Dershowitz backtracks in divestment flap

Law professor says he'll contribute to Hampshire College after school issues a clarification.

dershowitz 224  (photo credit: AP)
dershowitz 224
(photo credit: AP)
Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz has backtracked on his criticism of a New England college after a flap over its investments in companies that do business in Israel. Dershowitz, who has been a vocal campaigner against anti-Israel campaigns on US campuses, accused Hampshire College last week of "caving in" to a student group that had petitioned for divestment from six companies that provide equipment to Israel Defense Forces. The college has denied that its Feb. 7 announcement that it would exit a market index fund, run by State Street, was due to concerns stemming from the Israel-Palestine conflict. "It was not because they were involved with Israel," Hampshire College president Ralph Hexter told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. Dershowitz said in a statement that he was glad the college had made it "unequivocally clear" that it was not singling out Israel with its investment practices, and said he planned to make a contribution to the school to underwrite the presentation of "reasoned debate" about Middle East issues. "What I condemned and continue to condemn is the singling out of Israel for divestment, unwarranted condemnation or any other sanction," Dershowitz said. The decision to withdraw from the State Street fund followed a broad review by the college's investment committee, which found the index included 200 companies that violated college policies on socially responsible investing, including some that did business in Sudan and Burma, that were involved in arms manufacturing, or that were suspected of employment discrimination or environmental abuses. The review was initially triggered by a petition filed by an on-campus group, Students for Justice in Palestine, which demanded divestment from "corporations that directly profit from the occupation." The group's concerns centered on Caterpillar, Motorola, ITT Corporation, Terex, General Electric and United Technologies, all of which do business with the Israel Defense Force. Hexter said the committee that initially received the complaint forwarded the students' concerns to the college's main investment committee. The screening commissioned by that panel did not include checks on whether companies were doing business in Israel, Hexter said. "The investment committee did its job, in my view," Hexter told the Post. He blamed the student group for misleading the press by issuing a statement congratulating the board for becoming "the first college in the United States to divest from the Israeli occupation!" "I'm disappointed that the students took it upon themselves to represent the issue entirely falsely," Hexter said. Hampshire, a liberal-arts college in Massachusetts, was the first US college to divest from South Africa in the late 1970s in protest of the apartheid regime. The college remains invested in at least three Israeli companies, including Amdocs, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Check Point Software, Hexter said. Other groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, congratulated the college for publicly rejecting the student group's claims. "In their zeal to demonize Israel, some Hampshire students and others among Israel's detractors engaged in a deliberate campaign to mischaracterize Hampshire College's decision," said ADL head Abraham Foxman in a statement. Hexter said there were no disciplinary proceedings against the students but did not rule out the possibility of future action.