Campus encampments – challenging global imperialism

Students, faculty, and their supporters are directly challenging global imperialism by demanding that their colleges and universities divest funds from companies doing business with or supplying military support to Israel. Fighting for a break with corporations responsible for carnage around the globe is a very revolutionary, anti-capitalist idea. 

Temple, Drexel and UPenn students demand colleges divest from Israel. Philadelphia, April 27, 2024. (WW Photo: Joe Piette)

Divesting from Israel would mean universities reassessing their investment portfolios and pulling out from companies implicated in Israel’s war effort — whether they support Israeli settlements in occupied territories or supply equipment used in military operations, including the genocide in Gaza which has already claimed the lives of 40,000 people, mainly women and children. 

Vijay Prashad writes in Tricontinental Press: “The U.S. bankrolling of Israel’s extermination campaign against Palestinians includes over 100 weapons shipments to Israel since October 7, and billions of dollars of aid. … These universities have invested their vast endowments in funds that are entangled with the weapons industry and Israeli companies, with the total endowments at U.S. institutions of higher education reaching roughly $840 billion.” (May 3)

 The National Association of College and University Business Officers conducted a survey of the endowments of 688 colleges and universities in the fiscal year 2023. They found the median endowment was about $209.1 million (which means half of the universities’ endowments are at least that much). However, a small number (32 according to of schools holding over $5 billion in endowments account for nearly 60% of the total value. And then there are schools like Harvard — with a whopping $50 billion endowment. (Washington Post, May 1)

These endowments are made up of tax-exempt donations coming from very wealthy alumni, as well as earnings from investments. Typically, less than 5% is used each year to pay for salaries, tuition assistance and new construction. Many of these schools pay little to no taxes to support the communities where they are located. 

The bulk of endowment funds are invested in hedge funds, index funds, private equity companies, bonds, tracker funds, and asset managers such as BlackRock. 

Rather than relying on the value of a single stock, tracking companies, index funds and asset managers like BlackRock give investors exposure to a broad section of the market all at once. BlackRock is the world’s largest asset manager, with $10 trillion in assets under management, as of Dec. 31, 2023.

Fund tracking companies offer access to shares in the largest companies, but investors don’t get to pick and choose which shares to hold. When universities put their endowment funds into asset management companies like BlackRock, it becomes harder to track what companies they are invested in and whether they do business with Israel and weapons manufacturers. 

Universities with large endowments fall back on this system to claim it is too difficult to identify whether their investments involve Israeli companies. 

Protests demand disclosure

In addition to demands for divestment from Israeli war profiteers, students on many campuses are also demanding “disclosure.” 

University of Pennsylvania Palestinian activist CeCe, speaking on May 5 to a rally at an encampment on the College Green, said: “Penn invests $31 million annually in Israel. Who does it go to? Put the money into Philadelphia communities. Penn students should have a say in where it goes. We say ‘Disclose, divest — we will not stop, we will not rest.’”

While it may be difficult, it is not impossible to follow the money. With billions of dollars in government giveaways to expand wars in West Asia, Ukraine and Asia, there can be little doubt that companies, such as Lockheed Martin, General Electronic, Boeing, and other major weapons manufacturers, top the list of the most profitable investment options. 

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has identified more than 50 companies which have provided Israel with weapons and other military equipment used in attacks on Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon and Syria since October 2023. Updated in April 2024, the list can be found at

Several universities do provide some clear divestment targets. 

The University of California Regents System, with $17.7 billion in endowments for several schools, including $7.7 billion for University of California, Los Angeles, holds stock in military corporations Honeywell International ($890,000), General Electric ($640,000), and Air Products Chemicals ($2.8 million), which has an office in Israel. The endowment also holds $258 million in Blue Owl Capital Corp., which includes defense contractors and cybersecurity firms. (Washington Post, May 3)

The University of California, which unleashed armed riot police to brutalize students and faculty at UCLA, continues to oppose divestment from Israel, claiming it “impinges on the academic freedom of our students and faculty.” (Washington Post)

Demonstrators at the Columbia encampment listed Lockheed Martin, HEICO, BlackRock, Google and Microsoft among the companies from which to divest university endowments. New York University Alumni for Palestine calls for NYU to “terminate all vendor contracts with Cisco, Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar and General Electric” due to their “active role in military operations in Palestine.” (Al Jazeera, April 30)

The investment of hefty endowment funds is just one of the ways that the “institutions of higher learning” support weapons manufacturers and other war profiteers. These practices have been in place for years.

‘No weapons manufacturers at campus career days’

Students at Portland State University in Oregon won a demand that the school cease accepting grants and gifts from Boeing. In February 2024, protesters at Harvard University demanded that the school block Lockheed Martin and Boeing from participating in campus career fairs. 

On May 1, protesters at the University of Alabama demanded that Lockheed Martin no longer be allowed to recruit on campus and that the school rename Hewson Hall, named after a former Lockheed Martin CEO who donated millions of dollars to the university. (Truthout, May 2)

University of Florida students are demanding an end to the school’s partnership with war profiteer RTX Corporation, formerly Raytheon Technologies, after the company’s CEO, appearing on CNBC, acknowledged that Israel’s war on Gaza would be good for the company’s bottom line. In 2023, the university was one of over 70 schools participating in Lockheed Martin’s “Ethics in Engineering” competition. (Truthout)

Day & Zimmermann, producer of a major share of munitions used by the Israeli Occupation Forces in Gaza, made a $5,000 contribution to the Community College of Philadelphia’s annual scholarship gala in April. Upon learning this, the Faculty and Staff Federation demanded the CCP Board of Trustees give the money back.

Department of Defense funding

The connection between the military-industrial complex and institutions of higher education has a long history. Currently the Department of Defense accounts for 60% of federal funding for university-based electrical engineering research, 55% for computer sciences, 41% for metallurgy/materials engineering, and 33% for oceanography, according to the Association of American Universities. The DoD’s 2025 budget includes $143.2 billion in research, development, testing and evaluation, and $167.5 billion more for procurement. 

Banner at UPenn encampment, Philadelphia, April 27, 2024. (WW Photo: Joe Piette)

This allows the DoD to dictate what kind of research universities undertake. The University of Pennsylvania received $51.59 million in DoD research funding in 2020 and expects more in 2024. UPenn’s role in using its research center “Pennovation” to serve as the incubator for Ghost Robotics’ development of weaponized robotic dogs, now being used in Gaza, has drawn sharp criticism.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have been specifically targeted to be funneled into the defense industry pipeline through offers of cash prizes, scholarships and paid internships. For the past seven years, Lockheed Martin has been the number-one industrial supporter of engineering programs at several of these colleges. 

38 states pass anti-BDS legislation

The collusion between the capitalist state and capitalist corporations is glaring when it comes to suppressing movements to divest from companies doing business with Israel. A decade ago, politicians were beginning to lay the basis to discourage economic boycotts of Israel.

In 2005, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement was launched by 171 Palestinian organizations, calling for Israel to end its occupation and colonization of Palestinian land and to allow the return of Palestinian refugees expelled during and after Israel’s founding in 1948. For the next several years, BDS scored successes, mainly in consumer boycotts and in convincing religious institutions to divest from Israel. 

In response, from 2015 to today, 38 U.S. states have enacted laws, executive orders, or resolutions banning or discouraging economic boycotts against Israel. Many of these laws expressly forbid companies that engage in boycotts against Israel from doing business with the states. 

While students and administrators at Brown University appear to be reaching an agreement regarding the school’s investments, a Rhode Island law that forbids companies that engage in economic boycotts of Israel from doing business in the state may negatively impact the private university’s decision.

Pennsylvania has similar legislation, known as the Prohibited Contracts Act, passed by the state legislature and signed by then-Governor Tom Wolf in 2016. It prohibits any entity that divests from or refuses to deal with Israel from doing business with the state. In the case of colleges and universities, it could be used to deny or withhold state funds. 

Currently, students at nearly a dozen Pennsylvania colleges and universities are engaged in BDS activities. The threats of suspension being used to intimidate students participating in encampments could be extended to apply to entire universities if they agree to divest.

As the encampment for Palestine movement spreads across the country, involving more and more campuses, students are getting critical lessons in the global class struggle that campus administrators never intended for inclusion in their curriculum. These lessons will only be learned in the struggle, and, once learned, will never be forgotten. 

As students and their supporters chanted on UPenn campus during the May 5 rally: “Liberation is our mission, no more bombs with our tuition!” and “The more they try to silence us, the louder we will be!”

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