Hampshire College, having been the first college to divest in apartheid South Africa, is now the first college to divest in companies whose practices support Israeli apartheid. This all came about after a two year campaign by students, and a lengthy petition drive, culminating in the Board of Trustee’s decision at this month’s meeting, to remove investments from specific companies doing business with the apartheid regime.
While human rights advocates and the students themselves assert that Hampshire College has divested in apartheid Israel, the Board of Trustees has a very different account. The Board did acknowledge the contribution of Students for Justice in Palestine for bringing the matter to the attention of the trustees and that the decision came about because of this pressure. But it goes on to say that the Israeli policy was not the target of the divestment decision, but rather the overall inconsistencies of the policies and actions of certain companies with Hampshire’s policy of socially responsible investing.
Many are disappointed with the Trustees for their lack of candor regarding this decision, but the statement of the trustees raises some important points and strategies. Critics of Israeli policy are often accused of “singling out Israel” and therefore for being “anti-semitic” or “anti-Israel;” holding Israel up to a standard that other countries aren’t held to. But in this case, the college would be singling out Israel if it DIDN’T divest, which is actually what the advocates for Israeli hegemony assert; that Israel should be immune to criticism that would be levied against any other country behaving in a similar manner.
None of these attempts at all thwarted Israel’s defenders, including Harvard law professor and parent of a Hampshire College Alumnus, the shameless Alan Dershowitz, leading the call for divestiture from Hampshire College. The college responded with a letter to “Dear Alan,” posted on the home page of Hampshire web page, denying the statements of the student group, stating:
“The group (HSJP) claimed that six companies in the fund were supporting or profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. The companies were said to be Caterpillar, General Electric, ITT, Motorola, Terex and United Technologies…. (a subcommittee of the board) passed a recommendation concerning these companies to the investment committee, in accordance with the board’s procedures.
The investment committee, however, expressly rejected this narrow focus, and instead sought to apply our own socially responsible investment policies. This cursory review suggested multiple problems — none of them having to do with Israel — in the fund, and also revealed the implementation inadequacies of the policy.”
Many unions, universities and employee pension funds have socially responsible investing policies but recoil at the thought of divestiture from companies doing business with the apartheid Israeli regime because of fear of loss of endowment donations; for fear that their consistent application of social responsibility will be met with enormous pressure and resistance.
While refusing to ally with the students, the Board of Trustees, did make the right decision regarding divestiture; consistent with and defendable because of an overall policy of human rights and social responsibility, and despite pressure, so far has stuck to that decision. Hampshire College has once again, in response to enormous and diligent student activism and pressure, taken the leadership in what will undoubtedly be the beginning of a long and victorious campaign for social justice.
Emma Rosenthal is an alum of Hampshire College from the South Africa anti-apartheid era.
For more information:
Hampshire College Students for Justice in Palestine.
STATEMENT OF CLARIFICATION REGARDING TRUSTEES’ ACTIONS ON COLLEGE INVESTMENTS
Open Letter to Alan Dershowitz