University of California official says system has $32 billion in holdings targeted by protesters

The University of California has $32 billion in assets targeted by students protesting the Israel-Hamas war

BySOPHIE AUSTIN /REPORT FOR AMERICA Associated Press
May 15, 2024, 7:23 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Investments in weapons manufacturers and a wide array of other companies by the University of California targeted by students protesting the Israel-Hamas war represent $32 billion - or nearly one-fifth - of the system's overall assets, the system's chief investment officer says.

UC Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Singh Bachher unveiled the estimate Tuesday at the first public Board of Regents meeting since nationwide pro-Palestinian student protests began in April. The calculation was in response to a letter he received last month from the UC Divest Coalition, which is scrutinizing the system's overall $175 billion in assets.

The group asked for the system to halt its investments in weapons manufacturers, the investment firms Blackstone and BlackRock, and two dozen companies across the entertainment, technology and beverage industries.

Bachher said that would apply to investments that include: $3.3 billion in holdings from groups with ties to weapons manufacturers; $12 billion in U.S. treasuries; $163 million in the investment firm BlackRock and $2.1 billion in bonds that BlackRock manages; $8.6 billion from Blackstone and $3.2 billion from the other 24 companies.

“We pride ourselves on a culture of transparency,” Bachher said, adding that it is important to listen to and engage with students.

The University of California system said last month it would not boycott or divest from Israel, and the regents have not indicated a change in position during this week's meetings.

In 1986, the regents voted to divest $3.1 billion from companies doing business with South Africa's apartheid government after more than a year of student protests. The system also dropped its investments in fossil fuels in 2020.

For weeks, students at campuses across the country have been protesting and setting up encampments at their universities to call on them to be more transparent about their investments and to divest from companies that financially support Israel. The demonstrations have led to disruptions, arrests and debates over free speech rights. Tensions between protesters, law enforcement and administration at the University of California, Los Angeles, have garnered some of the most attention.

The protests stem from the current Israel-Hamas conflict which started on Oct. 7 when Hamas launched an attack on southern Israel in which militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel launched an offensive in Gaza that has killed more than 34,500 Palestinians, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. Israeli strikes have devastated the enclave and displaced most of Gaza’s inhabitants.

In a letter provided to The Associated Press by the UC president’s office, the UC Divest Coalition — which is made up of anti-war student advocates across UC campuses — asked the university system to end any investments in “companies that perpetuate war or weapons manufacturing, including companies that give economic support to the state of Israel, and therefore perpetuate the ongoing occupation and genocide of the Palestinian people.”

“Investment in arms production is antithetical to the UC’s expressed values and the moral concerns of the students, workers, and faculty that the Regents represent,” the letter says.

The United Nation's top court in January ruled that Israel must do all it can to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza but did not order an end to Israel's military activities in the territories. The ruling was in response to a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of committing genocide in violation of international law. Israel has denied that it is committing genocide.

The coalition did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent via email and social media on the letter and the $32 billion estimate.

At a meeting that lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours Tuesday, some students and faculty called for the system to divest from groups with ties to Israel, some faculty raised concerns about antisemitism and Islamophobia on campus, and regents asked investment committee members what it would mean to divest.

Holly Yu, a student studying ethnic studies at the University of California, Merced, urged officials to recognize that students are “expected to continue our everyday lives” as the death toll rises in Gaza.

“Please listen to the voices of your students and stand in solidarity with us by divesting immediately,” Yu said.

Regents said that the question of what it would mean to divest does not have a straight-forward answer.

“We need to be able to articulate to our students that are demanding divestment as to why it’s not so simple,” Regent Jose M. Hernandez said. "It’s not just a matter of selling a coupon and saying ‘okay, we don’t want this, so we’re going to invest in another company.’”

___

Austin is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Austin on the social platform X: @sophieadanna