Gaza genocide: End Sydney Uni’s links with global arms trade

March 8, 2024
University of Sydney students protest diverting resources to arms manufacturers. Photo: Honi Soir/Bipasha Chakraborty

In the face of Israel’s ongoing annihilation of Palestinian life in Gaza, we can only be deeply outraged.

Australia has sent $14.5 million of arms exports to Israel over the past six years. There is every likelihood that Palestinians are currently being murdered using technology developed in this country.

With the university system in Gaza completely destroyed, Palestinian academics and their students have directly appealed to their international colleagues to not be silent about genocide.

No one can be deaf to students like Israa Hmaid, a second-year nursing student at Al-Israa university in Gaza, which was destroyed by Israel in January.

Following this attack, Israa asked: “A new question was added to the questions haunting me since the start of war: where will we study? It will be added to other[s] like: where will we live? How will we eat and drink?”

The principle that a university should not be involved in enabling genocide is so obvious as to not require any argument. What is happening in Gaza is an affront to every value we claim to hold.

As University of Sydney staff, we have a responsibility to ensure that the institution to which we belong, and over which we therefore have some influence, is not complicit with the slaughter.

Unfortunately, there is little doubt that the university’s connections with the global arms industry give it a share of responsibility for the crimes being committed in Gaza.

In order for our university to discharge its stated commitments to education and global peace, these connections must be ended immediately.

Partnerships with military

What partnerships does the university have with the military-industrial complex?

The university has strong ties with the global arms industry, the full extent of which needs to be mapped.

Given Australia’s recent commitment to significantly increase its share of global arms exports and its membership of the AUKUS alliance, these ties are only set to increase.

The university’s most recently announced partnership, dating from November, is with the global weapons and military hardware manufacturer Safran, which collaborates with the Israeli weapons company Rafael.

The US Office of Naval Research, the US Army Research Office Laboratory for Physical Sciences, the US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, and Lockheed Martin all fund research in chemistry and physics.

A Linkage project is currently underway with the “defence” contractor L3Harris and the Defence Science Technology Group.

The university has received millions of dollars in grant funding from the Australia-US International Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (AUSMURI) — a partnership between the US Department of Defense and Australia’s Department of Defence.

AUSMURI funds the university’s research into additive manufacturing (3D printing) and nano-architectured materials. Disturbingly, the Australian government’s own website makes it clear that any research receiving AUSMURI grants must be directly on a topic designated by the military.

Other collaborations are likely to exist.

Special relationship with Thales

University management has a longstanding association with the multinational weapons systems manufacturer Thales, which describes itself as doing “whatever it takes” to help its customers “achieve and maintain security, tactical superiority and strategic independence in the face of any type of threat”.

Thales collaborates in drone production with Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit Systems; its stock price rose sharply following the start of the Israeli genocide in October.

In Australia, Thales is involved in the development and production of munitions, missiles, rocket motors, propellant and military explosives.

Thales directly funds PhD programs at the university in the areas of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, and Electrical and Information Engineering. It sponsors eight Engineering Sydney Industry placements. An extension to the university’s existing collaboration was signed in 2022: it allows the university and Thales to “embed” staff in each other’s organisations.

Thales also collaborates with researchers at the university’s Australian Robotic Inspection and Asset Management Hub (ARIAM) and at other organisations in which the university is a partner, like the Trusted Autonomous Systems Defence Cooperative Research Centre.

The university’s connections with Thales go to the highest level.

Belinda Hutchinson, the university’s chancellor, is a board member of Thales and was head of the Australian arm of the organisation from 2015 to 2023. Another university appointee, a former federal parliamentarian and now a Visiting Fellow at the United States Studies Centre, is chair of Thales’ advisory board.

End the misdirection of knowledge

What should happen?

Science should serve the cause of peace and human progress, not fuel the arms race by continually inventing more sophisticated means of death and destruction.

Weapons development is a perverse misdirection of the knowledge of researchers and their students, and a shocking waste of their talents.

These talents should be directed into making the world a better place, not into collaboration with profiteering weapons manufacturers. The technology produced by companies, such as Thales, typically has a diverse range of applications, not all of which are military ones.

Nevertheless, military applications are at the core of their business model. All research sponsored by weapons and “defence systems” manufacturers profits the global arms trade, whether or not it is directly arms-related.

As a result, university management should:

• Immediately disclose all the university’s partnerships with the “defence” industry and militaries.

• Immediately cut all partnerships and other ties with the military, Thales and other weapons manufacturers. Last year, RMIT ended its collaboration with the Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit Systems. Sydney University should do the same with Thales. No one needs to lose their job: the university is more than rich enough to continue to employ current staff without funding from weapons makers. 

• Require the Chancellor, the Visiting Fellow at the US Studies Centre and any other staff on the boards of weapons companies, to give up their position either with the company or with the university. There is no place for the arms trade on our campus.

The University of Sydney must not be complicit with the horror in Gaza, or with any of the militarism that disfigures the world.

[An earlier version of this article appeared in Rank and File Action Bulletin 12, 2024. Nick Riemer and Markela Panegyres teach at the University of Sydney and are active in the National Tertiary Education Union.]

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