Friday, May 28, 2010

Have Divestment Advocates at Hampshire College Finally Admitted Defeat?

I’ve spent a lot of time (more than anyone should have to) documenting the obvious:
Hampshire College never, deliberately and as a political statement, divested itself, in whole or in part, of investments in Israel or having to do with Israel’s policies.
It’s part (though often the least significant part) of what historians do: set the record straight.

In February, 2009, the local activists of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) inundated the world with press releases claiming that “Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, has become the first of any college or university in the U.S. to divest from companies on the grounds of their involvement in the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

It was not true, as the administration promptly declared and repeatedly affirmed.

Ever since that time, however, SJP, engaging in a combination of casuistry, wishful thinking, and outright prevarication, has steadfastly maintained that divestment took place: most recently, on the non-anniversary of the non-event. (1, 2, 3, 4) Divestment advocates elsewhere bizarrely cite the imaginary event as precedent—and then, appropriately enough, likewise fail in their own efforts.

I recently described the student commencement speech by an SJP supporter. In his words:
Students moved to divest the school from US corporations that benefited from the Israeli occupation of Palestine . . . . Yet in the face of such hard work and political ingenuity, the administration threatened students who organized the divestment campaign with disciplinary action.
I focused on the general disingenuousness and distortions of his remarks: Divestment never occurred, and the College never threatened or punished anyone for activism or free speech; it merely insisted that students had no right to misrepresent College policy to the public.

However, although I didn’t remark on this, I was also struck by the fact that his portrayal of the controversy itself was curiously oblique and laconic. Why, unlike the host of SJP statements, did this one focus on the divestment movement and the aftermath, rather than affirming the act of divestment itself? It was thus moreover curious that his remarks were prefaced with feelings of defeat: “(sigh) . . . But I feel this like it’s, but it’s, this [=graduation] is one victory among countless losses. I feel like I’ve lost so many battles.” And: students failed “to change the school,” as a result of which he is “left with feelings of sadness, resignation, and anger.”

I was reluctant to leap to conclusions and assumed that the emphasis was explained by his desire to take advantage of the platform to criticize the administration.

However, the Gazette story was firmer in its conclusions:
[Scheer] also said he is disappointed that the college has not fully divested from "United States corporations that have benefited from the Israeli occupation of Palestine." He called on Hampshire to fulfill its mandate of social responsibility in the same way it did more than 30 years ago when it became the first college in the nation to divest from companies doing business with apartheid South Africa.

So, which is it?  We heard the same speech.

Doesn't really matter, on one level.
Pretty soon, the SJP activists will start to look like the few soldiers of the Japanese Imperial army who, unfortunate dupes of a fascist militarist system, held out in the jungles for almost three decades, still fighting a war that they had long ago lost.

Everyone but the SJP-BDS people understands that divestment at Hampshire lost. The only question is when these last holdouts will admit it.

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