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Mass. college denies Israel divestment

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NEW YORK (JTA) — 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."

In May, the United Methodist Church rejected five separate petitions calling for divestment from companies that support or profit from the Israeli occupation, a move that drew praise from Jewish organizations.

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