Events

Monday, January 16, 2012

More on Problematic and Spurious Martin Luther King Quotations

So, the flap over the quotation on the Martin Luther King memorial seems to have been resolved just in time for his holiday today.

The King sculpture is not the only example of deliberately and problematically selective quotation on the National Mall. The example that always comes to mind for me is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, inside of which the Founding Father’s words are displayed. Panel Number 3 contains a ringing denunciation of slavery as “despotism” and a call for emancipation: "Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.” It stops there rather than including the next sentence: “Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them."

Here, Jefferson is arguably the beneficiary rather than victim of abbreviated quotation though it would be interesting to debate which of the two versions best expresses his larger legacy.

As John Adams famously said, facts are stubborn things. So are quotes, not least to the extent that we marshal them as “facts” in our arguments. For all our modern belief in questioning political authority, we still, across the spectrum, invoke textual authority (in fact, I just did that here). We cite the words and wisdom of great men and women because of the authors as well as the content, in the hope that our arguments might derive strength from their borrowed prestige. If they said it, it must be true.

Worse than selective quotation are spurious quotes or attributions of authorship. The most notorious example pertaining to the Founding Fathers is an antisemitic fabrication in which Benjamin Franklin purportedly warned the Constitutional Convention against Jewish influence in the new nation. Concocted by American right-wing extremists in the 1930s, it was widely cited by the Nazis and still circulates today among hate groups ranging from the KKK and neo-Nazi Aryan Nations and Stormfront to Hamas.

Of course, false quotations can arise from cynical manipulation, misguided good intentions, or just plain ineptitude. Reverend King, poor man, has been a victim of all three: the latter, just months before the Memorial controversy broke.

Soon after President Obama announced the killing of Osama Bin Laden, there began to circulate a purported quotation by Martin Luther King that seemed tailor-made for the occasion:
I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
We are familiar with the related phenomenon in the case of Nostradamus: every time a major world event occurs, someone either reinterprets a vague quatrain as a clear prophecy of the occurrence, or just invents a new one out of whole cloth. It was disheartening to think that Rev. King might be thus exploited and reduced to that status.

In this case, the explanation was a bit more complex but less malign. A Facebook user had apparently offered her personal reaction to the killing (the first sentence), followed by a quotation from King, naming him as the source of the latter. Other users then circulated the comment, without the quotation marks, carelessly attributing the whole to King.

As in other contexts: if it sounds too good (here, in the sense of appropriate) to be true, it probably is.

Unfortunately, deliberate manipulations of King’s writings also exist. The best example, i.e. the one with the longest “legs,” involves an alleged statement on the relation between Israel, Zionism, and antisemitism. Rev. King, who worked closely with many representatives of the Jewish community in the Civil Rights Movement, was a staunch opponent of antisemitism (“because bigotry in any form is an affront to us all”), and a believer in the necessity of a secure and democratic Jewish state, aware that criticism of Israel sometimes stemmed from or masked darker motives. His views on these issues are a matter of record.

Somehow, though, this was not good enough for someone, who felt the need to improve upon reality by concocting a perfect conglomerate of a quote. Over the years, I’ve called people out for invoking it, however innocently. What is so fascinating is that this inauthentic piece, unlike the Bin Laden one, fooled so many people for so long. It can serve as a textbook illustration of the problems of sourcing and interpretation that historians engage in all the time.

At some point a little over a decade ago, a “Letter to an anti-Zionist Friend” purporting to be by Rev. King began to circulate. It reads, in part:
You declare, my friend, that you do not hate the Jews, you are merely ‘anti-Zionist.’ And I say, let the truth ring forth from the high mountain tops, let it echo through the valleys of God's green earth: When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews — this is God's own truth.
In a way, it is both understandable and astonishing that no one caught on. Whereas the obvious clumsiness and arrogance of the truncated “drum major” quote reflected neither King’s style nor his personality, this one sounded authentic in sentiment and typical in tone.

That the tone was in fact just a bit too “typical”—a patently poor pastiche of the “I have a dream” speech—should, however, have been a tip-off that something was amiss. More surprising still, even though no one seems to have seen the “letter” before it was cited in a reputable 1999 book, no one checked the purported original publication in a 1967 issue of the now-defunct Saturday Review, a reference that proved to be non-existent. Apparently, because the book contained a preface by Martin Luther King III, everyone simply assumed that everyone else considered the text authentic on the grounds that, well, if it was not, someone surely would have said so.

Finally, CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) pursued the matter, and at the start of 2002, sent out a news alert (on which the above is based), announcing that the “Letter” was a forgery.

Part of the problem was that the sentiments expressed in the letter were in general harmony with King’s documented views. The political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset, and later, civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, reported that King, toward the end of his life, responded to an anti-Zionist student by saying: “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism.” Perhaps because that remark was documented only in imprecise personal recollections of an oral exchange (some critics have even called this account into question) the forger decided to construct a longer formal and exhortatory text around it.

In so doing, of course, he (or she) did no service to either to King or to some putative political cause.

Fabrication will not solve our problems. For that matter, neither will idle speculation. No one can say exactly what Rev. King would make of any specific policy today. We honor him by taking the historical record seriously: pondering his actual words and deeds and their continued relevance in a changing world.

A decade ago, in the same piece that contained the brief, purportedly authentic quotation, Lewis concluded,
King taught us many lessons. As turbulence continues to grip the Middle East, his words should continue to serve as our guide. I am convinced that were he alive today he would speak clearly calling for an end to the violence between Israelis and Arabs. [ . . . . ]

He would urge continuing negotiations to reduce tensions and bring about the first steps toward genuine peace.

King had a dream of an "oasis of brotherhood and democracy" in the Middle East. 
As we celebrate his life and legacy, let us work for the day when Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims, will be able to sit in peace "under his vine and fig tree and none shall make him afraid."
It's hard to argue with that, which should be more than enough to occupy us on a day dedicated to non-violence and service.



Cartouche from "Palestine," in Conrad Malte-Brun, Atlas Complet (Paris, 1812)
Grapevine and tent with the words, "Palestine" and (in Hebrew) "Israel,"
presumably an echo of Micah 4:4 and Numbers 4:5:
"But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid";
"How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!"



On Martin Luther King, Monuments, & Drum Majors (and: Heinrich Heine)

I wasn’t able to attend the town’s annual scholarship breakfast in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Saturday, but I was thinking about him a lot this weekend, as I always do on this occasion.

Fate has not been kind to Martin Luther King’s birthday. First, the creation of a national holiday on that date met with persistent and perverse resistance from a wide variety of reactionaries (some of whom now try to swim in the mainstream). But with most of those battles far in the past, who would have thought that his monument in Washington (once it was finally authorized) would prove controversial? And that this controversy would come to a head on the eve of the next celebration of that holiday?


Fate may have been even less kind to the monument than the birthday. At least the latter reflected the ideological struggle over the ideas at the heart of the man and his legacy. The problems surrounding the monument are the result of pure dumb luck, or, as the case may be, just a whole lot of dumb.

First, as a result of the summer earthquake, the dedication was postponed from August until October. And, as soon as the monument was revealed to the public, criticism poured in. For me, the first problem was aesthetic: It was not that the image of Rev. King emerging from the rock was too gray, stern or forbidding, as some critics said. (That’s just philistinism.) Rather: the whole thing just seemed too cautious and tame. First, it just isn’t very well done. Second, and more important: Is there really a point to a conventional, representational portrait sculpture in an age in which the most powerful (and eventually popular) monuments: the Vietnam Memorial, the new 9-11 memorial site, and the Berlin Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe draw upon a more modern language of abstraction? The King monument, its very real appeals notwithstanding, could fit perfectly well in a neo-Stalinist sculpture garden or political cemetery.  (Philosopher Cornel West went even further, though in a very different direction, declaring that King would have wanted a “revolution,” not a monument.)

To be fair, however, the monument does make more sense if one understands and sees it in context. Although still photos tend to depict only the controversial portrait sculpture itself, it is in fact part of a much larger complex, truly “monumental” in proportion and with a logic and even narrative or movement of its own.
 As the official website describes it:
At the entry portal, two stones are parted and a single stone wedge is pushed forward toward the horizon; the missing piece of what was once a single boulder. The smooth insides of the portal contrast the rough outer surfaces of the boulder. Beyond this portal, the stone appears to have been thrust into the plaza, wrested from the boulder and pushed forward – it bears signs of a great monolithic struggle.
On the visible side of the stone, the theme of hope is presented, with the text from King's famed 1963 speech cut sharply into the stone: "Out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope." On the other side are inscribed these words: "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness”, a statement suggested by Dr. King himself when describing how he would like to be remembered.
The boulder is the Mountain of Despair, through which every visitor will enter, moving through the struggle as Dr. King did during his life, and then be released into the open freedom of the plaza. The solitary stone is the Stone of Hope, from which Dr. King’s image emerges, gazing over the Tidal Basin toward the horizon, seeing a future society of justice and equality for which he encouraged all citizens to strive

It turns out that the greatest controversy focuses on that “drum major” quotation. I should clarify: there are in fact many quotations in the memorial. In order to reach the portal, visitors pass along a whole wall of quotations (“Inscription Wall”), derived from Rev. King’s entire career: from the Montgomery bus boycotts of 1955 to the last sermon he delivered in 1968, just days before his death. As the designers further explain: (1) the quotations are not in chronological order, so that readers may begin wherever they choose, rather than being forced to proceed in linear fashion. (2) anticipating the most obvious question: they omit the “I have a dream” speech because it is well known (to the point of trivialization), but also because the whole monument—being placed on the mall where that speech was delivered—in a sense commemorates it and its message.


The “drum major” quotation is perhaps not an ideal choice, but the real problem is that this is not even a statement that Rev. King actually made in so many words.


The explanation is about the lamest thing one can imagine. As outraged critics soon figured out, “suggested” is a very vague and subjective term and takes a hell of a lot of liberties with the facts. Poet Maya Angelou did not mince any words: the quotation made him sound like an “arrogant twit.” 

The Washington Post’s Rachel Manteuffel explained the issue first and more clearly than anyone by doing what anyone with a brain should have done. First she applied her critical reasoning to the text itself. To begin with, it made King look stupid and verbally clumsy. Both the subject and the tone stood in jarring contrast to his famous biblically inspired sermons and speeches: “To me, silly hats and King just did not compute.” Worse still, it made him look shallow and self-centered: “akin to memorializing Mahatma Gandhi with the quote, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’” She was puzzled and taken aback.

Second, then, she went to the source. The quote came from a sermon entitled, “The Drum Major Instinct,” in which he criticized the natural but immature and selfish desire--on the part of individuals, groups, and entire nations-- “to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade.” (As in many other cases, the image was not original; he borrowed it from a liberal white minister.) It was early in 1968, but (though he did not know it) late in his life, and he spoke of how he would like to be remembered: as someone who helped others, who fought for justice and against war. So:
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that's all I want to say.
As Manteuffel put it,
An “if” clause is an extraordinarily bad thing to leave out of a quote. If I had to be a type of cheese, being Swiss is best.
What makes this tragic is that King had the ability to say precisely what he meant, with enormous impact.
The culprit? Not, as she notes, the scholars consulting on the project, who employed the full quotation. She had no answer at the time, and simply called for correction: “I say, let’s undo the mistake. Let’s get the chisels back out.”

The architects at first stonewalled (so to speak), refusing to make changes.

It turned out that the architects and designers had shortened the quotation on their own initiative, simply because the whole text would not easily fit. (This raises a host of issues regarding accuracy, authority, aesthetics, and public history and memory, which I merely mention and would not presume to address here.)

The complaints refused to subside and, predictably, rose again as the holiday approached. On Friday, for example, the Boston Herald demanded: “Carve MLK’s words in stone—accurately.”  Out of their mouth into God’s ear, as the saying goes. Sure enough, early in the evening, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar demanded that the Park Service come up with a fix within thirty days. The lead architect replied that the full text still would not fit, but that a compromise abridgement was possible. (Again, one can only wonder: what in the world were they thinking?)

And so, the embarrassing episode will at last come to a close.

I have to say: First, I thought even the full quotation not a good choice: It is not among King’s greatest remarks (others of which likewise are not absolutely original). Above all, though, unlike many others, it does not stand well on its own and really loses a great deal without the context of the sermon.

In the second place, though, and more positively, I fully understood Rev. King’s use of the drum major image because it reminded me of something from my own field of study and one of my favorite authors, Heinrich Heine (1797-1856).

At first sight, the two men could not appear more dissimilar: the one, a modern Black Protestant minister and civil rights leader from the American south, the other, a nineteenth-century German-Jewish poet and journalist known for speaking frankly—and cynically—about sex, religion, and politics (the three subjects one was famously told to avoid in polite conversation).

And yet there are some surprising connections or parallels.

Both, growing up in eras of discrimination, fought with their pens for the emancipation of their own people, which they moreover saw as inextricably linked with the emancipation of all people and nations. Both were masters of their respective languages and drew naturally and freely upon the imagery of the Bible that underlay the educated vernacular of the times. Both were controversial in their day, rejected by chauvinists and racists, but eventually lionized by the majority of the population, who perhaps valued their achievement but underestimated their radicalism. (Heine has the unusual distinction of having managed to become an icon for both the nineteenth-century liberal German middle class and Marxist East Germany.) In both cases, attempts to memorialize their careers in the public sphere proved controversial: for Rev. King, making his birthday into a national holiday; for Heine, attempts to name spaces as diverse as the Düsseldorf University and a street in Tel-Aviv in his honor.

And the drum motif?

Heine, as a Jew born in the German Rhineland, grew up under the equivalent of segregation, experienced a brief period of emancipation under French Rule during the Napoleonic era, and saw the return of discrimination with the restoration of monarchy: similar to, though of course much milder than, the transition from slavery to Reconstruction and Jim Crow. (Indeed, most Jews in Central Europe received full civil rights only between 1867 and 1871, in other words, at roughly the same time as African-Americans.) One of his minor prose masterpieces (today known mainly to specialists) is IdeasBook Le Grand. Like other of his early, highly subjective, and unclassifiable works, it ranges freely over a host of topics, from autobiography and food, to romantic love and suicide, and revolution and censorship. The central figure, after whom the work is named, is a French drummer—“who looked a devil and yet had the good heart of an angel”—quartered in the Heine household during the period of Napoleonic rule. The drummer did not create the Revolution, but he embodies it, he is the bearer of its message.

As Heine portrays him, Le Grand is a simple man and knows only a handful of words in German, and yet he speaks through his drum more clearly and eloquently than all the politicians and subsequent generations of professors. For example, he explains the French word for “stupidity” by drumming an old German military march. He explains the complicated concept of “equality” by drumming the revolutionary tune, “Ça ira”: things will go better when we hang the aristocrats from the lampposts. The narrator later acquires the habit of unconsciously tapping his feet to revolutionary tunes, signaling his dissent during boring conservative university lectures; he reaps the appropriate rewards.

The relevant section of the slim book closes when the narrator, years later, identifies Le Grand as one of the miserable French soldiers returning from captivity in Russia, long after the Revolution has been defeated and Napoleon has died in exile. The two recognize each other. The drummer plays the old tunes, conjuring up images of a vanished revolutionary past, only now sorrowfully and mournfully, and then dies, collapsing upon his drum. Heine, the former boy, now a man, knows what to do: the drum “was not to serve any enemy of freedom for their servile roll call; I had understood the last beseeching glance of Le Grand very well and immediately drew the rapier from my cane and pierced the drum.”

It is an interesting variation on the drummer theme. Again, at first, contrast seems to prevail over similarity. Whereas Rev. King referred to the problematic role of the showy and perhaps self-promoting drum major in a parade, Heine chose to speak of the humble drummer in an actual military unit. And yet they are, certainly in this context, closely related. Both are, de facto, the visible and audible embodiment of the cause. Both, by marching at the head of the troops, become natural targets for the enemy.

In the short poem, “Doctrine,” Heine echoed the themes of Le Grand when he portrayed himself as the drummer—pointedly using the French term—on behalf of the new radical Hegelian philosophy. At the same time, he here ironizes rather than romanticizes that role, calling attention (like King) to an element of self-satisfaction and self-aggrandizement. Heine rarely makes it simple for the perceptive reader.

There are exceptions, though. He on several occasions directly addressed the plight of African-Americans and slavery, and here all hint of ambiguity or frivolity is gone. In the late poem, “The Slave Ship," he depicted the cynical cruelty of the Middle Passage. Even earlier, and long before it was fashionable, he had spoken out against slavery and remarked bitterly upon the hypocrisy of the United States, which he called “that monstrous prison of freedom where [ . . . ] all men are equal—equal dolts . . . with the exception, naturally, of a few million, who have black or brown skins and are treated like dogs!”

However, I always find I am equally moved by a minor incident in one of his earliest published works, the “Letters From Berlin” (1822). There, in a seemingly trivial piece of reportage, he describes the excitement of the masked ball at which members of all social groups interact on the basis of anonymity and thus equality. In his enthusiasm, he happens to express himself in fashionable French, which earns him the predictable rebuke of a young chauvinist. He replies:
O German youth, how I find you and your words sinful and foolish in such moments where my entire soul encompasses the entire world with love, where I joyously wish to embrace the Russians and the Turks, and where I wish to collapse, crying, upon the fraternal breast of the enchained African! I love Germany and the Germans; but I love no less the inhabitants of the other portions of the world, whose numbers are forty times as great as those of the Germans. Love gives the human being his value. Praise God! I am therefore worth forty times as much as those who cannot raise themselves out of the swamp of national egoism and love only Germany and the Germans.
King was a Protestant minister, and that vocation defined his career and identity. Heine was a poet and an essayist who said a good many sarcastic things about Christianity, Judaism, credulousness, and religion in general. He converted to Protestantism out of opportunism and always reproached himself for it, but at the end of his life, as he seemed to become more religious, claimed that he had never “returned” to Judaism because he had never in fact left it. Like King, he found both personal and social meaning in the religious tradition.

If there were a world to come in which both men ended up sharing the same space, I could imagine the two of them having a very engaging conversation about the state of the world on this holiday: the one perhaps with a bit more charity, the other perhaps with a slightly malicious wit, but both with an equal and unwavering commitment to justice and the power of the word to bring it about.

* * *

Sources:

Most of the translations come from these two volumes of Heine's writings, edited by one of my former teachers, Jost Hermand, and one of his former graduate students: Robert Holub, currently Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst:

The folllowing are found in Heinrich Heine, Poetry and Prose, ed. Jost Hermand and Robert Holub, The German Library, 32 (NY: Continuum, 1982):
  • IdeasBook Le Grand, translated by Charles Godfrey Leland and adapted by Robert C. Holub and Martha Humphreys, pp. 174-228 (relevant section: 190-204)
  • the poem, "Doctrine," translated by Felix Pollak, pp. 44-45
  • the poem, "The Slave Ship," translated by Aaron Kramer, pp. 84-93
The following is from Heinrich Heine, The Romantic School and Other Essays, The German Library, 33 (NY: Continuum, 1985):
  •  the excerpt regarding American slavery and hypocrisy is found in Ludwig Börne: A Memorial (Second Book), translated by Frederic Ewen and Robert C. Holub, pp. 261-83; here, 263.
 Heine goes on to say, "Actual slavery, which had been abolished in most of the North American states, does not revolt me as much as the brutality with which the free blacks and the mulattoes are treated," which he goes on to describe

Tthe translation from "Letters from Berlin" is my own.

Marking Martin Luther King Day, 2012

Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. Amherst Regional Middle School Library

Massachusetts and the nation today marked the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

In Boston, the annual celebration noted Reverend King's ties to the area, where he studied theology, and focused on the holiday as a day of service. Here in Amherst, the annual breakfast at the Middle School, now in its 28th year, honored local civil rights activist Mary Pittman Wyatt, who created the event and passed away last fall.

In the New York Times, a guest column by Oxford's Stephen Tuck recalls the international dimensions of King's movement and legacy. Paul Krugman notes that, although we have in many admirable ways overcome the old racial divides, we have not yet addressed the persistent income inequality, at least part of which is correlated with race:
Yet if King could see America now, I believe that he would be disappointed, and feel that his work was nowhere near done. He dreamed of a nation in which his children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But what we actually became is a nation that judges people not by the color of their skin — or at least not as much as in the past — but by the size of their paychecks. And in America, more than in most other wealthy nations, the size of your paycheck is strongly correlated with the size of your father’s paycheck.

Goodbye Jim Crow, hello class system.
Clearly, we have much to celebrate, but marking the day as one of service, scholarship, and reflection—rather than mere lazing and shopping, to which level the holidays dedicated to those earlier liberators Washington and Lincoln have sunk—is a good way to remind ourselves that there is still much work to do.


The Martin Luther King stamp (artist: Jerry Pinkney) issued by the US Postal Service for Black History Month (Scott catalogue # 1771), issued in Atlanta on January 13, 1979, on the occasion of King's fiftieth birthday.This also corresponded to the legal code of the day, according to which only deceased individuals could be depicted on postal stamps, and not until ten years (subsequently relaxed to five) had elapsed since the time of death, the only exception being for presidents (one year).

The government recently and foolishly waived this utterly sensible proviso (1, 2, 3), thus eliminating a bedrock democratic principle in order to prostitute itself in the quixotic quest for greater revenues when it would have made greater sense to seek a more sustainable business model. (1, 2, 3)

Typically, attempts to reform and increase profitability of enterprises entail elimination of jobs, for which reason we would do well to remind ourselves that, historically, the public sector has been a key path into the middle class for African-Americans: not least, the Postal Service, in which they account for 25 percent of the workforce.

This past fall, the Postal Service issued a special souvenir cover to mark the dedication of the King Memorial on the National Mall. The cover bears a cachet depicting his colossal portrait sculpture and the new Barbara Jordan stamp.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

We Seem to Have a Winner in the Flag Contest


After a somewhat meandering discussion, members of the Amherst Design Review Board and Historical Commission have expressed unanimous support for flag design number 10 submitted by artist Barry Moser.



Note: this digital image does not accurately convey the colors of the design: above all, the actual background color is maroon rather than purplish.


* * *

Postscript

The colors of digitally created images may appear very different in electronic and print forms (and for that matter, vary from one device to another, depending on its capacity and display settings). When the aforementioned boards reviewed the design, they preferred the way the background color by chance turned out in the print and selected it: as noted above, more of a maroon than a magenta.

I therefore produced the following mockup of the flag, adding the date of the Town's formal recognition as specified in the charge. 


Something New to Run Up the Flagpole: Amherst Flag Selection Process Back in High Gear

Amherst will famously take no decision before its time (and even then some), so perhaps no one was surprised that this process has now stretched out over several years. In this case, though, the cause was conscientiousness rather than indecisiveness: the committee members were simply not satisfied with the submissions.

Tonight, however, the Design Review Board and Historical Commission will meet in joint session to consider these designs commissioned from renowned area artist Barry Moser.











A report on the deliberations will follow shortly.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Hampshire College, Israel, and Palestine: 1975 or 1938? And 2012? Still Seeking Civility on Campus





Just under a year ago, on the eve of an event about Israel and Palestine that promised to be controversial, I wrote a piece expressing the desire for a less polarized, more civil atmosphere on campus, one in which we could debate opposing political positions without intellectual charlatanry and demonization, addressing nuances rather than resorting to gross oversimplification.

What followed has been both deeply disturbing and, in other ways, gratifying.
>
It was deeply disturbing because what happened was far worse than even the most pessimistic among us might have expected. The talk, by an Israeli soldier, tore the campus apart. Activists from Hampshire Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) did not merely protest outside the lecture hall (as was their right). They also disrupted and ultimately prevented completion of the talk, in clear violation of community norms. The speaker noted that this was only the second time that something of this sort had occurred. For the unashamed disruptors, their actions were a badge of honor. Responding to the administration’s condemnation of the disruption as well as the earlier verbal and physical harassment of an Israeli student, they and their supporters basically said:  "Zionists” are fair game. (1, 2)

For the rest of us—the majority of the campus population as well as outside observers—it was a mark of shame and a wake-up call. What was gratifying was seeing the tide begin to turn. Most students, regardless of their political views, were revolted. The administration, from the office of the President down through Student Affairs, finally grasped the seriousness of the situation. It saw that we needed to take energetic and positive steps to restore a sense of both civility and safety.

* * *
A shrewd visitor to campus, interested in these issues, recently looked around and said:

“The situation is even worse than I thought. I can tell you what your problem is: One part of the campus thinks it’s 1975, and the other thinks it’s 1938.”

He got it exactly right.

Allow me to translate (in case that is necessary) the historical references:

• 1975 refers to the year when the United Nations General Assembly notoriously defined Zionism, the founding philosophy of one of its member states, as racism (ironically, on the anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom in Nazi Germany). The UN finally repealed that infamous measure in 1991, in order not just to redress a wrong, but also to encourage movement toward peace. Two years later, Israelis and Palestinians signed the Oslo Accords (1, 2), affirming mutual recognition and the principle of a negotiated solution.

• 1938 refers to the tensions on the eve of World War II, when Jews felt cornered and abandoned: an expansionist Germany absorbed Austria, Britain and France browbeat Czechoslovakia into surrendering its fortified borderlands to Germany, and Kristallnacht signaled an escalation in Nazi antisemtism as well as the end of emigration.  By then, there were few places for Jews fleeing Europe to go anyway: neither the western powers nor Mandatory Palestine, where civil war was raging, offered a refuge.

In other words, one side is operating with ideological caricatures older than the students themselves, and the other feels isolated and threatened with social if not physical death.

Clearly, that is anything but healthy.

Last summer, the Boston Jewish Advocate caused a stir with an article entitled, “What's up with Hampshire College? A small Bay State campus becomes a hotbed of anti-Israel fervor." It quoted the Anti-Defamation League as saying that Hampshire generates more complaints about students being targeted for pro-Israel beliefs than any other campus in the New England region. As the article goes on to note, several students have alleged that the hostile climate involves elements of antisemitism.

This is a dire situation. A college, of course, is not obligated to be either pro- or anti-Israel, as such. However, expressing opposition to the destruction of a United Nations member state really should not be a very controversial opinion. Above all, an academic institution is duty-bound to uphold principles of open and rigorous intellectual dialogue.

The situation is not unique to Hampshire.  The Palestinian-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh has said that he felt safer in Gaza or the West Bank than at US universities, where he needed police protection and was called a Nazi for daring to question the activist orthodoxy: “Listening to some students and professors on these campuses, for a moment I thought I was sitting opposite a Hamas spokesman or a would-be-suicide bomber.”

Still, we are naturally most sensitive to the flaws in our own surroundings. And, as serious as the problem here is, it of course cannot completely describe a vibrant and productive institution in which faculty and students of widely varying views nonetheless flourish and engage one another.

And 2012?

My deepest hope is that Hampshire College will establish a reputation, not as the epicenter of conflict, and instead, as a model of conciliation. Two of the groups with which I have been in contact offer strong examples of how this can be accomplished.

The broad-based Israel on Campus Coalition sends a pair of representatives—David Makovsky, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who has written about the peace process as both a journalist and a scholar, and Ghaith al-Omari, Executive Director of the American Task Force on Palestine, who has served as part of the Palestinian negotiating team at Camp David and as an advisor to Mahmoud Abbas—to colleges and universities. Rather than just parachuting in to present pieties and platitudes in a one-off performance, they insist on doing at least three events so that they can start a sustained process of communication. Typically, they might begin with a luncheon roundtable hosted by leaders of various student groups, followed by a facilitated dialogue session. Later in the day, they speak to classes. Early in the evening, they join faculty for dinner or dessert. Finally, they take part in a larger event for the campus as a whole—a lecture or panel discussion, including question-and-answer from the audience.

The team has scored great successes, even in some of the most “difficult” venues, such as the University of California, Irvine (1, 2, 3). "Civility, we felt, was missing on campuses," says al-Omari. Sometimes, the partners explain, the mere sight of the two appearing together is enough of a surprise or a shock to prompt students to move beyond stereotypes and start thinking differently.

A report in the Georgetown Hoya could have been written about Hampshire:
“The campus discourse, we thought, was too much about recriminations, Makovsky said." "Usually the campuses are ahead of the curve on issues, but on this one issue across the country, we felt the campuses are behind the curve. While people are talking to each other in the Middle East, why can't they talk to each other in the Northeast?" [. . . . ]

Rather than forming factions, students should recognize that the interests of Israel and Palestine are not diametrically opposed, al-Omari said.  
"You can be a pro-Palestine advocate without being anti-Israel," he said.  
He illustrated the way in which campus dialogue seems focused on the "zero-sum approach," which states that what is good for one nation is bad for the other and the "tribal approach," which delves into the history of both nations to justify conflict. Neither of these viewpoints, he argued, leaves room for objectivity or potential consensus. [ . . . . ]
"If we are serious people for a two-state solution, then we have to build up both sides of the two-state solution," Makovsky said. "We found that the faculty was not attuned to these developments on the ground, that their thinking was stuck in a very confrontational age. What we want to do is bring the message to the students that you've got to be forces for coexistence."
In al-Omari's words, "You have to move beyond the tribal lines in a policy debate. Once you look at this as a policy issue, you always can find policy solutions." And as Makovsky puts it, "For the most part, what's needed is to basically treat the students as adults, not just PR targets."

The program of the “Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding” at Queens College does just that. It is difficult but necessary. Founded by Professor Mark Rosenblum, it employs a methodology of “walking in the other side’s shoes.” As a once largely Jewish campus that now boasts a considerable Muslim population, Queens College might seem an unlikely place for dialogue but it has become an ideal one. Motivated by the tragedies of the Second Intifada and the 9-11 attacks, Rosenblum explained to the New York Times, he sought a way to bridge the widening gaps that were destroying education as well as human lives. In words that, again, could as easily be applied to Hampshire, he says, "It was hard to teach in a classroom where students had such preconceived ideas and had essentially become propagandists for their own side," he said. "It was quite nasty and ruthless.” 


His classes now require students to study and then “make the best possible case for the other side.” It works. "I did not expect anybody to change their position," he said. "My job is just to get you to feel a little bit of confusion by revealing that what you thought was a black and white struggle has a little more gray." Or, as one of the Muslim students put it, the class did not diminish his dedication to the Palestinian cause, but it did enable him to see the conflict in a new way: "People stop spreading legends and start talking the truth," he said. "It is so easy to hate people on the other side when you don't talk to them and you don't have to know them. But when you engage in discourse with them, you see they feel the way you do about your people. It's not so easy to hate them anymore." Classes ran overtime, and students who met in classes continued their dialogue after the semester was over.

In both cases, part of the message is: it’s easy to demonize when you’re dealing with abstractions and straw men. In dialogue, one has to deal with real people and real complexity.

Hampshire College is a leader in so many areas with accomplishments we could draw upon. Why not this one? The projects practically suggest themselves.

We have a distinguished Peace and World Security Studies Program. We have a large population of “international” students. Why could we not create a program in which Arab and Israeli students and scholars live and learn together and teach others? We are pioneers in sustainability and environmental science. Why could we not involve our students in efforts to address these issues in the Middle East, from energy to agriculture and water resources? As the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, based on cooperation between Arabs and Israelis, puts it, nature has no borders. After all, our new President was the leader of a major environmental organization. Could there be a better opportunity?

Now, contrast all this with “hotbed of anti-Israel fervor.” Is that all we have to show for all the years of “activism” around the Middle East conflict here? Should we allow ourselves to be defined by negation?

Is that really how we wish to be known?

Surely, we can do better.


Why not pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, pro-peace?


Why not? Really, why not?



Putting the Hampshire College Divestment Myth in its Grave

The anti-Israel “BDS” (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement seems to be at a tipping point. It confidently promises an unprecedented campaign in 2012, yet its efforts in the past year met with pushback and setbacks around the globe. Its choice of targets moreover grew increasingly petty, not to say, bizarre: hummus (made in New York)? chocolate shops in Australia? a symphony orchestra on tour? (1 vs. 2)  WTF?! The world finally seems to be catching on.

Plans for a national conference of the BDS movement, to be held at the University of Pennsylvania in February (1, 2), are already bringing bad news. The administration not only declared in advance that hosting the gathering did not constitute endorsement (standard operating procedure for all sorts of student events). It also took the notable step of explicitly condemning the BDS movement and affirming the importance of ties with Israeli academics.

Bummer.

The Penn activists claim to be “Picking up where the 2009 Hampshire conference left off.” They may wish to reconsider their chosen model. The rather lackluster original conference at Hampshire (1, 2, 3)  followed on the heels of the claim that the College had divested from “the Israeli Occupation of Palestine” earlier that year. Unfortunately, as everyone else in the world seems to know, that divestment claim is false. Call it what you will—misinterpretation, wishful thinking, hoax, fraud, lie—it didn’t happen, and that’s that. Hampshire College disposed of any remaining doubts when it presented its new socially responsible investing policy last month.

Jon Haber, who has followed anti-Israel divestment efforts closely, likens the so-called BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement to a vampire: (1) every time you think it’s dead, it comes back, a phenomenon that conveys (in accordance with its hopes and wishes) an air of invincibility. In fact, (2) its powers are more limited than it would like you to believe, because it can become a threat only when you allow it to cross your threshold. In Jon’s view, the BDS movement—which has scored no major or lasting victories in the course of a decade—has survived beyond its normal life only by virtue of the fact that its dedicated activists prey upon those who, whether deliberately or unwittingly, allow it to gain entrance to their organizations.

high time for institutions to wake up to the threat of BDS
This explains why the academically robust but financially anemic Hampshire College would prove such an enticing victim for the vampires: the endorsement of the first American institution of higher education to divest from South Africa would lend weight to the false assertion that Israel, too, practices “apartheid.”

That the College, following a divestment request by anti-Israel activists, made changes to its investment portfolio in 2009 is not in dispute. The dispute turns instead on the meaning of that action. The task of the historian, as Thomas Babington Macaulay says in the motto on the masthead of this blog, is not merely to establish the facts, but above all, to interpret them.

As is well known: the College, upon reviewing the fund in question, found that multiple companies were in violation of its socially responsible investment policy, and reallocated its assets accordingly. That standard (e.g. declining to invest in military products) was the sole rationale behind the action. The decision had nothing to do with Israel, affected a far greater number of firms having no association with Israel, and above all, rendered no verdict on Israel or its policies, whether within the “Green Line” or in the “occupied territories.”

No credible observer believes that divestment took place, for three very simple reasons: Divestment is a political action that therefore has meaning only if it is (1) deliberate and (2) accompanied by a public statement (3) on the part of an officially responsible body. When the College divested from holdings in South Africa, the administration and trustees publicly announced their action and stated the reasons. That contrast says it all.

A mere change in resource allocation makes no such statement. I once tried to illustrate this distinction by analogy:
If I sell my shares in Chrysler because I think it's a badly-run company that does not serve its stockholders, it's technically "true" that I have "relinquished" (to use the language of another recent student flier) my investment in a particular firm that profits from our irresponsible reliance on fossil fuels, but I have hardly "divested" myself—as a conscious and political statement (which is the only practical meaning that "divestment" can have in this context)—of participation in the carbon-based economy: especially if I continue to hold stock in Ford, Toyota, and Mobil.
The disinclination of Hampshire College to invest in certain areas does not necessarily render a verdict on their legality or morality:

• The College (although this is nowhere formally stated) does not invest in companies dealing in alcoholic beverages. Unlike tobacco, the latter do not necessarily cause harm when used responsibly. However, alcohol is neither a necessity of life nor an unmitigated good, and the College simply prefers to direct its resources to firms that, e.g. “Provide beneficial goods and services such as food, clothing, housing, health, education, transportation and energy.” (Policy, p. 2: Point 1) No rational person would conclude that, by declining to support the alcohol industry, we are endorsing prohibition—or even temperance. Hampshire College serves beer, wine, and liquor at some of its events—for example, dinners of the Board of Trustees, who approve the investment policy.

• The policy does not allow investment in companies that “Make nuclear, biological, or conventional weapons.” (Policy, p. 2: Point A) Nations have the right to self-defense. The US Constitution requires the government “to provide for the common defence,” and authorizes Congress “to raise and support armies” and “provide and maintain a navy.” No rational person would therefore conclude that our policy entails a rejection of the Constitution or the armed forces of the United States.

The decision taken in response to the divestment request had to do with military products, not their recipient: not Israel, not anyone else. If and when there is a Palestinian state, the College will likewise refuse to invest in firms that provide it with weapons.

Clear, one would think.

And yet the divestment myth refused to die. BDS advocates clung to it with a religious fervor, as if repeating it often enough could make it true.

They will find it more difficult than ever to maintain that position following the report on the new socially responsible investment policy last month.

Former President Marlene Fried:
there is clarity and unanimity on the Board that it did not make a decision to divest from the State of Israel, that it did not decide that Israel was in the same camp as South Africa.


Although the student questioner, fearing some semantic or conceptual confusion, correctly pointed out that the divestment claim involved the “Israeli occupation of Palestine” rather than investment in Israel, as such, it is a distinction without a difference in light of the above (as well as the stance of the BDS movement, for that matter)—and indeed, Fried responded by reaffirming the College’s rejection of the claim: “the Board does not believe that.”

There was no dissent from any member of the committee, and that includes Professor Emeritus Stan Warner, a well-known economist and political progressive, who was the faculty representative on the subcommittee on investment responsibility (CHOIR) at the time of the original divestment request, and who advised and educated student members about investment policy. Surely, if divestment had succeeded, he would know and be duty-bound to say so. But no, in the course of the nearly twelve-minute discussion of the issue, he was in fact the only member of the committee who did not speak to the controversy, as such, jumping in only briefly to answer a procedural question.

The College has made it clear, time and again: no divestment took place in 2009.

It has now affirmed that even more clearly at the end of 2011.

As they used to say in the olden days:

Q.E.D.
(1, 2)

Or, as we say nowadays:

Myth busted!

It’s high time that we put the divestment myth in the graveyard of history, where it belongs.



Sunday, January 8, 2012

Question-and-Answer on Israel and Divestment at Hampshire College (the "elephant in the room")


the "elephant in the room"
The false assertion that Hampshire College in 2009 divested itself of holdings in what student activists called "the Israeli Occupation of Palestine" came up when an ad hoc committee recently presented the new "socially responsible"—or "Environmental, Social and Governance" (ESG)—investing policy (full story here).

There, the committee forcefully reaffirmed the administration's consistent past assertions that no such thing ever occurred.

Here is the video of the conversation. Because the audio quality of remarks delivered without benefit of a microphone is poor, I have also transcribed the key portions of the dialogue to the best of my ability, with approximate time-markers.








The members of the committee present are (from left to right):

• Jonathan Scott: an alumnus, from the College’s first entering class, now member of the Board of Trustees and head of the Investment Committee
• Marlene Fried: a professor of philosophy and Director of the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program, who served as Interim President last year, while we conducted the search for a full-time president
• Beth Ward: Secretary of the College
• Stan Warner: Professor Emeritus of Economics, and long the faculty representative on the responsible investing committee
• Ken Rosenthal: first Treasurer of the College, now Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees



It was following the campaign by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) associated with the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement that the Board of Trustees decided the entire socially responsible investing policy had to be overhauled. The report to the community by the ad hoc committee charged with that review did not explicitly address Israel and the old divestment controversy.

An activist from Students for Justice in Palestine therefore clearly and politely raised the issue of what he called the “elephant in the room.” He had several related questions, beginning with process and procedures.  

Student questioner: (00:30) “My main three questions are, first is there transparency of the investment, is any of that changing? Is CHOIR [Committee at Hampshire On Investment Responsibility: oversees the definition and application of the guidelines; JW] the still the only way, does CHOIR have access to look at specific companies, where does that happen for students? [ . . . .] Where do you get access to looking at the portfolio?[ . . . . ]"

Jonathan Scott: "CHOIR will have full access to the portfolio: it is actually a subcommittee of the Investment Committee." [this is in fact covered quite simply and explicitly in the two-page portion of the document pertaining to CHOIR; JW].  (01:14) Stan Warner further explains that there will be access through the office of the Vice President for Financial Affairs, who then affirms that statement. He continues, “We’re invested in socially responsible funds, and you can then see: what specific companies.”

 Student: (01:28) “The other kind of, just, comment, question is, to me, feels like an elephant in the room, um, the reason, to me, that I felt that quite, well, not the reason, but the timing, was in February 2009, right after CHOIR had been restarted by students and CHOIR had put together this whole group of six companies—GE, DynCorp, Motorola, Terex, United Technologies, and [another] that I can’t get off the top of my head right now, as not fitting into the policy of our previous socially responsible investment [inaudible word]: making weapons and selling them to the Israeli army and being used in the occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza. And that proposal went to the Investment Committee, the Investment Committee passed it, and it went to the Board, and on February 9, the Board voted on, to divest from [inaudible] that had those five companies in it.”

He goes on to note that this prompted a closer look at other investments: CHOIR sent the fund "to the entire Investment Committee to look at it and added another hundred or so companies to that list as also being, not part of the, not fitting into our socially responsible endowment (02:37) and they voted on divestment, so, one question is: did that happen? Did, are we out of that mutual fund? and are there companies—according to what we just saw, they’re [or: that are?] making weapons, operating from countries that are engaged in heavy violations, I would imagine those companies would still be, I know there’s not a blacklist of companies [ . . . . ]"

(03:00) “and lastly, just the fact that it wasn’t talked about, says something about the whole situation still” [and CHOIR’s {?} involvement] “because, that being said, sometimes even among college students with power at Hampshire our power is to make good statements [?], initially when those students joined CHOIR, that wasn’t the ritual, legal [?], to get the school to make a statement that investing in companies that are selling weapons to the Israeli army to use on the West Bank for illegal occupation or for illegal siege is socially irresponsible, and other schools should follow suit, end up doing what we did, and so powerful, what we did back in South Africa, which was: morally, you know, lift it up, [look?] at this great thing [at?] Hampshire, this moral standard that we, our power, and, you know, other schools have to move forward since Hampshire (03:57) and whether or not the administration of Hampshire, or everyone at Hampshire feels that that was what happened, the greater, um, I know I’m sure it’s been talked about in socially responsible investing statements, conversations, emails [ . . . . ]"

(04:18) “so I’m just curious if there was any of the time when you actually talked about that in relationship because [ . . . ] in February was the reason that, right after that vote, a lot of people from the school got a lot of backlash from the ADL and Alan Dershowitz and other people all of a sudden [ . . . . ] I know that’s a lot.”

Response by Jonathan Scott (04:44) “Alex, I hear your passion, and I appreciate it, having been a Hampshire student myself. And I think the best way to answer [. . . ] with respect to the decision to divest, I think that, as the Investment Committee, what CHOIR did elevated, the, made it clear, to me (I’m making that [statement] as an individual), that our policy was totally inadequate. And, so I think that it made us go back and say, ‘wow, we have an inadequate policy': Not only was it not up to date, it wasn’t clear, and it was the Policy and CHOIR and the Guidelines all together. So I for one have been really wanting this to be passed for some time. We’ve had other things going on on campus, having nothing to do with CHOIR, and I think, going forward, this policy is going to help inform the greater good of the College for what we’re doing. And it was a teachable moment for me, to get clarity on an issue—and I’m not speaking about the Israeli issue, I’m speaking about the clarity of the actual document itself. And that’s what we did, that’s what we’re speaking about today."

He goes on to explain how the College maintained its basic ethical investment strategy over the past three years by applying a particular licensed screen to an index fund.

"As far as—I guess the other thing that’s important, and we said it already–we have tried to maintain to the extent possible our belief in our core values all through the last three years."  He goes on to give details on the index funds and screens.

(07:39) “As far as the securities you named [i.e. the ones involved in the alleged divestment], sitting here [. . .] it’s hard to know what’s in or out of a fund on a given day, but as I said, [ . . . ] you’ll be able to see more" [when the new system is fully in place]

(07:55) Secretary of the College Beth Ward:
“I think there’s really an [inaudible] on the part of the College to have exactly those conversations, I mean not necessarily [inaudible] reference all of these per se, but really think about all of these political issues. I mean, it’s really hard to struggle with them, and you know, I think about South Africa and some of those [inaudible], and in some ways it seems like the world is kind of murky.”

(08:29) “focusing on companies is a very clarifying way to approach these policies, which does not in any way mitigate the need for us, you know, to [take on?] other issues.” We need to have conversations about politics.

(08:56) Ken Rosenthal (noting that he joined the Board just around the time of the controversy in 2009):  “What we discovered was: There had not been conversations on this campus as there should have been over a period of time, and so I think things, I think things exploded when, had we been talking about these issues regularly, we might have approached them in a more consistent and in a different way. And what we’re trying to do here is trying to reestablish a forum on this campus, a regular forum, where people can come, not feel frustrated, and can meet regularly [ . . . ] so that we can get the ideas out, we can consider them, and we can move, if necessary, quickly, to make changes. I don’t know that there will be changes that will always be necessary, but I do think conversation is necessary, especially because, especially because the tenure[s] of some of us go back many years, but for students, they may only be aware of these issues for one or two years and not be a- not appreciate that something may have been talked about three or four years ago or six or seven. We need to have those conversations regularly so people feel they’re a part ….”

(10:15) Marlene Fried: “I want to speak to the elephant. [ . . . ] I sort of came into this late, I was not the best informed or paying attention in 2008, but last year, I was paying a lot of attention [i.e. when, as interim President, she had to address the deteriorating climate on campus following the harassment of an Israeli student ( 1, 2) and the disruption of a talk by an Israeli soldier; JW], so it is very clear that there is a real divide between what the ‘buzz’ out there is about what Hampshire did or didn’t do, and about what the Board of Trustees of Hampshire College believes that it did, and there is clarity and unanimity on the Board that it did not make a decision to divest from the State of Israel, that it did not decide that Israel was in the same camp as South Africa.”

Student: “But it did say: Israel [sic] occupation, and the students on the Board did [use?] Israeli occupation, which is very different than Israel [ . . . ].”
They had been hoping that the Board would state that it broke the College's alleged ties to the occupation (or words to that effect).

(11:19) Fried: “The Board does not believe that it broke. And so, I guess the next thing is where will such conversations happen in the future, and I’m thinking it’s envisioned that CHOIR would a place where that will happen, and that’s why CHOIR is [inaudible; others break in]"

(11:36) Rosenthal: "And we hope it’s energized. We don’t want it just to be there waiting for somebody to call it to order, we want it to regularly say: we’re meeting, come talk to us."

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Hampshire College Policy on Environmental, Social and Governance Investing: A Closer Look

• College unveils most ambitious socially responsible investing policy in the country
• Board reaffirms: College never divested itself of holdings in Israel, rejects parallel between South African apartheid and Israel


I. Overview

Last month, Hampshire College presented its new draft investment policy to the community for comment, with the expectation that the Trustees would approve the statement of principles by the end of 2011 and take up the full document at their quarterly Board meeting in February.

The policy is distinctive in two regards:  First, following the best practices in this evolving field, it emphasizes investments that actively do good rather than merely avoid harm. For that reason, the old phrase, "socially responsible investing," has yielded to "Environmental, Social and Governance Investing," or (because that is an unwieldy mouthful) "ESG," for short (1, 2).  (Both the old version and the new mandate what is to be encouraged as well as what is to be avoided—and in largely the same terms—but the new one frames the whole in a more comprehensive, positive, and up-to-date way.)

Second, it is an unusually vigorous attempt to implement these principles. As past President Marlene Fried explained, the consultants said that, "as far as they knew, our policy was the strongest and the most all-encompassing" in the country. Given that only about 15 percent of American institutions of higher education explicitly pursue socially responsible investing, Hampshire College thus again positions itself at the cutting edge  ( 1, 2, 3) of academia.


Interest in the policy, both on and beyond the Hampshire campus, was clearly heightened by the recent history of controversy over the College's investments in Israel. In 2009, anti-Israel student activists associated with the so-called "BDS" (Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment) movement falsely claimed that they had forced the College to divest from "the Israeli Occupation of Palestine" (an overview here; more detailed coverage here). It was an assessment of the overall investment policy at that time that prompted the review whose results are now before us. The current document, let it be said at the outset, contains nothing that singles out Israel, or any country, for that matter. Indeed, one of the most significant things to come out of the presentation was an unusually clear statement to the effect that the Board had not in any way or fashion divested from Israel, and what is more, explicitly rejected the analogy to South African apartheid that the activists here and elsewhere have repeatedly sought to draw.

 * * *

As promised, then, here is a closer look at the presentation and the document. The approximately 80-minute information session on December 13 consisted of an overview of the review committee’s approach and a walk through the document (with highlights and excerpts in PowerPoint), followed by a question-and-answer session. Although the full text of the new document was distributed in hard copy midway through the event, there was of course no way for all those in attendance to explore and fully assess the details off the cuff. (Note: For the sake of greater clarity and coherence, I have rearranged some portions of the presentation.)

Because of the intrinsic importance of the issue and the interest that it is already beginning to arouse outside the College, I have attempted to provide as much detail as possible. Readers may thus pursue this description as selectively or extensively as they wish: The above (I) conveys the essence of the plan. The middle and longest portions (II-V) elaborate on the details. The final portion (VI) takes up the question of investment involving Israel, which had garnered national attention but surfaced here explicitly only in the question-and-answer session.

(l-r:) Jonathan Scott, Marlene Fried, Beth Ward, Stan Warner, Ken Rosenthal

II. Personae and Process

Secretary of the College Beth Ward moderated the event and introduced the participants: Jonathan Scott (an alumnus, from the College’s first entering class, now member of the Board of Trustees and head of the Investment Committee), Ken Rosenthal (first Treasurer of the College, now Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees), Stan Warner (professor emeritus of economics, and long the faculty representative on the investment committee), and professor of philosophy Marlene Fried, who served as Interim President last year, while we conducted the search for a full-time president). Not present were the student and staff members of the committee: in the meantime, the former graduated, and the second took a position elsewhere.

Jonathan Scott began by attempting, as he put it, to frame the discussion at a high level of generalization. The baseline fact is that Hampshire’s endowment today stands at only about $ 31 million (about 26 million of that in liquid securities). This combination of low total and limited liquidity, he explained, “puts some constraints on this portfolio.” The College therefore has to invest chiefly in existing funds; i.e. adapting to or modifying their selection rather than creating its own from scratch. (On the other hand, by implication, I suppose one could discern an advantage in not facing the dilemma of substantial investments in more traditional fields and firms, more likely to violate rigorous ESG standards.)


He further emphasized that, although the College had suspended the old policy and investment committee during the review process, “we never suspended how we invest.” (Translation: Board members did not run out and suddenly begin investing in sweatshops and armament manufacturers in 2009.)

Hampshire’s socially responsible investment stance dates from 1977, when the College divested itself of holdings in South Africa. The unwieldy document governing investments, revised for the ninth time in 1994, combined the overall policy statement, the specific investing guidelines, and the rules and regulations governing CHOIR, which stands for the awkwardly named Committee at Hampshire On Investment Responsibility (Ironically, it takes a clumsy and infelicitous name to generate a convenient acronym. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. But in was the '70s, after all. Maybe administrators will one day just create names that make sense. One may hope.)


III. The Document

As Scott put it, the document was thus “more than out of date, it was absolutely confusing.”

Indeed, anyone who attempts to read through the old policy—even though, at 2083 words, it is about one-third shorter than the new one—would be hard-pressed to avoid that conclusion. Some portions are clearly no longer relevant. Some are more detailed than they need to be. Others lack sufficient detail or clarity. And above all, the structure of the whole, mixing principles and procedures, was less than user-friendly, as we say nowadays.

The first task of the review committee had therefore been to break it into its constituent elements, each of which has now been rewritten and can stand on its own and be modified according to appropriately differentiated procedures. Ken Rosenthal explained:

(1) The intention was, first, to generate a short general statement for trustee approval by the end of the calendar year. This “Policy on Environmental, Social and Governance Investing” (3 pages) possesses the highest degree of authority and will remain fixed for the foreseeable future. (Note: in what follows, upper-case “Policy” refers to this document, as opposed to the investment “policy” [lower-case] as a whole.)

(2) The “Investment Committee’s Working Guidelines for ESG Investing,” by contrast, are more detailed and thus likely to be “more fluid,” with a lower threshold for modification and approval. As Scott later put it, ““a policy is something you don’t want to take back to the board every three or four months.” He cited an example from his own experience in Pennsylvania: a generation ago, in the wake of Three Mile Island disaster, “no one, even conservatives, wanted to invest in nuclear power” but today, when weighed against coal in the age of global warming, that choice may look different. Thus, a general principle (appropriate to the “Policy” document) might be upholding fair labor practices. However, the more flexible, amendable working “Guidelines” would explain how to achieve that. (This is of course, a common principle, which was crucial to our recent work on the College’s Governance Task Force: organizations apply it every day when distinguishing between authoritative and relatively stable “bylaws,” on the one hand, and more flexible policy manuals and the like, on the other.)

(3) Finally, there is “CHOIR Composition and Procedures (2 pages),” which as the title implies, addresses the operations of the investment committee rather than substance.


IV. Dilemmas and Decisions

The overall challenge or dilemma is that the Board of Trustees, in the words of the Policy (p. 1) has a “fiduciary obligation” “to optimize the financial return to the college, both currently and in the future, in order to advance the long-term financial interests of the College and support its mission.” “At the same time, “It is a core value of Hampshire College, and consistent with its historical practice, that the College invest in a socially responsible way.”

(The introduction to the old policy, perhaps because it was then breaking new ground, spoke of ethical investing first, and fiduciary responsibility only after that. Whereas the new policy allots four paragraphs to the introduction, the old one confined it to a single one, distributing some of the issues among the guidelines, e.g. III.A-C.)


As Scott observed, even though “we care greatly about both those issues,” they “don’t necessarily go hand in hand.” Attempting to balance the two “generated—I won’t say, some friction—energy.” There were “some bumps on the road at first,” but thanks to good will and a common sense of purpose, the members of the team were soon able to come up with the proper approach, and then everything moved along as if “on a superhighway.” (The document [p. 1] does make the plausible but slightly strained argument that investments in firms with sound environmental and human rights practices can be best even judged on purely financial grounds: such enterprises ultimately have the best prospects for long-term survival and growth, and whereas those that shun these values “pose reputational, financial, operational and legal risks to the College’s investments” and thus its “future financial security.”)

He cautioned, “there is no such thing as a straight line down the middle,” there is no such thing as perfection—or purity.” Or, the words of the Policy:

“investing in a responsible way does not always offer self-evident decisions. In an investment world that is ever more complex and global in scope, it is not possible to be informed of every activity that a business undertakes. There are likely to be products and services that can be used in ways that are both responsible and contrary to a shared notion of responsibility.” (p.1)

For that reason, Scott explained, it is essential at the outset not just to create clear rules and criteria, but also to indicate how they can be pragmatically applied in real life. He illustrated dilemmas and choices from other cases. The Quakers, he noted, are famously against war. They could therefore have chosen not to invest in US Treasuries, given that some of this money supports the military. In the end, however, they concluded that their mission was more jeopardized by having securities at risk, and so they decided to keep their liquidity in Treasuries.

The College’s answer to the challenge of making such decisions is a “threshold” policy. The mere fact that a corporation is involved in some activity prohibited under the investment policy is not a red line. Rather than imposing an absolute ban, which, given the complexity and diversity of economic enterprises in the contemporary world could well prove crippling, the committee chose to “create thresholds for things that are quantifiable.” For example, the College would not invest in a major defense contractor, but there would be no obstacle to investing in a consumer-electronics firm whose production of a component for the military constitutes a minuscule part of its overall activity, measured as a share of revenues: in this case, five percent.

(The old policy was both more vague and more specific [ III.C.3 ]. It framed the issue with reference to the desire "to invest in a way that reduces this country's dependency on military spending." On the one hand, it spoke of military investment in reverse terms, promising to "favor companies not heavily dependent on the sale of weapons and those which are taking active steps toward converting from production for military purposes"; it provided no quantitative or other practical measure. On the other hand, it went into considerable detail in defining nuclear and biological weapons: presumably a reflection of the debates over Cold War arms control and the relative newness of regulating other non-conventional weapons; the treaty on biological and chemical weapons cited there dated only from 1973 [III.C.4 and Definitions and Notes].)


We are at the leading edge of a trend, Scott explained: “The whole idea of ESG investing is becoming more popular, with individuals,” but it is just taking off at the institutional level. That is due in part to the complexity and limitations that might cause large investors to shy away. Given the relatively small size of its endowment, Hampshire is perhaps well able to pursue such a policy. At the same time, most investments will necessarily be in standard, pre-packaged funds, i.e. given to a fund manager, with appropriate instructions. “If we had billions,” he said, “we could hire that manager” to create a customized fund. Instead, “the best we can do is to find a fund that approximates” our desires and then customize it by employing various screens to filter out particular investments that do not fit our policy. “I’ll stress that this policy is to give guidance to our managers.” The fund mangers then give their recommendations to the investment committee, which makes the ultimate decision.

“A big constraint,” he added, “is in the emerging markets, it’s extremely difficult to invest in emerging markets in ESG, especially when you have to be in a fund.” He further clarified: “the screening is of individual companies; we do not invest in countries, as such.” (This seemed quite a clear allusion to the controversy over Israel and divestment as well as an elaboration on the general geographical question.)

Scott conceded that the thought of trying to implement what is arguably the strictest policy in the US while maximizing revenues made even him a bit nervous. The consultants, however, are confident that it is practicable.


V. The New Policy and its Implementation

Stan Warner presented the substance of the new plan and its rationale. He started with some history: “It began with one issue, and I was there, marching with 400 students around the Red Barn [building housing financial administration offices, and in earlier years, the site of Trustee meetings; JW]. We were, he said, “a place that cared about social issues beyond the borders of the College. We were trying to end the Vietnam War, trying to impeach Richard Nixon, trying to end apartheid.” The “trustees listened to this and were responsive, with a bit of nudging”

Much has changed not only since 1977, but also since 1994, when the old governing document was adopted. The world has become more complex, and the notion of ethical investing has matured, as well. In keeping with the broader notion of social responsibility represented by the ESG concept, the study committee agreed, “we will not make substantive changes in the areas that we do not invest in.” The current task, Warner said, was thus not to dilute the old system, and rather, “to expand” it. That requires some effort, as no off-the-shelf package is likely to fit the bill. “We then have the challenge of finding funds that satisfy these [standards], we can’t invest in just one fund. We need some diversity in the portfolio.”

(1) The Policy is divided into positives and negatives: those activities that the College wishes to support and those in which it chooses not to invest.
The College will favor investments in businesses that emphasize one or more of the following characteristics:
  1. Provide beneficial goods and services such as food, clothing, housing, health, education, transportation and energy. 
  2. Pursue research and development programs that hold promise for new products of social benefit and for increased employment prospects. 
  3. Maintain fair labor practices including exemplary management policies in such areas as non-discriminatory hiring and promotion, Worker participation and education, and in policies affecting their quality of work life. 
  4. Maintain a safe and healthy work environment including full disclosure to workers of potential work hazards. 
  5. Demonstrate innovation in relation to environmental protection, especially with respect to policies, organizational structures, and/or product development; give evidence of superior performance with respect to waste utilization, pollution control, and efforts to mitigate climate change risk. 
  6. Use their power to enhance the quality of life for the underserved segments of our society and encourage local community reinvestment. 
  7. Have a record of sustained support for higher education.
The College will not favor investments in businesses whose products, services, or business practices are inconsistent with the above characteristics, in particular avoiding businesses that:
  • A. Make nuclear, biological, or conventional weapons. 
  • B. Have significant operations in countries with serious human rights violations. 
  • C. Engage in unfair labor practices.
  • D. Discriminate by race, gender, ethnic origin, sexual preference, or disability. 
  • E. Demonstrate substantially harmful environmental practices. 
  • F. Market abroad products that are banned in the United States because of their impact on health or the environment. 
  • G. Have markedly inferior occupational health and safety records. 
  • H. Manufacture or market products that in normal use are unsafe. 
  • I. Refuse to make their performance records concerning Guidelines 1 - 7 and A-H available upon reasonable request.

Elaborating on the negative, he made clear that the decision not to invest in a given field should not necessarily be taken to mean that the relevant activity is illegal or immoral. For example, although this is nowhere specified in the Guidelines, the College chooses not to invest in firms a major portion of whose business involves alcoholic beverages or so-called adult entertainment (pornography). The investment policy is a voluntary statement of values and resource-allocation preferences.

(2) The Guidelines, following the same structure and numbering as the Policy, in essence go on to explain some of the metrics and evaluation procedures. For example, on the positive side, workplace conditions can be measured by a combination of “policies,” “certifications” (OSHA and equivalents), “programs,” and “performance (e.g. statistics on employee injuries and fatalities measured against industry averages, etc.) (pp. 1-2: Point 4). On the negative side, a pattern of discrimination might be measured (p. 4: Point D) by such factors as fines, penalties, and legal settlements, or individual or class-action lawsuits involving the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.


Echoing Scott’s earlier remark, Warner affirmed, “we don’t divest from countries, we divest from firms.” “In some cases, with human rights violations, the process begins with countries and moves to funds. Closer scrutiny of investments in a particular country could be triggered if the latter had a particularly egregious human rights record might. He cited the examples of South Africa in the past, and countries practicing genocide, such as Sudan, today. Still, the point again was the firms and their practices. Thus, the prevalence of sweatshops in Indonesia might trigger a close review of firms there, but the outcome might be a decision not to invest in Nike and Gap—not a ban on investment in Indonesia.

Ken Rosenthal briefly explained proxy voting (Policy, p. 3), which adheres to the same principles as the old, namely supporting propositions that seek to eliminate or reduce "ESG injury," and opposing the reverse. The difference lies in the context: the old policy [III.D] envisioned the trustees as "voting their shares at meetings of stockholders by proxy." The new one explains that, "The College generally invests in funds, rather than individual companies, and usually has no opportunity to exercise the voting rights of shareholders because they are delegated to the manager(s)." The College simply instructs the manager(s) to cast any votes in accordance with its policy.

(The old policy [III.E], unlike the new one, contains a specific clause on "Divestment," authorizing sale "for other than financial reasons" if the "exercise of shareholders' rights . . . will not, within a reasonable period of time, succeed in changing a company's attitude toward a moral or social problem." Clearly, this is a political action, which pertains to an extreme and rare situation, such as the South African case. For example, one would not, generally speaking, seek to change the overall production of an arms manufacturer; one would instead simply determine that investment in this area was inconsistent with the policy and "delete" the company from the "master list of acceptable investment opportunities" [III.C.5]. Now that the College is invested chiefly in funds, most of which have moreover received a thorough screening in accordance with ESG policy, "divestment" in the former sense is typically not an option.)

(3) CHOIR, a subcommittee of the Investment Committee, is tasked with an advisory and reporting role concerning investment policy: chiefly, making recommendations to the former on the maintenance, revision, and application of the Guidelines; and keeping Board and community informed of its doings. (CHOIR, p. 1: Points A-B)


The committee decided to retain CHOIR as a separate standing body with the same membership (two representatives each from trustees, faculty, students, and staff, with the Vice President of Finance ex officio), but modified its procedures in a few important ways aimed at enhancing efficiency, transparency, and accountability: First, rather than coming together on an ad hoc basis, as in the past (II.E: "normally three or four times a year") CHOIR will have a regular annual meeting as a baseline (others taking place as necessary) and will report on a quarterly basis to the Board. Second, and as a corollary: now, as before, CHOIR “may initiate its own actions” but is explicitly required to solicit, take into account, and report on the full range of community information and advice when making its recommendations to the Investment Committee (old: II.B.4; J.1,3); new: Points B, F-H). The policy, appropriately enough, requires solicitation of "information and advice from individuals and groups" beyond the campus during the research and deliberation phase, but once a judgment has been rendered, focuses on "opinion" within the College walls.

What is distinctive today is the commitment to strengthen the role of CHOIR as a standing committee, with the expectation of regular and substantive dialogue with both Trustees and campus community.

Secretary of the College Beth Ward wrapped up the formal presentation by again reminding the audience that the College had never halted its socially responsible investing, and she closed by inviting public comment in the coming week. The question-and-answer session took up the final 25 minutes or so.



VI. The Israeli "Elephant in the Room"

Most of the questions, predictably, included details of implementation, some of which (also predictably) had in effect been answered in the course of the presentation.

A subsidiary concern, or at least, observation, involved the small size of the audience, and in particular, the low turnout; there were only three students, though they asked most of the questions. Given the attendance figure and the late date in the semester, the possibility of extending the comment period beyond the next week arose. The Committee showed itself open to suggestions but also offered the very logical response: what the Trustees wanted to approve now was the Policy document, which was brief, general, straightforward, and presumably uncontroversial. There would always be time for further comment on the other elements before the official February Board meeting, particularly because the process for revising them was simpler, given the lower threshold.

It was only now that the question of economic ties to Israel arose. In a way, that was only natural. The topic is nowhere to be found in the document, for reasons that should be obvious and were clearly indicated in the presentation: the College’s policies pertain to firms, and not to countries or particular political issues. There was, nominally, no need to speak of it. That said, everyone was aware of it as a subtext or background issue. As in the case of the original controversy, it is in some ways a “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” dilemma: mentioning it risks giving disproportionate attention to a non-issue and thus detracting from the real topic. On the other hand, not mentioning it allows the impassioned advocates to imply (however implausibly) that the issue is being ignored for nefarious reasons.

An activist from Students for Justice in Palestine therefore clearly and politely raised the issue of what he called the “elephant in the room.” He had several related questions, beginning with process and procedures.

• He wanted to know, first, whether the transparency of the investment process would be retained? For example, would CHOIR still have access to lists of all investments?
-The answer from Mr. Scott: yes. (it is in fact found on p. 2: Point E)

• In particular, though, he noted that CHOIR had in 2009 had "voted on divestment" from six companies involved in "making weapons and selling them to the Israeli army and being used in the West Bank and Gaza": "did that happen?" Could the ad hoc committee tell us the status of those investments?
-Answer from Mr. Scott: not off the top of his head, especially as the composition of funds continually changes.

• Students on campus and activists elsewhere were frustrated that the College, allegedly because it came under intense outside pressure, had not made a statement affirming the change in policy and holdings. The activists believed that divestment had occurred, “whether or not the administration of Hampshire, or everyone at Hampshire feels that that was what happened.” Among other things, the questioner was therefore curious as to whether the issue has been discussed as part of the review process.

There followed several oblique and rather deferential responses, the common theme of which was: apart from the substance of the issue (which none of them deigned—or dared—to address), the incident had revealed how flawed the old policy and system was, and why clearer procedures and better communication were badly needed.

Finally, former President Marlene Fried (video below) jumped in to address the issue head-on: “I want to speak to the elephant. [ . . . ] I sort of came into this late, I was not the best informed or paying attention in 2008, but last year, I was paying a lot of attention [i.e. when, as interim President, she had to address the deteriorating climate on campus following the harassment of an Israeli student ( 1, 2) and the disruption of talk by an Israeli soldier; JW], so it is very clear that there is a real divide between what the ‘buzz’ out there is about what Hampshire did or didn’t do, and about what the Board of Trustees of Hampshire College believes that it did, and there is clarity and unanimity on the Board that it did not make a decision to divest from the State of Israel, that it did not decide that Israel was in the same camp as South Africa.”

Student: “But it did say: Israel [sic] occupation, and the students on the Board did [use?] Israeli occupation, which is very different than Israel [ . . . ].”
They had been hoping that the Board would state that it broke the College's alleged ties to the occupation (or words to that effect).

Fried: “The Board does not believe that. . . ."



(I have reserved a fuller account of the exchange for a separate post.)

With that, the matter should be settled. Still, it remains of some relevance, to the extent that it bears on both the substance  and practicality of the new document.

On the whole, the policy is bold and admirable. However, one clause—on its own terms and in light of the foregoing controversy—may give some readers pause. It pertains to what are called "Countries of concern." (Policy, p. 2: Point B) Among the investments that "The College will not favor" (Guidelines, pp. 2-3) are those in "businesses that":
· B. Have significant operations in countries with serious human rights violations. Countries of concern are those where there is substantial evidence of complicity in clear violations of civil and political human rights by the government in power, as evidenced by:

• Allegations or convictions resulting from serious impacts on the civil and political rights of any group of people.

a) This includes violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as government-sponsored killings, torture and abuse, forced labor, forced displacement, abuse from the local military or police services, abuse of freedom of expression, and child labor.

• Controversies substantial enough to have become an international issue or to have international repercussions. A substantial international controversy can be gauged by whether there is:

a) An international divestment or boycott campaign by two or more major human rights groups;

b) Involvement by one or more governments (outside the host country government) or United Nations (UN) agencies publicly expressing concern about the state of human rights in a country of concern;
c) Widespread and/or prolonged coverage in the international press; or
d) Some form of intervention by UN or other regional/international human rights authorities.

Typically the majority of these factors should be met in order to identify a country of concern, and then an assessment of the company's activities in these countries performed. In most cases, retail or distribution of company products or humanitarian aid in a country of concern will not be problematic, however, grounds for restriction may include the presence of company-owned facilities- in a country of concern, contractual arrangements with government entities, or operations that clearly benefit the government (most frequently via revenue generation and often entailing infrastructural investments or natural resource extraction).
Clearly, this screen is intended to flag countries that are gross violators of human rights, such as Sudan or Myanmar. And there are many sensible and reassuring specifics. Language matters. Frequently, the document includes key qualifying terms signaling a high standard to be met; thus, for example: "serious human rights violations," "substantial evidence of complicity," "clear violations," "serious impacts," "two or more major human rights groups." There is reference to foundational documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Finally, it is reassuring to see that this is not a casual menu for the fickle: the presumed need for a country to meet "the majority of these factors" before becoming a target of concern sets an appropriately high bar. It is a prudent safeguard.

To put this all in context: the old policy (III.C.4.d) defined countries of concern simply as those "engaged in serious human rights violations" and described the prohibited corporate activities there as those that "serve to perpetuate, promote, and finance these conditions, as identified through a factual case by CHOIR." Lacking is any precision or granularity, indeed, any real definition at all. The new policy is thus vastly clearer than and superior to the old one. It cannot be properly judged without reference to the former.

Obviously, any policy document is subject to both innocent misinterpretation and misuse. It is worthwhile to ask whether there is anything we can do to limit those possibilities. The text, unlike human nature, lies within our control. One hopes that the Board, when taking up this document in February, will give that issue due consideration.

To return to the "elephant in the room," one could easily imagine anti-Israel divestment advocates putting together a case that was on the surface plausible even if it in fact lacked merit:
• "Convictions" in criminal courts for violations of human rights are lacking, but "allegations," whether substantiated or not, are legion. Just how, then, would this standard be applied?

• International divestment and boycotts? It would be difficult to claim that "two or more major human rights groups" [emphasis added] are spearheading such measures—clearly, the authors of the policy have in mind something like the coordinated boycott of Sudan or the equivalent—but anti-Israel advocates would no doubt produce the usual list of bit-players, which, to the uninformed, might at first seem persuasive. We may ask: what defines "major"? And even then, how do we judge their judgments? Even undeniably "major" human rights groups have of late come under sharp criticism for bias (1, 2).
• Widespread or prolonged press coverage: is mere quantity or duration sufficient? What about the merits of that coverage? The watchdog group CiFWatch documents, on a daily basis, the distortions and bigotry in the treatment of Israel and Jews in the once-respected Guardian: a flaw that the latter has finally and grudgingly begun to acknowledge (1, 2). And a recent scholarly study discovered evidence of extensive and systematic bias by Reuters—in violation of the news organization's own explicit norms.

• Expressions of concern by UN agencies? That is a rather low moral as well as practical bar these days. To cite but two examples: The UN General Assembly, in its 61st session (2006-7), condemned Israel 22 times, yet somehow never mentioned the genocide in Sudan (between 1950 and 2007, the entire Arab-Israeli conflict, including all-out international wars, cost 51,000 lives; the Sudanese civil wars, 1.9 million; source). As for the UN Human Rights Council, it has devoted 80 percent of its censures to Israel alone, which is ironic, given that its current members include China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and Pakistan, not exactly paradises for human rights. Adding to the irony: Libya actually chaired the Council until its suspension in March of last year.
I offer the above merely as food for thought. (And I note that several of those standards or categories also appear elsewhere in the document, e.g. "significant controversies" as defined by legal actions, "criticism by NGOs," and "extensive media coverage" in the case of products injurious to human health or the environment [p. 4: Point F; see also p. 5: Point H].)

Naturally, any such document must strike the difficult balance between the specificity required for clarity and the breadth required for practicability. Much inevitably depends on the hypothetical "reasonable person" who will apply the standards.

The original divestment case was empty because divestment is an explicitly political act: The activists sought to win a symbolic victory by targeting primarily items of military production, which are, however, neutral in nature: they can be used for legitimate purposes (every state has the right of self-defense) or for illegitimate ones. The socially responsible investment policy does not distinguish between the two. Therefore, even the selling off of shares in every firm that has military dealings with Israel would objectively make no statement whatsoever regarding the legitimacy of the state or its policies, within the Green Line or in the territories. This is what so frustrates and infuriates the BDS activists: they want the College to admit to something that it by definition did not and could not do.

(To show you just how preposterous the whole business was: In 2009, the  anti-Israel divestment activists targeted ITT and Motorola because they supplied equipment to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Well, as it turns out, both firms also provided equipment or other assistance for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts—and, to complete the irony, the violent Jihadis on board the "Mavi Marmara" used Motorola devices to coordinate their attack on the IDF troops attempting to enforce the blockade of Gaza in 2010. These things are just not as simple as the activists would have one believe.)

My bet is that, if the new policy is implemented fairly and rigorously in the spirit in which it is intended, another anti-Israel divestment attempt would likewise fail.

-First, the new policy, even taking the aforementioned questions into account, arguably implements far clearer standards and sets a higher overall bar.

-Second, the more rigorous approach allows for a salutary and even clearer separation of human rights from narrowly political goals: Is your aim to apply socially responsible investment principles in general or to attain a specific political end? If the former, then the refusal to invest in all military production solves the problem. It makes no difference which country is involved; you can rejoice and move on. If the latter, however, then you've got a fairly tough case to make.

-Finally, the demands of transparency and communication would force the argument into the open. Last time, divestment advocates sought to achieve their victory behind the closed doors of committee and board meetings. This time, opposing views would be required to receive a full and fair hearing in the bright light of public opinion. It would be a compelling debate, I am sure.

The statements made at the presentation of the new policy make it clear, once and for all, that divestment never took place. The new policy makes it highly unlikely that it could occur in the future.

That policy will be a test of maturity for all parties concerned.

If SJP is wise, it will devote its efforts to more productive and less destructive activities. The issue of Palestine and Palestinian rights is a serious one, about which a serious conversation would be welcome. Attempting to draw attention to it through divestment is both a moral and a strategic error. Exploiting the resources and name of Hampshire College in order to do so is cynical and selfish. If, as in the past, the divestment advocates put their desires first and attempt to highjack the institution and its agenda by treating the College merely as a means to their narrow ends, that will be as revealing as it will be regrettable.

The College has registered a significant achievement by producing the most ambitious and rigorous ethical investment policy in the country. That is something that we should all applaud and support. That is where the spotlight should be focused and remain.



* * *

Resources

• "Hampshire College Policy on Environmental, Social and Governance Investing" (draft of 25 October 2011): the College has made it available here, but in the event that the draft is later replaced with another version, I have also uploaded the former here as both a Word document and a pdf.

• Hampshire College "Policy on Socially Responsible Investing" (version of 12 September 1994): as Word document and as pdf.

• Hampshire College information sheet: "Q&A: Draft Policy on Environmental, Social and Governance Investing," 13 December 2011

• Kevin Kiley, "Making Green by Going Green" [report on the new Hampshire policy], Inside Higher Ed, 16 Dec. 2011

• Chad Cain, "Hampshire College seeks socially responsible investing," Daily Hampshire Gazette, 19 Dec. 2011

• Hampshire College press release: "Hampshire College Adopts Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Investing Guidelines," 3 January 2012


[updated links]