Hampshire to Dershowitz: We didn’t divest because of occupation


In his conversation with us earlier this week, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz said he would call off his effort to divest from Hampshire College, in retaliation from the school’s divestment from a fund that included stocks of companies operating in Israel, if the school issued a clear statement saying it had rejected divestment from Israel and saying the students who claimed otherwise are wrong.

Now we have the following open letter from the Hampshire president and board chair. Think this will pass muster with the Dersh? (Full text available here)

Hampshire College did not divest from Israel or take the action it did because of Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians or its presence on the West Bank. At no time did the college or the board take actions or make statements motivated by anti-Semitism, bigotry and anti-Israelism.

Hampshire College has made a strenuous, good-faith effort to explain its decision to exit a problematic mutual fund. We make this effort again, without equivocation: Israel was not the cause for divestment from the State Street fund. As you know, last spring, the student group SJP, which is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, petitioned, as is its right, the community-based subcommittee (CHOIR) on responsible investing, which is a subcommittee of the investment committee, in turn itself a subcommittee of the finance committee of the board, asking that the college exit from one particular fund, State Street SSgA. The group claimed that six companies in the fund were supporting or profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. The companies were said to be Caterpillar, General Electric, ITT, Motorola, Terex and United Technologies. CHOIR passed a recommendation concerning these companies to the investment committee, in accordance with the board’s procedures.

The investment committee, however, expressly rejected this narrow focus, and instead sought to apply our own socially responsible investment policies. This cursory review suggested multiple problems — none of them having to do with Israel — in the fund, and also revealed the implementation inadequacies of the policy. The committee then turned to an outside, independent reviewer, KLD Research & Analytics, the gold standard for socially responsible investment screening, to look closely into the fund’s components. KLD’s review vetted companies for several possible red flags, including employment discrimination, environmental abuse, military weapons manufacturing, unsafe workplace settings, and dealings with Burma or Sudan. Twenty-three equities were found to violate the military weapons screen; four dealt with Burma and three with Sudan; 70 were involved in significant employment discrimination controversies; 28 were found to be environmentally problematic; and 197 were cited for employee safety issues. Some companies appeared in more than one screening category.

In sum, what KLD found was that of the fund’s 455 holdings, well over 200 raised significant concerns relative to Hampshire College’s socially responsible investment policy and were in violation of values of socially responsible investing. It was on this basis that the investment committee voted as it did to exit from the fund when an alternative fund has been identified. The decision was entirely unrelated to Israel or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, two of the six companies originally cited by students as problematic were given a clean bill of health on Hampshire’s policy by the KLD screeners (and a third, it turned out, was not even listed as a constituent of the fund).

At the risk of repetition, let us emphasize again that this review did not include Israel, its interaction with the Palestinians, nor its presence on the West Bank as tests for the stocks in this fund. Moreover, Hampshire currently holds investments in funds that include many hundreds of companies that do business in Israel and in at least three actual Israeli companies: Amdocs, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Check Point Software.


Sadly, though, there have been students and some members of our faculty who have mischaracterized what happened here, claiming that the board did something that it did not do. None is a member of the investment committee. We have great respect for our students and encourage their endeavors — academic, social, political. We very much want our campus to be a place for learning and for healthy debate from all points of view. But we are also clear, and urge you to understand us clearly, when we say that students do not speak for the college and may not willfully misrepresent the school. It will be, and must be, the college’s task to undertake any disciplinary action, according to its established rules and procedures. Discipline is an internal process that is not shared with the public.

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