Monday, February 16, 2009

Hampshire College did not divest from companies doing business in Israel...or did they?

Earlier today I posted the following:

Contrary to numerous reports by the usual suspects (here and here and here and here) Hampshire College, a liberal arts school in Amherst, Mass., has not divested any investments in response to anti-Israel activism.   A student group called Students for Justice In Palestine (a group which clearly knows the value of a huge wikipedia page filled with irrelevent propaganda, but not the importance of telling the truth) issued a press release falsely claiming that their campaign for divestment was succesful.  They and their friends are now relishing the resulting attention this false claim has brought.  At long last the divestment movement can claim a victory!  Let's see whether they -- and the media outlets who reported their claims without verification -- will now correct the record.

A Massachusetts college denied the claim of a pro-Palestinian student group that it divested from Israel.

The board of trustees of Hampshire College approved a proposal on Feb. 7 to divest school assets from an investment fund found to include 200 companies that violated the college's standards for social responsibility. Violations included unfair labor practices, environmental abuse, military weapons manufacturing and unsafe workplace settings.

The proposal resulted from a review prompted by a student group, Students for Justice in Palestine. The group named six companies it accused of profiting from or supporting Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Following the board decision, the pro-Palestinian students released a statement claiming that Hampshire is the first American college to divest from Israel.

But school officials say their decision had nothing to do with Israel. Three of the six companies failed a screen for socially responsible investing based on their sales of military equipment, employee safety record and other violations, according to a spokesman. Two of the companies named by the student group -- Motorola and Terex -- passed the screen, the spokesman said. A sixth company, United Technologies, was unlisted.

Divestment efforts and academic boycotts of Israel have largely failed, in the United States and abroad. A divestment push at Harvard University drew a rebuke from Lawrence Summers, then the university president and current Obama administration official. Summers said efforts to single out Israel for divestment are anti-Semitic "in their effect, if not their intent."

After further reflection, I need to correct a factual error in the original post, and ask a question about Hampshire College's denial.  First of all, the correction: Hampshire College apparently did divest in response to the petition of the anti-Israel group: they deny only that their rationale for divesting was the connection to Israel.   

My question for the college is this: if their reason for divesting was not due to the connection to Israel but to the other reasons they cited, have they singled out the investments specified on the list in the petition or have they applied the same standards across the board?   

If the college divested in response to the anti-Israel petition, but are doing so for other reasons, they have certainly created the impression that they support anti-Israel divestiture.  Their claim that such divestment is distinct from an overt anti-Israel action is false.  This may be a case of deliberate attempt to muddy the waters, or a case of inadvertent self-deception, but they certainly have to set the record straight and establish a firm policy which they apply universally.  Anything else would be a double-standard.

They need to clarify their position.

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