We write regarding RMIT’s partnership with the Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems.
As you will be aware, students, staff and members of the Australian public have expressed their grave concerns about this partnership.
Last week you received the attached letter from Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE) which represents some 6,000 Palestinian university academics and staff at more than a dozen higher education institutions in the occupied Palestinian territory calling on RMIT to end its ties with Elbit Systems. This letter outlines the reasons why these fellow academics deplore RMIT’s association with Elbit Systems.
Partnering with institutions or companies complicit in Israel’s apartheid regime contributes to prolonging Israel’s violent rule over Palestinians and comes with serious legal and moral concerns. And partnering with a company that works closely with that regime to produce weapons and repressive surveillance systems used against not only indigenous Palestinians but other oppressed communities around the world, takes those concerns to an entirely different level. The fact that RMIT states that this partnership is for the development of AI to be used for civilian use, does not in any way absolve RMIT from partnering with the company that produces 85% of the military drones used by Israel in assaults on civilians in Gaza.
We note that Professor John Thanharajah, Professor in Artificial Intelligence and Associate Dean of Computer Science and Software Engineering at RMIT states that he has worked directly on several research contracts with the Defence Science Technology group. We have no reason to believe that his work with RMIT doesn’t relate to research that Elbit is working on to further develop its drone technology for use by the Israeli and other military against civilians.
BDS Australia is campaigning to end all military ties with Israel and the companies which support the ongoing oppression, persecution and dispossession of Palestinians.
We will continue to campaign against RMIT’s partnership with Elbit. We are available to meet with you to further discuss this issue and look forward to your response.
Letter from the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE) to RMIT re Elbit collaboration
(This statement was co-ordinated by PACBI – the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel – https://bdsmovement.net/pacbi – which is part of the Palestinian led BDS movement. )
To the attention of:
Professor Alec Cameron, RMIT Vice Chancellor Dr Sharon Andrews, RMIT Academic Board Chair RMIT University Council Members RMIT University Student Union, c/o RUSU General Secretary Sheldon Gait Professor John Thangarajah, RMIT Associate Dean of Computer Science and Software Engineering
Subject: RMIT’s partnership with Elbit Systems
Dear Prof Cameron, Dr Andrews, Members of the University Council, RUSU, Sheldon Gait, and Prof Thangarajah,
We are writing to you as the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE), the principal faculty union in the occupied Palestinian territory. We represent 6,000 Palestinian university professors and staff at more than a dozen higher education institutions.
We were shocked to learn that the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) has partnered with apartheid Israel’s weapons producer, Elbit Systems. We urge you to suspend all collaboration with this company.
We would first like to explain our use of the term apartheid. Many of our members, and Palestinian scholars in general, have for decades studied and documented Israel’s regime of racial domination and systematic oppression of Indigenous Palestinians, concluding that it constitutes the crime against humanity of apartheid, as defined in international law. Recently prominent Israeli and international human rights organizations, includingAmnesty International, Human Rights Watch, andB’Tselem, have issued detailed reports coming to the same conclusion.
Partnering with institutions or companies complicit in Israel’s apartheid regime contributes to prolonging Israel’s violent rule over Palestinians and comes with serious legal and moral concerns.
Partnering with a company that works closely with that regime to produce weapons and repressive surveillance systems used against not only Indigenous Palestinians but other oppressed communities around the world takes those concerns to an entirely different level.
While not an international household name, Elbit Systems is certainly notorious among Palestinians, including our members.
Our faculty members in Gaza and their students have lived through repeated Israeli military assaults, including the most recent attack, which has killed at least 44 Palestinians, including 16 children, and damaged infrastructure including 1,600 homes and parts of Al Quds University. They know that Elbit Systems provides 85% of the military drones used by Israel in those assaults. They know that drones, mostly supplied by Elbit Systems, killed 164 Palestinian children in Gaza in 2014 alone. They know that during Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in May 2021, the Israeli Air Force dropped Elbit-produced MPR 500bombs on Palestinian civilians. They know the constant sound of Elbit drones buzzing in the skies of Gaza, interrupting their studies and research and exacerbating their traumas.
As those suffering under a purely man-made disaster, including an Israeli-imposed 15-year land, sea and air blockade made possible by Elbit technology, please understand that it will be of little interest to our members in Gaza that your particular project with Elbit Systems is reportedly for civilian use during natural disasters. This does nothing to alleviate the moral and legal concerns.
Our members know that the Israeli military chose Elbit Systems to produce its artillery cannons despite a German company winning the tender, over concerns that Germany would forbid the cannons from being used to fire cluster munitions. Our members know that Elbit Systems has no such concerns. In fact, Australia’s sovereign wealth fundexcluded Elbit Systems from its investment portfolio over allegations of involvement in the production of cluster munitions.
Our members stuck at crowded military checkpoints while trying to get to their university, or driving for hours to get around Israel’s apartheid wall that cuts through and annexes large swaths of the occupied Palestinian West Bank, know that Elbit Systems produces the surveillance technology used on that oppressive infrastructure to keep Palestinians caged in ever diminishing Bantustans.
Our members also know that Elbit Systems markets its weapons around the world, including to other oppressive regimes, as “battle-proven” and “field-tested.” Our members know that they are the subjects of those tests.
Our members know that Elbit Systems provides surveillance technology for the US wall on the border of Mexico backed by former president Donald Trump and specifically-built surveillance towers that violate the privacy and sovereign rights of the Tohono O’odhamNation. Our members know that cyber weapons produced by Elbit Systems and sold to Ethiopia were used to spy on opposition members.
In short, our members, and Palestinians as a whole, know that Elbit Systems provides the deadly technology enabling Israel’s apartheid rule and supports oppressive regimes around the world.
RMIT’s website includes a land acknowledgement statement and emphasizes its respect for Indigenous peoples of Australia.
We ask that you also show respect for Indigenous Palestinians living under Israel’s Elbit-powered regime of settler-colonialism and apartheid by ending RMIT’s collaboration with Elbit Systems. It is the only option if RMIT intends to uphold its commitment to “making a difference both locally and globally.”
Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees
BDS Australia condemns Melbourne’s RMIT University partnering with the Israeli arms company, Elbit Systems
Elbit Systems of Australia’s (ELSA) Centre of Excellence has teamed up with RMIT University and the Victorian Government to develop drone technology for civilian use.
This two-year partnership will undertake two joint research projects using drones to assist with mass evacuations during natural disasters and other emergencies.
BDS Australia maintains that partnering with Elbit for such projects is unconscionable given Israel’s use of Elbit drones and other weapons over many years against Palestinian civilians creating ongoing manmade disasters in Gaza and in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Elbit’s weapons have all been developed and ‘field tested’ for use against Palestinians – who are being progressively dispossessed from their lands and property by the apartheid Israeli government. Israeli forces use arms manufactured by Elbit Systems and its subsidiaries to commit serious violations of international law and Palestinian human rights.
In 2018 both HSBC and AXA Investment Managers divested from Elbit due to its involvement in the production and commercialization of cluster munitions and white phosphorus shells. In 2020, the City of Liverpool in the UK cancelled the Elbit-sponsored Electronic Warfare Europe arms fair on ethical grounds after a campaign of 40,000 emails protesting at the city’s involvement. More information here. In March 2022, Australia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Future Fund excluded Israeli arms manufacturer, Elbit Systems Limited from its investment portfolio because of allegations of its involvement in the production of cluster munitions.
BDS Australia calls on the Victorian state government, RMIT and the Australian federal government to abandon any association with Elbit.
Rejecting the Victorian Government’s and RMIT University’s support of the Israeli weapons manufacturer, Elbit Systems and Elbit Systems of Australia and demanding that all financial and other support and collaboration with this company and its Australian subsidiary, is withdrawn.
We are calling on the following people to reject Elbit due to its ongoing collaboration with the Israeli state’s illegal and violent oppression of Palestinians.
PAT CONROY MP, FEDERAL MINISTER FOR DEFENSE INDUSTRY DANIEL ANDREWS, PREMIER OF VICTORIA RMIT Academic Board Chair – Dr Sharon Andrews RMIT Professor John Thangarajah
Civil society organisations working for human rights for Palestinians and others welcome the news of Australia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Future Fund’s exclusion of Israeli arms manufacturer, Elbit Systems Limited from its investment portfolio because of allegations of its involvement in the production of cluster munitions.
The organisations call on the Future Fund as part of its duty to undertake responsible investment and human rights due diligence, to investigate its investment portfolio and divest from any entity involved in or complicit in serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights against the Palestinian people. Some of these serious violations include credible and well documented abuses which amount to serious crimes under international law, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Australia’s public funds should not be involved in furthering grave human rights abuses.
They further call on the Victorian Government to immediately cease its partnership with Elbit Systems Australia, a wholly owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems, to establish a research ‘Centre of Excellence’.
The organisations call on the Australian Government to suspend its defence cooperation with Israel and any facilitation of defence industry partnerships. These recommendations were supported by a coalition of Palestinian human rights organisations in a 2021 submission with the ACIJ to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which is currently conducting a feasibility study into a Free Trade Agreement with Israel.
The organisations are encouraged by the Australian Government’s rapid response to the crisis in Ukraine through implementing measures in responding to and condemning Russia’s illegal invasion and act of aggression in Ukraine. The Australian Government must respond similarly to Israel’s serious, decades long and continued violations of international law.
Executive Director of the Australian Centre for International Justice (ACIJ), Ms Rawan Arraf, said:
“The Victorian Government’s outrageous partnership with Elbit Systems should never have been made. We believe the Victorian Government either neglected to consider the human rights implications of the partnership, or ignored them outright. It’s a shameful partnership that must be suspended on account of Elbit’s complicity with serious human rights abuses and crimes under international law. If it continues, the Victorian Government will stand accused of complicity with international crimes.
“Further, the Australian Government’s eagerness to enhance defence industry cooperation and partnerships with Israeli defence firms has been forged in complete disregard of Australia’s international legal obligations, and respect for Palestinian human rights. All of these must end.”
Hilmi Dabbagh from BDS Australia said:
“BDS Australia sees the Future Fund’s divestment from Elbit as a milestone development which will have ramifications right throughout state and federal Australian governments, companies and academic institutions whose partnerships and trade with Elbit are highly problematic and in breach of international law.
“BDS Australia has been calling for an end to Australia’s ties with Elbit for many years and has seen the growth of a strong grassroots movement which in 2017 saw the Royal Flying Doctors end its association with this Israeli arms company. Most recently our campaigns in relation to the Victorian and federal Government’s associations with Elbit, have been met with silence from both governments but are strongly supported by growing numbers of people who want to see an end to Australia’s complicity with the apartheid regime of Israel.”
Bishop George Browning, President of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) said:
“Australia must not explore a free trade agreement with Israel and should halt all military trade while Israel continues its flagrant violations of international law. Israeli officials are under investigation by the International Criminal Court, demonstrating the seriousness of Israel’s crimes against Palestinians. Australia must not be complicit.”
Dr Sue Wareham, President of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW) said:
“The terrible Ukraine crisis has shown us that governments can act quickly when human rights are being grievously violated. We call for the same level of action to protect the Palestinian people who have long suffered from Israeli military aggression. There is no place in Australia for partnerships with companies, such as Elbit Systems, that are complicit in inflicting human harm.”
Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN)
Australian Centre for International Justice (ACIJ)
Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA)
Australian Palestinian Professionals Association (APPA)
Australian Students for BDS (ASBDS)
Australians for Palestine (AFP)
Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine (CJPP)
Federation of Italian Migrant Workers and their Families (FILEF)
Free Gaza Australia
Free Palestine Melbourne
Friends of Hebron (FOH)
Friends of Palestine WA (FOPWA)
General Union of Palestinian Workers (GUPW)
Justice for Palestine, Meanjin (Brisbane) (JFP)
Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia)
Elbit Systems is an Israeli based manufacturer of military, security and surveillance equipment and is widely known as a major research and development partner to Israel’s Ministry of Defence, who after the US Government, is its second biggest customer.
Elbit is known for its drones (UAVs) and land weapons.
In 2018 Elbit Systems completed its acquisition of Israel-state owned IMI (Israel Military Industries). IMI – which was merged into Elbit Systems Land manufactures and supplies a wide range of weapons, munitions, missiles, tanks and military technology to the Israeli military. Elbit is also a major partner to Israel’s police and Ministry of Interior. More information on Elbit can be found on WhoProfits.com.
Elbit Systems is excluded from many investment funds, pension funds and sovereign wealth funds worldwide including but not limited to:
NZ Super excluded Elbit Systems in 2012 for involvement in Israel’s illegal construction of the Annexation Wall in the occupied West Bank;
The Defence Department approved 187 permits for military exports to Israel in the six years to March 31, according to figures released under Freedom of Information (FOI).
The figures prompted questions about the ethics of Australia approving the export of weapons, military technology and other military goods to Israel, given its large number of documented violations of international human rights law in Palestine over decades.
“It is horrifying to learn that Australia is approving so many export permits to Israel – one of the most heavily militarised states in the world, which has been subjecting the Palestinian people to a brutal military occupation for over five decades,” said Rawan Arraf, Executive Director, Australian Centre for International Justice. “It’s highly likely then, that Australian goods are being used in aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity. We have a right to know what is being exported and to demand that it ends.”
However, when asked for details of what Australia has approved for export to Israel, Defence made clear its priority is protecting the commercial interests of the defence industry over transparency and being accountable to the Australian public for its decisions. A Defence spokesperson said, “Defence does not comment on individual export applications, assessments, goods or customers in order to protect commercially sensitive information and opportunities for Australian companies.”
BDS Australia joins the call for Australia to end all military ties with Israel and condemns the proposal by the government to a Free Trade Agreement with Israel. JOIN THE CAMPAIGN TO END ALL MILITARY TIES WITH ISRAEL
In July 2021 BDS Australia wrote to the Premier of the Victorian government, Daniel Andrews calling on him to reconsider its support for the Israeli arms manufacturer, Elbit Systems. We will post any response we receive regarding this letter.
The Hon. Daniel Andrews Premier of Victoria Level 1/1 Treasury Place, East Melbourne, VIC 3002 July 22, 2021
Dear Premier Andrews,
Re: Victorian government funding to Elbit AI Centre
We write on behalf of BDS Australia, a coalition of ten organisations nationally which is dedicated to informing and raising awareness in the Australian community in support of a just peace for the Palestinian people.
We do this primarily by organising and implementing Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) initiatives as part of the Palestinian led, international and peaceful effort to pressure the State of Israel to adhere to international law and human rights conventions in relation to its illegal actions and denial of Palestinian rights.
BDS Australia is deeply concerned about the Victorian Government’s support of Elbit Systems of Australia and the Melbourne based AI Centre of Excellence which this company is establishing. As you may be aware, Elbit Systems is Israel’s largest arms manufacturer and the primary supplier of the Israeli military and a key global manufacturer and exporter of drone and military surveillance technologies. Elbit Systems and its Australian subsidiary, Elbit Systems of Australia are deeply complicit in the actions of the Israeli government against civilian Palestinian populations, particularly in Gaza.
We have attached a Briefing Note prepared by one of our member organisations (CJPP), which includes information on why Australian states and the Australian federal government should not partner with this company.
We would also like to draw your attention to this comprehensive online resource on Elbit Systems by the American Friends Service Committee which is a Quaker organization that recommends Elbit for divestment and gives detailed evidence on why this conclusion has been reached.
The July 2021 edition of New Scientist reported on the use of ‘swarm drones’ in Israel’s most recent attack on Palestinians in Gaza in May this year. Local media reports indicated that these drones were supplied by Elbit and that this was the first operational use of this form of weaponry. The drone swarm gathered intelligence, carried out attacks as well as providing targeting information for guided mortar weapons according to the Israeli Defence Forces. Elbit Systems are notorious for advertising and selling their weapons as being ‘field tested’ or ‘battle proven’ and it is well documented that they are always ‘field tested’ on Palestinian civilians.
We note that the Victorian Government supports ‘high standards of ethical conduct and compliance with all applicable laws’ in its ethical procurement policy and ask whether the government applies a similar standard in relation to its support for businesses or companies especially weapons manufacturers such as Elbit Systems of Australia.
We draw your attention to the fact that Australia is a signatory to the UN Arms Trade Treaty of 2013, which was negotiated primarily due to concerns over violations of international humanitarian law and human rights that were occurring in various conflicts around the globe. The Israeli government’s violations of international law have been thoroughly documented over many decades as has its use of weapons manufactured by Elbit Systems. Given this evidence, we believe that the Victorian governmenthas an obligation to cease supplying funds or support to Elbit Systems of Australia.
We join with the international Stop Elbit campaign calling on governments to end all ties with Elbit, and we ask that you take urgent action to cancel the Victorian Government’s association with Elbit Systems of Australia.
We look forward to your response. BDS Convenor and Deputy Convenor
This website is maintained by BDS Australia, which is affiliated with the coalition of Palestinian organisations that leads and supports the BDS movement and by the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a BNC member organisation.