College denies divesting over IDF ties

Student group: Hampshire College divested from companies whose products benefited the army.

Nilin protest Border police 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
Nilin protest Border police 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
A pro-Palestinian student group at Hampshire College in western Massachusetts irked the college administration by disseminating a message on-line Thursday congratulating the school for becoming the first US college to divest from companies benefitting the "Israeli occupation of Palestine." Matan Cohen, a member of the college's Students for Justice in Palestine organization and the former co-founder of the far-Left Israeli group Anarchists Against the Wall, insisted the divestment from a State Street corporation fund, which holds stock in the six companies in question, marked a dramatic first step toward an "international movement" of divestment from Israel. An SJP statement insisted the group had "pressured Hampshire College's Board of Trustees to divest from six specific companies due to human rights concerns in occupied Palestine. Over 800 students, professors and alumni have signed SJP's 'institutional statement' calling for the divestment." The statement had spread widely across pro-Palestinian blogs within hours of its publication on Thursday. Such a move by the small Massachusetts college would have dramatic symbolic power, as Hampshire was the first US college to divest from the apartheid regime of South Africa in the late 1970s. But the college's director of communications, Elaine Thomas, insisted the message spread on-line was incorrect. In a "statement of clarification" sent by Thomas to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday evening, the college's president, chairman of the board of trustees, and dean of faculty insisted the decision to divest from State Street had been made because the fund had been found by an outside consultant to hold stocks in "well over 100 companies engaged in business practices that violate the college's policy on socially responsible investments. These violations include: unfair labor practices, environmental abuse, military weapons manufacturing, and unsafe workplace settings." The statement acknowledged that the Board of Trustees' initial review of the college's State Street holdings had been based on a complaint by Students for Justice in Palestine about six companies doing business in Israel. But the college's top leadership insisted the "decision expressly did not pertain to a political movement or single out businesses active in a specific region or country. No other report or interpretation of the actions of February 7, 2009 by the Hampshire College board of trustees is accurate." The six companies that earned the SJP's disapproval were Caterpillar, United Technologies, General Electric, ITT Corporation, Motorola and Terex. They sell products in Israel used both by the military and by civil and commercial sectors of society. Asked if the SJP would encourage the college to divest from companies providing similar "dual-use" products in Gaza that assist Hamas's fighting efforts, Cohen replied, "the bottom line is that we as an institution have money invested in the Israeli occupation. We do not have money in Hamas. So it's a non-issue."