Duke’s publicly disclosed partnerships and financial ties with Israel, explained

Pro-Palestinian protesters are calling on Duke to disclose and divest from its holdings in Israel — but what exactly do these investments look like?

After reviewing publicly disclosed information on Duke’s investment portfolio, industry partnerships and contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense, The Chronicle identified financial ties with Israel and organizations supplying military aid to the nation, primarily for purposes of research and education.

University administrators across the nation are facing calls to disclose their ties to and divest from Israel, and Duke has not been immune to these demands.

In a walkout during the May 12 commencement ceremony, protesters called for Duke to boycott academic partnerships with Israeli universities and demanded that the University call for an immediate cease-fire. Since Oct. 20, protesters at pro-Palestinian demonstrations, in the form of vigils and protests, have called for Duke to divest from its investments in Israel.

Under the Board of Trustees Guideline on Investment Responsibility, members of the Duke community can call upon the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility to “review investment[s] that [are] engaged in activity considered morally abhorrent, such as apartheid, genocide or slavery.” If there is “broad and deep support across the Duke community,” ACIR will alert the University president, who will deliberate on the issue and potentially bring it before the Board for consideration.

The University did not respond to a request for comment about whether administrators have taken steps to accept divestment demands.

The Chronicle’s review of publicly disclosed financial information does not reflect contracts and partnerships that were unreported by the University. Duke is subject to complete annual tax reporting (IRS Form 990) that provides some details about its fund management but is not required to disclose all investment information.

Self-reported ties with Israel

In November 2023, Duke received $274,543 through a restricted contract from Israel reported to the U.S. Department of Education, which requires universities to self-report gifts or contracts with a foreign source greater than $250,000. The purpose of this contract is not specified and originates from a non-government source.

Duke media representatives did not return The Chronicle’s request for clarification about its contents. 

This is Duke’s only gift or contract from Israel reported between June 2020 and February 2024, the timeframe of the DOE’s reporting portal. It is also Duke’s only contract with the nation from data available under the DOE’s postsecondary education participants system, which reports “certain foreign gift and contract information” and includes Duke contracts dating back to 2014.

The contract represents a small monetary sum relative to other foreign governments' gifts. In 2023, Duke received over $161 million in gifts and contracts from foreign governments, with the Israeli contract accounting for 0.17% of this total. Meanwhile, Ireland and the United Kingdom granted Duke the largest total amounts in 2023, providing over $54 million and over $31 million in contracts and gifts, respectively.

Gifts from Israel made up a relatively small proportion of other peer institutions’ foreign gifts as well. For instance, Harvard received four contracts from non-government sources in Israel from 2021-23, worth $2 million in 2021, $2.29 million in 2022 and $1.56 million in 2023. These contracts accounted for 0.53%, 2.03% and 1.19% of their respective years’ total gifts. 

Meanwhile, Northwestern University received $4.85 million via eight non-governmental contracts from Israel in 2020 — 11.87% of its total disclosed foreign gifts that year. It received $595,752, $1.6 million and $1.5 million from other contracts in the following years. 

Columbia, the site of the April encampment that sparked protests nationwide, received four restricted research contracts totaling $1.32 million from non-government Israeli sources in 2021 — 2.73% of its reported foreign gifts that year. It also reported two $500,000 restricted gifts in 2022. 

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Vanderbilt University did not disclose any Israeli gifts or contracts from 2020 to 2023. 

Duke’s investments in capital markets

According to Duke’s financial statements, its investment assets totaled approximately $18.3 billion at the end of fiscal year 2023, with its endowment reaching $11.6 billion. These funds are diversified across multiple avenues, including fixed income, equities, hedged strategies, private capital and real assets. 

The Chronicle found little information within the University’s 990 tax forms about Duke’s foreign investments. Other investments cross-referenced on Pitchbook did not have meaningful ties with Israel. 

Duke’s investment and endowment assets are managed by DUMAC, Inc., formerly Duke Management Company, which has holdings valued at $1,380,943 in companies connected to Israel, either through business operations in the country or partnerships with companies that are targets of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. This makes up 4.26% of the total $32,403,550 in holdings DUMAC reported in its most recent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission outlining Quarter 2 of FY23.

The companies DUMAC filed are not BDS-listed targets themselves, top U.S. defense contractors, or part of a United Nations Human Rights Council 2020 list of companies that have raised “particular human rights concerns” throughout what the U.N. refers to as the “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” 

The University invested $772,275 into Arcos Dorados Holdings, an independent franchisee of McDonald's that operates McDonald's stores in Latin America and the Caribbean. Per the franchise business model, Arcos Dorados has a financial contract with McDonald’s, which became a boycott target for the BDS movement following its decision to provide free meals to Israeli forces after the Oct. 7 attack. 

DUMAC also invested $375,725 into Arm Holdings PLC, a British semiconductor and software design company with an office located in Ra’anana, Israel, that employs around 90 workers. 

Similarly, the University invested $232,943 into H World Group, a Chinese company that operates several hotel brands which do business in Israel. H World and its strategic partner, Accor, operate four hotels in Israel — two in the Jerusalem City Center and two in Tel Aviv.

Both Siemens Energy and RTX — previously known as Raytheon Technologies Corporation — maintain a recruitment presence on campus but do not have public financial ties with the University.   

Siemens, a German energy company, is a boycott target by BDS for its presence in the Israeli energy grid and other business operations in Israel. In fall 2023, Siemens representatives attended the Pratt School of Engineering and the department of computer science’s biannual recruiting event, TechConnect. The company was also represented at Duke’s all-industry career fair in fall 2023. 

RTX representatives were present at TechConnect in fall 2023 as well. The aerospace and defense manufacturing giant is known for its significant role in developing Israel’s missile defense system, the Iron Dome. RTX was the second-largest contractor of the U.S. military in 2023 and has been profiting from the government’s increased demand for munitions since the start of the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars.

Military partnerships

Some protesters on other campuses have also demanded their universities cut financial ties to companies within the military-industrial complex and organizations supplying military aid to Israel. 

As a research university, Duke receives awards from the Department of Defense, some of which have drawn in partnerships with private military contractors. The University's public ties with the DoD and military contractors are limited to research and development. 

During FY23, Duke reported receiving approximately $56 million from the DoD through contracts and grants. This comprises 4% of the $1.4 billion the University received from contracts, grants and similar agreements.

Most of the awarded amount pertains to biomedical research and development, with only $448,000 of the $56 million total categorized as defense or defense systems research spending.

About 76% of awarded contracts contributed to research and development efforts, and 98% of these R&D contracts were related to medical or general science research. The remaining contract money was given for educational services.

The department awarded Duke $17.78 million in sub-grants, which were also primarily for R&D purposes, such as medical research into the creation of RNA-based drugs to defend against influenza.

Duke received $3.84 million in sub-contracts. Around 82% of these contracts allocated money towards natural resource and conservation services. The remaining amount was for research and development, with $448,000 of the surplus $538,000 contributing to contracts for research on defense and defense systems that explored topics from brain-computer interface development to international crisis behavior research.

Ana Despa | Associate News Editor

Ana Despa is a Pratt sophomore and an associate news editor for the news department.

Audrey Wang profile
Audrey Wang | Data Editor

Audrey Wang is a Trinity senior and data editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 119.


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