Hampshire College Divests From Israel

Hampshire College in Massachusetts is believed to be the first American college to divest from companies that support Israel, the JTA reports.

The board of trustees of the Massachusetts college approved a proposal on Feb. 7 that would 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 of the college's investments conducted at the urging of a student group, Students for Justice in Palestine.

According to the student group, six companies deemed to be complicit in the Israeli occupation were included in the divestment. They are Caterpillar, United Technologies, General Electric, ITT Corp., Motorola and Terex.

But the Jerusalem Post reports that the college, which was the first American college to divest from South Africa over apartheid, has denied divesting because of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

In a "statement of clarification" sent by [Hampshire's Director of Communications Elaine 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."