Nish Kumar withdraws from Hay Festival due to sponsors’ financial ties to Israel

Nish Kumar, the cartoonist and performer, has withdrawn from the Hay Festival in protest over one of its main sponsors’ financial ties to Israel.

Grace Blakeley, the economic commentator, has also pulled out of an event she was due to headline at the festival, sparking fears that dozens of other artists and writers could follow suit.

Kumar and Blakeley have said they object to Hay’s sponsorship deal with Baillie Gifford, an investment firm with ties to Israel.

The company, which campaigners say has almost £10 billion worth of companies linked to Israel’s defence, technology and cyber security industries including Nvidia, Amazon and Alphabet, has come under fire from pro-Palestinian activists after it began Gaza conflict and Israel’s response. to the October 7 attacks by Hamas.

More than 600 writers and publishing professionals have signed a statement from campaign group Fossil Free Books (FFB) demanding Baillie Gifford “divest from the fossil fuel industry and companies that profit from Israeli apartheid, occupation and genocide”.

Kumar confirmed his decision on Thursday when he reposted the FFB statement on X, formerly Twitter, before adding: “Sad to say that I am withdrawing from Hay to support this campaign. I love the festival and the people who work there, but this was the right decision for me.”

The growing boycott of Hay comes after Dawn Butler, the Labor MP, pulled out of her planned appearance at the festival due to Baillie Gifford’s sponsorship.

The move risks marring one of Britain’s best-known and most respected book festivals, which has attracted hundreds of best-selling and groundbreaking authors since its inception in 1988.

Ms. Butler said in a video on

Noreen Masud and AK Blakemore, the writers, Tori Tsui, the climate activist, and Ania Magliano, the comedian, have also withdrawn from the festival, which started on Thursday.

‘Profit from fossil fuels’

Ms Blakemore said the publishing sector “should not be used to gain prestige by companies profiting from fossil fuels or the ongoing attack on Palestine”.

Hay has defended his sponsorship ties with Baillie Gifford.

In a statement, Julie Finch, CEO of Hay Festival Global, said: “Like many charities, we are operating under enormous financial uncertainty. Sponsorship is a complex ethical space to navigate.

“Across all our funding arrangements, we maintain editorial independence with a focus on achieving our charitable mission. We believe that ideas can change the world and bring diverse voices together to listen, talk, debate and create, tackling the biggest political, social and environmental challenges of our time. We believe more than ever that creating spaces to listen, talk and debate is crucial to finding solutions to our shared problems.”

It added: “This week, Fossil Free Books issued a statement asking authors to boycott our next edition in protest against one of our sponsors, Baillie Gifford, and their investment portfolio. Their statement has been disputed by Baillie Gifford.

“We have asked Baillie Gifford for additional information and continue to work to protect our events as free and respectful platforms for the exchange of ideas. We remain committed to reaching the widest possible audience with our work and presenting unique events in the heart of rural Wales.”

Baillie Gifford also sponsors the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Cheltenham Literature Festival and the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction. The Edinburgh Book Festival has confirmed that both Ms Blakemore and Ms Masud were invited, but neither will appear.

Multinational technology companies

In a statement, Baillie Gifford refuted the accusations made by pro-Palestinian activists, saying: “The suggestion that Baillie Gifford is a major investor in the occupied Palestinian territories is seriously misleading.

“We are major investors in several multinational technology companies, such as Amazon, NVIDIA and Meta (our clients have invested approximately $19 billion in these three), which have commercial relationships with the State of Israel that are small in the context of their overall business. Virtually every consumer and investor in the developed world uses the services of these companies.

“We are also small investors in three companies identified as having operations in the occupied Palestinian territories, namely AirBnB, Booking.com and Cemex (approximately $300 million invested in these three). We strive to responsibly analyze and interact with the companies we invest in. This work is still ongoing and progress has been made.

“By deliberately merging these two categories, one of which is 63 times larger than the other, activists are painting an inaccurate picture and attempting to mislead the public.”

The Edinburgh-based investment firm added: “We are a private company that manages other people’s money, not our own. In our highly regulated industry there are some absolute ethical boundaries that we follow, as do all UK asset managers. These relate to national laws, regulations and sanctions. When it comes to subjective ethical situations involving sectors (such as fossil fuels) or countries (such as Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories), our clients set the parameters and determine what to exclude or divest. We are unable to make such exclusions based on our own ethical judgments or in response to pressure from outside groups.”

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