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Hampshire Divests from Israel?
February 17, 2009 8:12 AM   Subscribe

Did Hampshire College Become the First to Divest from Israel? It is being reported that Hampshire has divested from 6 corporations that provide Israel with military equipment and services in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza. Students for Justice in Palestine claim success. But the University claims that the decision had "nothing to do with Israel." This move is being hailed as a landmark victory by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign which calls on "people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era."
posted by lunit (45 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hamas also claims victory every time they are routed.
posted by Krrrlson at 8:28 AM on February 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Here's Hampshire's statement.
posted by lunit at 8:32 AM on February 17, 2009


At the 2003 Hampshire commencement the student speaker was a Palestinian who advocated for exactly this. To say that it was a controversial speech would be to put it mildly. The tent was pin-drop quiet for the duration of the speech and when it was over it got loud cheers from some parts and silence from others. I remember, later that night, hanging out with friends when one of them asked a group of 10 of us or so: “Uh… I support Israel. Do you?” An awkward conversation followed, with the consensus being, roughly, that while people supported Israel, things were out of hand.

Later that spring I was staying with a friend of mine for a couple of days before my flight left for Iceland. At one point the subject of the commencement comes up and my friend’s mother says that after the commencement she called Hampshire up and said she’d never give them a single dime because of that speech. She got very emotional talking about it.

I’m not surprised that Hampshire College is of two minds on this. Personally I think that divesting from business that supply any military is a good move on the part of an institution of higher learning.
posted by Kattullus at 8:32 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I remember 'divest from Israel' campaigns at universities back in the early 90s. If one university is all they have to show for almost two decades of effort, and the university is claiming that they're not divesting for political purposes, that's... what's the equivalent of 'damning with faint praise' in tiny victories after a long string of defeats?
posted by fatbird at 8:32 AM on February 17, 2009


I presume they are worried about being called anti-semites, and it's easier to just do nothing.

I think the apartheid-divesting back in the day was more successful.
posted by smackfu at 8:47 AM on February 17, 2009


Ah, precious golden memories of my fellow 80s students demanding that their schools divest from South Africa. Now a new generation of entitled young men and women have found a cause for their own glib, impotent posturing.

The circle of life...
posted by Joe Beese at 9:22 AM on February 17, 2009


what's the equivalent of 'damning with faint praise' in tiny victories after a long string of defeats?

"Slowly making progress"?

posted by DU at 9:23 AM on February 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think the apartheid-divesting back in the day was more successful.

Yes, because if there was one thing P.W. Botha feared, it was American university students.

I'm sure the let's-not-call-it-a-civil-war-even-though-it-really-is war in the country had little to do with it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:40 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


You Have Moved on, But the Injured and Burned Children of Gaza Have Not; Call for Cyberspace Aid Convoy
posted by homunculus at 9:41 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Ah, precious golden memories of my fellow 80s students demanding that their schools divest from South Africa. Now a new generation of entitled young men and women have found a cause for their own glib, impotent posturing."

Wow. I'm deeply offended that people who are absolutely unwilling to research this issue are nonetheless willing to pass incredibly sweeping judgments from their armchair at home. To reduce the Palestinian solidarity movement to "glib, impotent posturing" is pretty ignorant, I think. How can you claim that South African apartheid-divestment movements had integrity, but this one does not? Did you know that a good portion of the group are Israelis & Palestinians themselves? Do you honestly want to make the baseless argument that these people, who have seen & suffered the conflict firsthand, are acting purely out of vanity? If they're acting out of vanity, then what is it that motivated your post in this thread? I wonder.

The point is, the administration is doing the same thing they did in '77. In case you didn't know, Hampshire was also the first to divest from South Africa. It was similarly controversial. The same sort of banal criticisms were thrown at the students then. But it kickstarted a ripple effect. Universities across the country soon began to divest as well. 15 years later, public opinion came around.

Interestingly enough, among other prominent endorsers, Desmond Tutu himself has endorsed Students for Justice in Palestine's campaign. And if anyone knows apartheid when they see it, I think it would be him. It has also been extremely heartening to get e-mails from people all over the world, from Zapatistas in Chiapas to Palestinians in East Jerusalem, to doctors in Ireland. The bottom line is that on February 6th, we were invested in the Occupation, and on February 7th, we were not.

Lastly: we did not divest "from Israel." We divested from the Occupation. These are two different things. We petitioned the school to divest from six specific companies (modelled after the United Methodist Church's campaign) which provide military technology to the IDF, including, for example, GE, which was recently fined $69 million for diverting Pentagon funds to the IDF directly.

I suggest visiting our video-blog of supporter diaries @ voicesofdivestment.wordpress.com. Our website also lists endorsers and the like.

After you've read a little bit, I'd like to hear if you still think this is about posturing. Could it be that since you have the privilege to ignore the Occupation, your contribution to this thread was itself posturing? While SJP & the greater Hampshire commmunity is doing challenging human rights activism and putting themselves on the line (re: Alan Dershowitz's threats to SJP spokespeople), it costs you nothing to ejaculate your opinion onto the net.

Something to think about.
posted by parkbench at 9:44 AM on February 17, 2009 [20 favorites]


glib, impotent posturing.

I know, it's a tragedy that South African Apartheid is still going strong.
posted by absalom at 9:59 AM on February 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


I am a bit puzzled by the statement that one company from which the students wanted to divest was GE, which, we read here, gave money from the Pentagon to Israel when GE was instead supposed to help with technology...what does that mean? GE get money from my govt and skips buying and sharing with our Pentagon but instead gives the money to Israel? and then GE got fined for doing what on the surface if this is to be believed seems a crimminal offense.

How much money (endowment) does Hampshire have now that the recession has also taken a major toll on college endowments?

It is impossible to divest from "the occupation" without divesting from Israel. Finally, how can you boycott Dershowitz for wanting to boycott you but believe it is ok for you to boycott with impunity?
ps: given what is taking place with Caterpiller layoffs these days, I suspect the company is not supporting you and feels that you are in some small measure costing workers their jobs.
posted by Postroad at 10:00 AM on February 17, 2009


"This is a monumental and historic step in the struggle for Palestinian equality, self-determination and peace in the Holy Land by non-violent means. I see what these students have accomplished as a replica of the support of their College of our struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Hampshire College's decision to divest should be a guiding example to all institutions of higher learning."

-Archbishop Desmond Tutu's statement, as referenced above.
posted by lunit at 10:05 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The list of endorsements include Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Adrienne Rich, Cynthia McKinney, Roger Waters, and more.
posted by lunit at 10:07 AM on February 17, 2009


Now a new generation of entitled young men and women have found a cause for their own glib, impotent posturing.

Wait, let me guess! Are you talking about false-equivalence lovers snarking on MetaFilter?
posted by DU at 10:08 AM on February 17, 2009


Do you honestly want to make the baseless argument that these people ... are acting purely out of vanity?

Yes. It is an act of vanity to loudly trumpet your actions in a cause, when your actions will have no appreciable effect on anything except increasing your own sense of self-importance. Moreover, it acts as a detriment to real discussion and perception of the issue, which takes place on an entirely different playing field than the Hampshire quad.

If they're acting out of vanity, then what is it that motivated your post in this thread?

Mature skepticism. And an earnest wish that centers of higher education in this country were focused on actual, you know, education, and weren't hip deep in bullshit and bong hits, so perhaps the popular perception of colleges (i.e. that they're hip deep in bullshit and bong hits) could begin to change, which would result in more funding and openness to all.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:11 AM on February 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


I don't understand arguments that this is "pointless". Money that doesn't go towards supporting Israel's war is money that doesn't go towards supporting Israel's war. Where money is concerned, every dollar of dissent matters.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:25 AM on February 17, 2009


Cool Papa Bell: Yes, because if there was one thing P.W. Botha feared, it was American university students.

No, but he feared capital flight. "Not only are U.S. corporations disinvesting, but, as the accompanying table shows, those of many other countries as well. Since mid-1984, South Africa has suffered considerable capital flight, as a result of corporate disinvestment and because of the repayment of foreign loans. Net capital movement out of South Africa was R9.2 billion in 1985, R6.1 billion in 1986, R3.1 billion in 1987 and R5.5 billion in 1988." From Sanctions, Disinvestment, and U.S. Corporations in South Africa by Richard Knight.
posted by Kattullus at 10:50 AM on February 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


It is an act of vanity to loudly trumpet your actions in a cause, when your actions will have no appreciable effect on anything...

This is wrong on at least 3 levels.

1) Refusing to send money to people you don't support can be a moral position even without having an "appreciable effect".

2) "Trumpeting" that moral position can be "effective" in that it causes other people to question the morality.

3) Why is it that conservatives love the invisible hand of the free market but hate when that invisible hand is directed by actual human beings? You can call boycotts ineffective if you want, but when they gain momentum they are anything but.
posted by DU at 10:52 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, but he feared capital flight.

Capital and people were flying out because of the violence and uncertainty that the government would remain a going concern. And it hasn't exactly flown back in afterward, either, for the same reasons.

I grew up with a bunch of SA expats in the 80s. They all brought their money and their businesses here. It wasn't the college disinvestment. It was the necklacing.

Money that doesn't go towards supporting Israel's war is money that doesn't go towards supporting Israel's war.

That's an oversimplification that also overstates the effect of these efforts. As if someone is looking at a balance sheet, going, "Don't shoot those civilians. We can't afford bullets. Now we're going to have to respect their civil rights. Curse you, Hampshire College!"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:59 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


You can call boycotts ineffective if you want, but when they gain momentum they are anything but.

The last boycotts that had any effect were non-violent protests led by Gandhi and MLK.

I don't exactly see any figures like that rising up in the Palestinian communities.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:00 AM on February 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


parkbench: "Could it be that since you have the privilege to ignore the Occupation, your contribution to this thread was itself posturing?"

I really need to improve my sacred-cow recognition skills.

I wonder if people fixate on institutional divestiture because it's too daunting to consider what it will actually take to improve the lot of the Palestinians: 1) the end of US funding for Israel, which will require 2) America abandoning its long tradition of military imperialism, which will require 3) A fucking miracle.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:08 AM on February 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


As if someone is looking at a balance sheet, going, "Don't shoot those civilians. We can't afford bullets. Now we're going to have to respect their civil rights. Curse you, Hampshire College!"

Your reasoning is still specious. War costs money, in hand or borrowed. If they don't have as much money, they can't operate their war on a civilian population under the same conditions as before. You might think it's insignificant, but it's a fact that every petrodollar does matter.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:08 AM on February 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


The last boycotts that had any effect were non-violent protests led by Gandhi and MLK.

This doesn't pass the snort test. There have been numerous "effective" (by even your narrow definition) boycotts of commercial entities in the past couple of decades.
posted by DU at 11:11 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


One need only look at the scared Mormons in Utah and the terrified Google-Mapped bigots of California when there were threats to boycott businesses owned and operated by supporters of Prop 8.

Boycotting works. It's a capitalist demonstration of the purest kind; it's the ultimate defense of the American Way.

I'm really amazed that Republicans would be so unpatriotic as to begrudge a private party its inalienable right to allocate its funds however it pleases.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:16 AM on February 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


There have recently been a series of sit-ins/occupations of universities in the UK - many of these occupations had divestment from arms companies as a central demand. Success levels varied, ranging from total divestment to no movement whatsoever (and even police action) - many got 'negotiations' with the universities.

There's an ongoing blog about them here, and also a Guardian article from a week or two after they began.
posted by knapah at 11:39 AM on February 17, 2009


CPB: I don't exactly see any figures like that rising up in the Palestinian communities.

WSJ: How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas


In Gaza, Israel hunted down members of Fatah and other secular PLO factions, but it dropped harsh restrictions imposed on Islamic activists by the territory's previous Egyptian rulers. Fatah, set up in 1964, was the backbone of the PLO, which was responsible for hijackings, bombings and other violence against Israel. Arab states in 1974 declared the PLO the "sole legitimate representative" of the Palestinian people world-wide.

It doesn't actually answer your question of "why is there no Palestinian Gandhi?", but did the British Government in India encourage Gandhi, or were they trying to subvert him the whole time? Maybe there's no Palestinian Gandhi because Israel* doesn't want it. They didn't like dealing with the PLO and now their dance partner is Hamas.

"Israel" being a shorthand generalization for the government/military, I'm sure there are many Israelis who disagree
posted by Challahtronix at 11:42 AM on February 17, 2009


The last boycotts that had any effect were non-violent protests led by Gandhi and MLK.

This doesn't pass the snort test.


Exactly. Gandhi and MLK were mocked in their time too; it's just enough time has passed and history has been written that even the nuttiest of the right-wing nutballs can't mock them anymore without sounding, well, nutty.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:58 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: increasing your own sense of self-importance
posted by euphorb at 12:51 PM on February 17, 2009


"It is impossible to divest from "the occupation" without divesting from Israel."

Well firstly, I just don't think you're familiar with what BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) means. When institutions/countries divested from South African apartheid, they often still had trade ties. This does not change the impact of the move. It is a symbolic political decision, and pointing out technical inconsistencies--which is much of what Dershowitz has done, for example, in arguing that SJP is hypocritical for not also divesting from the "rest of the world's dictatorships"--does not address the fundamental point of a BDS campaign.

"Finally, how can you boycott Dershowitz for wanting to boycott you but believe it is ok for you to boycott with impunity?"

Er? We are not boycotting Dershowitz. In fact, no one is boycotting Dershowitz. And I don't think it makes sense or is productive to call for a "boycott" on him. I'm not sure if you've read anything about South African divestment or the current matter, so I'm unsure how to respond in this case. Sorry.

"Yes. It is an act of vanity to loudly trumpet your actions in a cause, when your actions will have no appreciable effect on anything except increasing your own sense of self-importance. Moreover, it acts as a detriment to real discussion and perception of the issue, which takes place on an entirely different playing field than the Hampshire quad."

Given your own participation in the South African divestement movement, it is puzzling that you make this claim. Hampshire, as I said, was also the first college to divest from South Africa in 1977. It had comparatively very little invested in apartheid. Yet its decision re-ignited the movement, and very quickly other colleges began to divest as well.

I think anyone who's followed any kind of news, politics, or read a single history book can understand the importance of symbolic gestures. In the end, we are responding to a call from Palestinian civil society itself. And they have congratulated us. I think, out of all the people who could adjudicate the validity of this issue, it would be the Palestinians, and many of them have already expressed their gratitude to us for our campaign. And the one thing we keep telling them in response is this: divestment is not a college, it's a movement.

Finally, I really don't understand how you can say it's detrimental to "real" discussion of the issue. I'm starting to believe that you've exaggerated your involvement in the South Africa movement? If you were truly around then and truly involved, I'm wondering how you can't see t he parallels? The same thing happened then and it most definitely did invigorate debate. Tons of it, actually. It brought the stale, populist message the media was pushing to the forefront and forced people to re-assess it. In a country where the media takes a very banal & populist stance on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, I'd say that it's pretty clear that we've managed to stir the pot and start up a real debate. Again--I think that, in the end, your virtual fencing with me, for example, is more of an example of how not to have a debate, when our actions speak for themselves.

"Mature skepticism. And an earnest wish that centers of higher education in this country were focused on actual, you know, education, and weren't hip deep in bullshit and bong hits, so perhaps the popular perception of colleges (i.e. that they're hip deep in bullshit and bong hits) could begin to change, which would result in more funding and openness to all."

Wow! It's clear you don't actually want to have a discussion. Maybe you've never been to Hampshire College? I guess you can't conceive of how community organising and social justice would factor into an education?

I mean, seriously, CPB, I've got to hand it to you. Human rights activism = bong hits?--comedy gold!

"I don't exactly see any figures like that rising up in the Palestinian communities."

Wow! And now you're blaming the Palestinians themselves! Give it to Cool Papa Bell to blame a beleaguered people living on 22% of their land with a completely destroyed infrastructure, warring government factions funded by various outside powers, restricted movement, and a colonial power overseeing their every move for not helping themselves!

I think the proof will be "in the pudding", as they say! When public opinion comes around, Cool Papa Bell will still be floundering in the kiddy pool of "Mature skepticism."

Divestment is not a college, it's a movement!
posted by parkbench at 1:01 PM on February 17, 2009 [10 favorites]


What is divestment supposed to accomplish? I can see that it's supposed to make some sort of point, but does it have any practical effect? This is a serious question, not a snarky one. Let's say that I wanted to engage in tit-for-tat divestment, and so I decided to sell shares companies that do business with Moslem countries. I guess that selling my shares means that the company's share price might fall slightly, but: So, what's the theory behind divestment?
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:34 PM on February 17, 2009


Moslem

Are you a time traveler from the 15th century or something?
posted by absalom at 2:18 PM on February 17, 2009


No Palestinian Gandhi?

Why not consult the original instead.
He could tell you why.
The man himself made his views known in an editorial of his weekly paper Harijan.
This was way back in 1938. November 11 actually.
There is a summary and discussion of it here.
posted by jan murray at 2:41 PM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter is not a college, it's a website where people say shit!
posted by smackfu at 3:15 PM on February 17, 2009


Now a new generation of entitled young men and women have found a cause for their own glib, impotent posturing.

To be fair, the Republican Congressional delegation is not that young, and women are very few among them.
posted by matteo at 3:48 PM on February 17, 2009


I hadn't known about Gandhi before.

His counsel to Jews about making their homes in the lands of their birth in 1938 seems so sad, in retrospect.

Non-violence didn't work out very well for Jews in Europe and in retrospect it was generally the violent anti-Nazi resistance, like the partisans and the Warsaw ghetto, that was remembered with any pride.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:14 PM on February 17, 2009


Alright, lst's settle this once and for all: who refuses to acknowledge Hampshire College's right to exist?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:16 PM on February 17, 2009


let's


(dammit)
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:17 PM on February 17, 2009


You know, this is a very timely post for me. See, back in 2003, Israel murdered a girl from my school, Evergreen State College. Today, there were people on our campus handing out Israeli propaganda and trying to justify Israel's various criminal acts. Now, they were trying to convince Greeners that the wars with Lebanon & Gaza were swell ideas, so they didn't get very far. But all the same, it left a bad taste in my mouth. An Israeli was willing to crush Rachel Corrie with a fucking bulldozer - I am not at all interested in seeing apologists for Israel's policies and practices at her school.

I've been pretty fed up with Israel's conduct for some time, especially since they tend to use funds and munitions from the U.S. to attack neighboring nations and populations. The diplomacy challenge facing the United States in the Middle East is tough enough without our best pal Israel killing a couple thousand civilians every now & again. Seriously, how many terrorists do you suppose those assholes created when they carpet-bombed the Gaza Strip? Whatever damage they did to Hamas is almost irrelevant, considering what a sterling recruitment pitch that war handed to extremists all over the world.

I wish I could stamp my tax dollars with a "please don't kill Palestinians with this money" order. Cuz besides being morally indefensible, Israel's actions of late are also poor strategy - for both their own interests and ours. I'd like to see them knock this bullshit off - that is, the invasive settlements, the collective punishment, the acts of aggression that only harm civilians and harden regional hatred for their country and ours, all of it. What can I do to see that done? I'm seeing a lot of debate here about the efficacy of BDS methods. If they work, how can I get involved? Where's the list of what I ought to boycott? And if these methods don't work, then which ones do? Standing in front of bulldozers is suicide; writing my congressman feels like pissing in the wind.

What can an American do to stop Israel's crimes?
posted by EatTheWeak at 6:59 PM on February 17, 2009


Following on from knapah, I attend one of the universities where there was an occupation (although not, I believe, mentioned in the Guardian article). The students actually occupied my Faculty, which wasn't really a huge inconvenience (as much as I was pretty pissed off for a few days), and they were pretty friendly all told.

However, they alienated a section of the student populace with the whole "solidarity" thing, and copies of the Socialist Worker etc., and the fact that their timetable advertised a lot of yoga etc. did lead to a lot of the kneejerk "rah-voluntionaries" tag.

Interesting point aside from that - most of these funds are trusts, and currently English law does not allow ethical considerations to be taken into account when deciding where to invest a trust. The trustees just have to go for the best economic return. There are obviously ways of getting around that (phrase it as "ethical investment will make more over the long term as people agree with ethical companies", or use it as an "if X and Y will return the same, and Y is ethical, we'll go with Y"), but the kind of base level rule is pretty simple.
posted by djgh at 6:22 AM on February 18, 2009


What can an American do to stop Israel's crimes?

Stop paying taxes.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:44 AM on February 18, 2009


Israel has launched a covert war against Iran as an alternative to direct military strikes against Tehran's nuclear programme, US intelligence sources have revealed.
posted by homunculus at 10:14 AM on February 18, 2009


Support for divesting spreads.
posted by onhazier at 5:44 AM on February 19, 2009


Any links, onhazier?
posted by Kattullus at 7:02 AM on February 19, 2009


Here is the article I failed to link this morning.

From the Chronicle of Higher Education
posted by onhazier at 10:57 AM on February 19, 2009


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