Montréal, which in late March became the first university to have all of its student unions adopt BDS mandates, school administrations are not required to change their policies based on the votes of the student unions. .

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After the Concordia and McGill student unions voted to endorse the BDS movements in 2014 and 2016, respectively, the administrations of both universities said they were not in favor of a boycott.

In response to the hunger strikers’ request for divestment, the university issued a statement: “We have clearly communicated the procedures available to express concern about the university’s investments, or to advocate for policy changes. These students have chosen a different approach; “Our hope is that they understand that university policies will not be determined this way.”

Have other divestment campaigns been successful?

Yes. A divestment campaign aimed at helping end the apartheid regime in South Africa that had the support of countries like Canada and cities like Montreal saw more than 150 universities divest from companies that did business in South Africa, the New York reported. Times.

The BDS campaign against Israel that began in 2005 was partly inspired by the divestment movement against South Africa.

Has divestment had any impact on South Africa?

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Yes and no. Proponents argue that the fact that universities embrace divestment movements had and can have a symbolic force that stimulates corporations and governments to change their ways and raise awareness.

But studies have shown that the divestment movement has limited impact on stock values ​​or company behavior, Witold Henisz, vice dean of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, told CNN. In fact, divestment could be considered harmful, because it removes socially conscious investors who might coerce company boards and replaces them with investors who are less concerned. When you sell stocks, Henisz said, you give up your own voice.

Additionally, it can be much more difficult to separate modern investments from larger equity funds.

Michel Proulx, director of institutional communications yeMcGill External Relations wrote in an email to the Gazette that the university hires outside fund managers to select investments for mandates in pooled funds, whose composition continually changes.

“To ensure these investments are consistent with McGill’s long-standing commitment to sustainability and social responsibility, the university selects fund managers based on key criteria, including reputation… and compliance with environmental, social and governance (ESG)”.

Proulx also noted that administrators met with a group of students who support Palestine on April 12 and explained the process for raising concerns about divestment.

“To date, the committee reviewing these matters at McGill has not received any expressions of concern about this issue” from students, Proulx said.

Has McGill divested from other funds?


In December, after years of student campaigning, McGill pledged to divest from fossil fuels. The university says it will sell any stake it has in the world’s 100 largest public coal and oil and gas companies by 2025.

The move follows commitments by many other universities and investment funds to sell their oil and gas holdings as a way to reduce funding for new projects and demonstrate their opposition to the companies’ products.

The Canadian Press contributed to this report.

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