Hampshire College first U.S. university to divest from Israeli occupation

By Guest Columnist Feb 13, 2009

by Joyce Choi Won Li A professor told me once that power never likes to admit that it’s been forced to change. The grassroots efforts of organizing and activist groups have always had to take a proactive, defensive role in writing history, before it is written for us. The same seems true for my campus. Thirty-two years ago, Hampshire College became the first college or university in the United States to divest from its South African holdings for the nation’s apartheid policies. Yesterday, it also became the first to divest from Israel for its continued occupation of Palestine. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the campus group that pushed for this move by the school’s Board of Trustees, released a statement:

"This landmark move is a direct result of a two-year intensive campaign by the campus group, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The group 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"

According to the release, these efforts have drawn endorsements from Noam Chomsky, Cynthia McKinney, Howard Zinn, and many others. Late last night, the college also received support from Nobel Laureate Archibishop Desmond Tutu. However, hours after news broke, representatives of the school’s administration released an ambiguous statement, stressing that the trustees’ actions had nothing to do with any country in particular. This move by administrators suggests an effort to de-politicize radical organizing by students, faculty, and community allies, as well as rupture the bond of solidarity that SJP is obviously trying to forge. The group is responding to a direct call to action by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. This struggle over divestment and financial complicity also highlights the role of higher learning institutions as shareholders and participants in corporate-governmental alliances. We all know why power tries to distance itself from actual opinions; this is the game of diplomacy AND defense. But the voices of the people will continue to ring louder, and we should all listen when they do.