Hampshire Is First to Divest

The Hampshire College Board of Trustees voted to transfer assets from a fund that invests in corporations that contribute to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, making Hampshire the first institution of higher education in the U.S. to divest.

A range of organizations came out in Amherst, Mass., on February 7 in solidarity with the people of Gaza. (SW)

A range of organizations came out in Amherst, Mass., on February 7 in solidarity with the people of Gaza. (SW)

This historic decision came as a result of from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group formed at Hampshire in 2006. According to a statement from Sigmund Roos, chair of the Board of Trustees, the board reviewed the college’s investments to address a petition from SJP.

Among the corporations that Hampshire will divest from are United Technologies, which produces Blackhawk helicopters and engines for F-15 and F-16 fighter jets that Israel uses to kill Palestinians, and Caterpillar, which supplies Israel with bulldozers that the Israel Defense Force (IDF) uses to destroy Palestinian homes, orchards and olive groves in clearing land for illegal settlements and the “Separation Barrier” apartheid wall.

The petition in support of divestment was signed by over 800 Hampshire students, faculty and alumni (on a campus with under 1,500 students). It was the product of a two-year campaign that included educational events such as film screenings and lectures, “mock walls” simulating life in the occupied West Bank, and interactive forums.

SJP explained the reasons for its actions in a statement:

Traditionally, Hampshire College has advocated for the oppressed. In 1977, Hampshire College was the first college in the U.S. to divest from apartheid South Africa. In 2001, Hampshire was the first college to object to the war in Afghanistan.

In this spirit and in light of the fact that the Israeli occupation is the longest ongoing occupation since World War II, we state our objection to the oppression of the Palestinian people. The Hampshire community hereby declares its commitment to work toward the end of this occupation. Furthermore, we call upon Israel to end its policies of discrimination and to respect international law and Palestinian rights, including the right to self-determination. We support the Palestinian right to resist the occupation in accordance with international law.

In recent weeks, the SJP at Hampshire joined with students from area colleges and the community in the recently formed Pioneer Valley Coalition for Palestine, which organized protests against the Israeli bombing and ground assault in Gaza that killed over 1,300 people, including hundreds of children. The protests, on January 10 and February 7, drew hundreds of people each time.

The banner at the front of the February 7 march proclaimed “From Amherst to Gaza: Abolish Racism.” That was a reference to the “Justice for Jason” movement against the prosecution of University of Massachusetts Amherst Jason Vassell for defending himself from racist attackers. It was also meant to express the links between racism against African Americans and the Islamophobia used to justify the occupation of Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The rallies were the largest antiwar actions in Amherst in recent years and were heavily attended by Arabs and Muslims. Student activists from SJP, Palestine solidarity organizations on other local campuses, the Campus Antiwar Network, the UMass Muslim Students Association and the International Socialist Organization added their voices to the call for divestment from Israel.

SJP hopes their success will be an inspiration and a call to action for others who support justice for the people of Palestine. With students occupying buildings and winning concessions in support of Palestine across Britain–and now in the U.S. at the University of Rochester, divestment at Hampshire College is an important victory for a growing movement.

Building a movement that calls on U.S. institutions to divest from Israel is a key component of the struggle for justice for the people of Palestine.

The ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 to make possible to foundation of the state of Israel and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that began in 1967 have created a horrific reality for Palestinians, which anti-apartheid activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu described after a 2003 visit as “much like what happened to us Black people in South Africa.”

Israel’s illegal occupation and slaughter of innocents would not be possible without the vast funding and political support it receives from the U.S. government. Israel has been the top recipient of U.S. foreign aid for years–a total of more than $100 billion since 1948, over half of which is military aid.

Hampshire College’s divestment of funds from Israel has set a precedent for a movement that could play an important role in ending apartheid in Israel.

Hampshire played a similar leading role in the struggle against apartheid South Africa. In 1977, students in the Committee for the Liberation of Southern Africa occupied the college’s administrative offices. They won their demands, and Hampshire became the first U.S. college to divest from apartheid South Africa.

By 1982, similar struggles won divestment at other colleges and universities, including the nearby Umass Amherst, the University of Wisconsin, Ohio State University and the entire University of California system (which withdrew $3 billion in investments). By 1988, over 150 institutions had divested from South Africa.

By the end of the 1980s, as well, dozens of cities, states and towns across the U.S. had put in place some form of economic sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Inspired by the resistance of Black South Africans, the U.S. movement pressured Congress to pass (over a veto by President Ronald Reagan) sanctions against the racist regime. The solidarity movements around the world provided important support to the struggle of Black South Africans that defeated apartheid.

Hampshire College’s role in the campus anti-apartheid movement was an inspiration and a tool for SJP’s movement for divestment from corporations that support Israeli apartheid, according to SJP member Brian Van Slyke. “That Hampshire was the first college to divest from apartheid South Africa was really a rallying cry for us on this campus,” he said.

Hampshire SJP is hosting a rally outside the campus library at Noon on February 13 to celebrate this historic victory and have an open discussion about the next steps for the movement for justice in Palestine.

According to Van Slyke, these include defending this gain by “getting the word out to other activists and community organizers” to “make sure that people like [rabid pro-Israel supporter] Alan Dershowitz don’t succeed in smearing us or shutting us down.” SJP members plan to continue organizing to push for Hampshire to provide resources for an exchange with Palestinian students.

SJP has received numerous invitations from activists on other campuses and is considering sending members on a tour to share the story of their victory and the lessons they’ve learned to inform and inspire other students to push for and win divestment from Israel.

“SJP has proven that student groups can organize, rally and pressure their schools to divest from the illegal occupation,” SJP said in a press release. “The group hopes that this decision will pave the way for other institutions of higher learning in the U.S. to take similar stands.”

Gary Lapon is an activist and political cartoonist in Western Massachusetts. He can be reached at: glapon@gmail.com. Read other articles by Gary.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on February 13th, 2009 at 9:49am #

    this is very good news. we hope that the ripples and waves will become tsunamis.
    glad to know that US cannot delude all amers. thnx

  2. Gary Lapon said on February 13th, 2009 at 9:55am #

    Please note that this was originally published at Socialistworker.org

  3. Ugly Deaf Muslim Punk Gurl! said on February 13th, 2009 at 11:10am #

    So student organizations CAN bring change to campus after all! Great news.

  4. kalidas said on February 13th, 2009 at 3:21pm #

    And as expected, Alan Dershowitz, anti-Semite #1, has called for much hang wringing, teeth nashing and unprecedented wailing.


  5. Shabnam said on February 13th, 2009 at 3:58pm #

    Jean Bricmont has correctly analyzed how Palestinian massacre has been ignored by the ‘left’ for such a long time. He writes:
    {At each new war waged by the West, certain leftist or pacifist movements fall back on a “neither-nor” position. “Neither Milosevic nor NATO”, “Neither Bush nor Saddam”, and, now, rejecting both Israel and Hamas in the same breath.
    In all these cases, there is a triple problem.
    •We ignore the difference in the relationship of forces.
    •The aggressor and the aggressed are treated in the same way.
    •And, worst of all, we act as though we were outsiders, above it all, whereas our governments are obviously not. }


    These closet Zionists used their positions and have successfully prevented any action against Israel including sanction, divestment and boycott.
    This tactic is used on Iran as well and majority of the ‘left’ in the west dominated by the closet Zionists in the position of ‘leadership’ of the ‘left’ organizations or party including Green Party, Campaign for Peace and Democracy and HOPI with a misleading slogan such as ‘Neither Imperialist war, nor theocratic regime’ implementing the neocon foreign policy of ‘regime change.’ Louis Proyect has criticized Joanne Landy, from the ‘peace and democracy ‘ whose political activity, from the ‘left’, most helpful to CIA agenda. He writes On Joanne Landy one of the supporters of HOPI and co-director of Campaign for Peace and Democracy:

    {She also makes the record that she too is opposed to Iran having nuclear weapons, even though Israel has between 2 and 3 hundred. To reduce the threat of nuclear war in the Middle East, “a new democratic U.S. foreign policy” is required. In keeping with the generally moralistic posture that characterizes the “third camp,” there is not the slightest inkling of how such a policy can be realized, especially in light of the deepening bellicosity of the US ruling class and its two parties. Perhaps George W. Bush will read the open letter, slap his forehead and cry out, “Why hadn’t I considered this before?” Nor is there much likelihood that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be moved by these words.}

    Majority of these closet Zionists are responsible for lack of knowledge among not only members of the ‘left’ in general, but also among the population at large to protect Zionist’s interest. Iranian fools have been misled by the closet Zionists for a long time are waking up slowly but surely.

  6. Max Shields said on February 13th, 2009 at 4:01pm #

    Great news. Perhaps (hopefully) a movement afoot.

  7. Shabnam said on February 13th, 2009 at 4:03pm #

    The link to Louis Proyect’s quote on Joanne Landy and more:


  8. Thuv Lok said on February 13th, 2009 at 7:17pm #

    The Administration does not speak for the students behind this movement ::



  9. Juan said on February 13th, 2009 at 9:58pm #

    Feb 12, 2009 20:31 |
    College denies divesting over IDF ties

    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.”
    Israeli group Anarchists…

    Israeli group Anarchists Against the Wall organizes protests against the security barrier, such as this protest at the Palestinian village of Ni’lin [illustrative photo].
    Photo: Ariel Jerozolimksi
    Slideshow: Pictures of the week

    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.”

  10. Gary Lapon said on February 14th, 2009 at 1:50pm #

    I think the Hampshire administration is trying to dodge the issue here. It’s clear that the pressure they exerted is behind Hampshire’s decision to divest, as Hampshire has explicitly said they reviewed the finances because of SJP’s actions. Check out SJP’s response at: http://www.hsjp.org

  11. Msgr. Carl Rosen, O.C.OC. said on February 14th, 2009 at 7:59pm #

    Msgr. Carl Rosen.

  12. Elric66 said on February 15th, 2009 at 12:15am #

    Why dont you leftists care about the genocide in Sudan? Oh yeah, no Jews involved, just muslims killing black people, nothing to worry about.

  13. Barry said on February 18th, 2009 at 4:55pm #

    Elric – Leftists do care about the genocide in Sudan. There are a number of reasons why any genocide may be given more attention than another. In the case of Sudan, the US provides neither side with annual dollops of aid and diplomatic cover in the UN. But the US has provided Israel with both these luxuries for more than 40 years. And most of us here are, after all, US citizens, and tax-payers to boot. We feel it is our right to petition and reform our government on this matter.

    And by the way, in Sudan, both sides are black by usual definitions.

  14. Gary Lapon said on February 18th, 2009 at 6:28pm #

    Barry is right. The struggle for freedom in Palestine is not about anti-Semitism or attacking Jews, it’s about basic issues of self-determination, human rights and dignity, and justice. And the role of the US government in being the major economic and political backer of the Israeli state is a major reason why the role of activists in the US is so important in ending Israeli apartheid.