If you have ever contributed to USS, some of your money is supporting illegal settlements in Palestine. On the USS website list of investments can be found several of the 112 companies identified by the United Nations in 2020 as doing business in illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian land.
Many of the 112 companies are relatively small Israeli companies. Of the well-known international companies identified by the UN, the USS list includes Airbn, Alstom, Booking Holdings, Caterpillar, Expedia, Heidelberg Cement, and Motorola. It also supports General Mills, which has recently, under pressure from activists, closed its factory in an illegal settlement (Mondoweiss 15.6.2022). Of these, Caterpillar and Heidelberg Cement have been identified as being of particular concern. Caterpillar is a U.S. multinational manufacturer of heavy engineering machinery, whose equipment is used in home demolitions, the construction of the West Bank and Gaza walls, and the construction of illegal settlements. Heidelberg Cement, the world’s largest cement producer, operates quarries and manufacturing facilities in the occupied West Bank: their products have been used to build and expand illegal settlements.
What follows is for those who have doubts about urging divestment from these companies.
The case for divestment consists of a combination of three factors that make the case of Israel unusual if not unique.
The first factor, and the one least appreciated, is that we are being asked to support BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) by the Palestinians themselves. The call to BDS was initiated in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian organisations. When someone being robbed and beaten up asks you to do something peaceful and legal to help them, my view is that you should do it. This is ignored by those who oppose BDS against Israel on the grounds that there are other states just as bad (an odd argument, even without the special circumstance that I have just described). Of course, if the combination of all three factors obtains anywhere else in the world, I have a moral duty to support BDS there too.
The second factor is the obvious one that placing settlements in land that does not belong to you is illegal under the Geneva conventions (signed by Israel), and generally requires considerable brutality (as in Palestine). Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “…The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population in the territory it occupies.”
The third factor is that Israel knows that there is as yet no genuine pressure on it (external or internal) to halt the increase and expansion of settlements (to say nothing of house demolitions, detention without trial, etc.). The position of the British government (as of almost all governments) is that the settlements are illegal. But it is prepared to do nothing whatsoever to pressure Israel to cease its illegal activity (and of course Israel has never cared anything about the criticisms that governments occasionally issue), and a government headed by Starmer would be no different. Given the genuine action taken by the British government against other countries (examples are not difficult to think of), this represents blatant double standards. The policy of Israel is to progressively see what it can get away with: the answer (so far) is everything. This gives Israel the green light to continue to encroach on land that does not belong to it, and to intensify and extend what Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have painstakingly documented as Apartheid.
The only hope for the Palestinians is the eventual growth of BDS to the level at which, as in the case of South African Apartheid, it can have a real effect (including on governments). The issue is not whether you are pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. The issue is whether or not you are prepared to do something, however small, to halt the slow-motion ethnic cleansing of a defenceless people by a military superpower.
Emeritus Professor, University of Exeter
Ex-chair, Exeter UCU.
 The support of Palestinians for BDS as a whole is difficult to ascertain. Research conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey (Survey 56, June 2015) reported that ‘86% support the campaign to boycott Israel and impose sanctions on it’. Since then the situation of the Palestinians has steadily deteriorated.