Hampshire College Divests from Israeli Occupation

By Schaeffer-Duffy, Claire | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Hampshire College Divests from Israeli Occupation


Schaeffer-Duffy, Claire, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


STUDENT activists and officials at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA dispute the significance of the college's recent decision to divest from a mutual fund whose holdings include six corporations involved in Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.

On Feb. 7, Hampshire's Board of Trustees voted to withdraw its assets from a fund run by State Street Global Advisors.

A campus group, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), hailed the decision as a "landmark move" and attributed it to their two-year campaign to pressure the college to divest from six specific companies due to human rights concerns in the occupied territories. The student activists said they were responding to "a call from Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) as a way of bringing non-violent pressure" on Israel "to end its violation of international law."

More than 800 students, professors and alumni at the small liberal arts college, whose student population numbers 1,350, signed a petition specifically recommending the college divest from companies that contribute to the Israeli military occupation of Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the construction of the Separation Wall, or "violent acts that target either Israeli or Palestinian civilians."

"By divesting from these companies, SJP believes that Hampshire has distanced itself from complicity in the illegal occupation and war crimes of Israel," declared the students in a press release celebrating the Feb. 7 vote.

Hampshire officials denied any political motivation behind the divestment vote. In a "statement of clarification" posted on the college's Web site, Hampshire's president, board chairman and dean of faculty insisted that the decision to withdraw assets from the State Street fund was made "without reference to any country or political movement."

While officials acknowledged that SJP's petition had prompted a review of the State Street fund, they said Hampshire divested because an outside consultant discovered the fund held stocks in "200-plus companies engaged in multiple violations of the college's investment policy." These violations included unfair labor practices, environmental abuse, military weapons manufacturing, and unsafe workplace settings. "No other report or interpretation" of the Feb. 7 vote "is accurate," according to the college statement.

But minutes from an Aug. 28 meeting of the college's investment subcommittee record members voting to divest only from Caterpillar, Terex, Motorola, ITT, United Technologies, and General Electric.

"A week ago, Hampshire College was invested in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Today, the college is no longer complicit."

All six corporations provide the Israeli military with equipment and services in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and are among companies recommended for divestment by the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church. …

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