Over 200 authors urge Edinburgh festival sponsor to divest from Israel-linked companies

Over 200 authors urge Edinburgh festival sponsor to divest from Israel-linked companies
Authors Sally Rooney and Naomi Klein are among others demanding asset manager Baillie Gifford to divest from companies linked to Israel.
4 min read
15 May, 2024
Authors, journalists and illustrators have called for a major festival sponsor to divest from Israel-linked companies [Getty]

Over 200 authors, journalists, illustrators, and publishers have renewed their demands for Edinburgh-based asset manager Baillie Gifford to divest from Israel-linked companies ahead of festival season.

Among the authors calling for divestment are Sally Rooney, Naomi Klein, Grace Blakely, and George Monbiot.

The statement from the authors coincided with the 76th commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba, or 'Catastrophe', in which 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes by Zionist militias in 1948 to pave the way for the creation of Israel.

According to Fossil Free Books, an organisation of workers in the literary industry, Baillie Gifford is a sponsor of several major arts events, including the Hay Festival, the Cheltenham Literature Festival, the Cambridge Literary Festival, and the Edinburgh International Books Festival.

In a statement, the organisation said Baillie Gifford currently has nearly £10 billion invested in companies with direct or indirect links to Israel's military, tech and cyber security industries.

They also state Baillie Gifford is currently invested in Cemex, Cisco Systems, and Booking Holdings which they say have been condemned by human rights groups for their involvement in illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine.

A Baillie Gifford spokesperson told The New Arab they are a private business managing other people's money, not their own, investing in several technology companies including Amazon, NVIDIA and Meta, with around $19 billion invested in the three. 

"Practically every consumer and investor in the developed world is using the services of these companies," the spokesperson said.

They said they are smaller investors in three companies which have been identified as having connections to Israel, including AirBnB, Booking.com and Cemex, with around $300 million invested in the three.

"We've been engaging with those companies. This work has been going on since the conflict broke out and in all three cases progress has been made," they said.

"By deliberately conflating these two categories, one of which is 63 times larger than the other, the activists are painting an inaccurate picture and attempting to mislead the pubic."

Baillie Gifford also said it is their clients that set the parameters and determine what to exclude and divest from, "especially when it comes to ethical situations relating to sectors or countries such as Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories".

"Our fiduciary duty to the people or organisations who control the money we manage, is always our overriding priority. Therefore, in asking for divestment the activists are requesting that we breach our duty to our clients," the investment management firm said.

Increased action

The signatories cite the ongoing US protest encampments as an example of increased pressure for companies to divest, and say that if their demands are not met, they will take action through disruption and withdrawing their labour.

"Literary festivals rely on the labour of writers, editors and translators. We donate our labour because we love to gather and meet our readers, but we have the right to demand that these gatherings divest from the forces causing death and destruction of an unfathomable scale," said Klein.

The writers and journalists also highlighted the asset management companies’ investment in fossil fuel companies including Shell, Petrobras and the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation.

However, Baillie Gifford told The New Arab, they are "not a significant fossil fuel investor" with two percent of their clients' money invested in companies with some business related to fossil fuels.

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The statement from the writers comes as Israel has killed at least 35,100 Palestinians in Gaza since 7 October, and wounded some 79,000 others.

The bombardment of the besieged enclave has plunged it into a deep humanitarian crisis, devastating infrastructure, medical facilities, levelling entire neighbourhoods and causing widespread starvation.

It has also affected cultural sites, with Fossil Free Books raising concerns about Israel's destruction of Gaza's Municipal Library, the Al-Qarara Museum and the Rashad Al-Shawwa Cultural Centre.

Selma Dabbagh, a British Palestinian writer and lawyer said that Israel has also been behind the closure of Palestinian art institutions, as well as the bombing of archaeological sites, historic buildings, places of worship, and cultural centres.

"Cultural organisations internationally should unequivocally condemn such actions. To fail to divest is to enable," she said.