Campus divestment drives from companies that fuel Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza are gaining steam. In the U.S, Hampshire College voted earlier in the month to divest from a fund that violated its ethical principles. In the UK on Feb. 16, London School of Economics students voted to divest from Israel as well.
The Boston Globe has reported that “Student activists at Hampshire College (in Massachusetts) are hailing a divestment decision by the board of trustees that they say makes the college the first in the country to break financial ties with companies specifically because they do business with Israel. But the college strenuously denies the move was politically motivated.”
Hampshire was also the first U.S. college to divest from South African in 1977.
The Boston Globe story related that “The campus group at the Amherst school, Students for Justice in Palestine, said it had pressured the board to divest from six companies because of human rights concerns in the Palestinian territories.
The group said it urged trustees to sell off holdings in a mutual fund run by State Street Global Advisors that invests in companies that ‘provide the Israeli military with equipment and services in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza.'”
Hampshire College staff say it wasn’t only about the occupation of Palestinian territories, or Israeli policies, though, they do say that ethical investing did play the determining role in the decision. According to Democracy Now, Hampshire College officials said “they reviewed the State Street fund after receiving a petition from the group, but the school said the divestment decision ‘did not pertain to a political movement or single out businesses active in a specific region or country.’ The trustees said they divested from the fund after learning the fund held stocks in more than 200 companies engaged in business practices that violated the college’s policy on ‘socially responsible investments.'”
Meeting minutes tell a slightly different story than the PR spin, though. Electronic Intifada reported that “meeting minutes from a committee of Hampshire’s Board of Trustees confirm that ‘President Hexter acknowledged that it was the good work of SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) that brought this issue to the attention of the committee.’ This groundbreaking decision follows in Hampshire’s history of being the first college in the country to divest from apartheid South Africa 32 years ago, a decision based on similar human rights concerns. This divestment was also a direct result of student pressure.”
At The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, which Rachel Corrie attended, members of Students Educating Students About the Middle East (SESAME) have been working on Evergreen’s investment criteria for several years. According to the SESAME website, Evergreen invests “donations made to the school in the University of Washington’s Consolidated Endowment Fund (CEF). The CEF is a mega fund, managing approximately 1.4 billion dollars and over 1,900 separate endowments, mostly from the University of Washington’s own schools and programs.” Through this fund, Evergreen is invested in Caterpillar, and likely other companies that would violate Hampshire’s ethics policy and several others. Caterpillar produces a line of D9 and D10 bulldozers that are militarized for use against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
SESAME says that “Currently, the Olympia CAT Campaign is drafting a resolution demanding transparency of these investments.” To see more about Caterpillar’s culpability in Gaza war crimes, see the Center for Constitutional Rights factsheet on home demolitions and Caterpillar.
Electronic Intifada identified the six corporations that Hampshire College cut ties with who “provide the Israeli military with equipment and services in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip are: Caterpillar, United Technologies, General Electric, ITT Corporation, Motorola and Terex. Furthermore, our policy prevents the reinvestment in any company involved in the illegal occupation.”
In the United Kingdom
In a statement issued by the Student Union at the London School of Economics, the students said “Divestment is a non-violent strategy that was utilized worldwide during the anti-apartheid campaigns against the white South African apartheid regime during the 1980s. In recent years, peace activists and human rights advocates worldwide have used the same technique to challenge what has been called Israel’s apartheid system against the Palestinians.”
The Union voted to divest until the companies either pull out of Israel, “or until Israel ends its systematic human rights abuses and illegal occupation of Palestinian land.”