Harvard University Law Professor Alan Dershowitz has rescinded his call for donors to withhold financial support for Hampshire College in Massachusetts after school leaders issued a statement insisting they have not and will not divest in companies doing business in Israel.
The statement from College President Ralph Hexter and Board of Trustees Chairman Sigmund Roos, came in the form of an open letter to Dershowitz. It said that Hampshire did not divest of all the companies targeted by the group "Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)." It also noted for the first time that the school continues to hold investments in Israeli businesses.
The controversy began Feb. 7, when Hampshire trustees voted to shift investments from dozens of companies in its portfolio because they did not meet the school's socially responsible investment policy. SJP claimed victory after the vote, saying Hampshire "has become the first of any college or university in the U.S. to divest from companies on the grounds of their involvement in the Israeli occupation of Palestine."
School officials denied the move was tied to Israeli policies but acknowledged their investment review was prompted by the SJP effort. Dershowitz issued an open letter demanding a clear statement from Hampshire, arguing the school seemed to be trying to have things both ways. He called on donors to withhold support from Hampshire until that happened:
"This divestment campaign has absolutely nothing to do with human rights. It is motivated purely by hatred for the Jewish state."
In their response, Hexter and Roos said the investment changes did not affect all six of the companies targeted by the students:
"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 [consultant] KLD screeners (and a third, it turned out, was not even listed as a constituent of the fund). As a consequence, stocks in these two companies (Motorola and Terex) — we speak unequivocally — remain among our holdings and will remain on our potential buy-list in accordance with KLD standards."
The consultants' review found 23 companies involved in making military weapons, seven dealing with Burma and Sudan, 197 with worker safety issues, 70 with "significant employment discrimination controversies" and 28 with poor environmental records, Hexter and Roos wrote.
"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. No other college or university should use Hampshire as a precedent for divesting from Israel, since Hampshire has refused to divest from Israel. Anyone who claims otherwise is deliberately misrepresenting Hampshire's decision and has no right to speak for the college."
Dershowitz welcomed the statement for providing the clarity he originally sought. He said he intended to resume support for Hampshire, where his son attended, and encourage others to join him:
"Hampshire has now done the right thing. It has made it unequivocally clear that it did not and will not divest from Israel.
Indeed, it will continue to hold stock in companies that do business with Israel as well as with Israeli companies, so long as these companies meet the general standards that Hampshire applies to all of its holdings.
As I previously wrote to President Hexter, if Hampshire did the right thing and made its position crystal clear I would urge contributors to continue to contribute to this fine school. I now do so."
See Dershowitz's full statement here.
The Anti-Defamation League's national director, Abraham Foxman, joined Dershowitz in praising the statement and indicating the issue is resolved:
"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."
SJP members and supporters don't see it that way. After all, Hexter credited their "good work" for prompting the examination of school investments. They still believe they accomplished their objective:
"The students brought six companies to the school's Board of Trustees that were profiting from the Israeli occupation. In the course of reviewing those companies the school also decided to divest from others, but this doesn't change the fact that the school divested from those six companies because of the occupation. From the Hampshire SJP website:
'The bottom line is that before February 7th, Hampshire College was invested in companies that directly profited from the occupation. Today, we are not. This is a direct result of pressure and efforts by SJP. However, we are glad that our anti-occupation movement also helped us divest from other bad companies.'"
Apparently not. Hampshire's emphatic statement to the contrary is welcome. But until it was issued, questions by Dershowitz and others about what exactly happened and why motivated it were valid. Hampshire might have avoided much of this unwanted attention had officials been this clear and this detailed all along.