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Alan Dershowitz

Alan Dershowitz

Posted February 19, 2009 | 04:47 PM (EST)

Hampshire Divests from Israel, So Contributors Should Divest from Hampshire


Several months ago, a rabidly anti Israel group on the Hampshire College campus began a campaign to try to get the college to divest from six companies that they claim helped "the Israeli occupation of Palestine." Those who came up with this formulation regard all of Israel, including Tel Aviv, Haifa and Ben Gurion Airport, as "occupied Palestine." In other words, their goal is to end the existence of Israel. This divestment effort is part of an international campaign against Israel. Until now, every American university administration has categorically rejected this attempt to single out Israel in a world filled with massive human rights abusers. But Hampshire caved in to student and faculty pressure and as Board of Directors agreed to divest from these six companies along with a series of others that did not meet the standards of Hampshire College. The student group, supported by many faculty members, claimed total victory, issuing a press release that boasted that Hampshire has become the first college in the United States to divest from Israel. It urged other universities to follow its lead.

Those supporting the petition include the notorious anti-Semite Cynthia McKinney, America and Israel basher Noam Chomsky and other Israel haters. The six companies include General Electric, ITT, Motorola and other corporations that employ thousands of American workers. The divestment campaign applies to Israel and Israel alone. Hampshire will continue to deal with companies that supply Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Belarus and other brutal dictatorships around the world that routinely murder civilians, torture and imprison dissenters, deny educational opportunities to women, imprison gays and repress speech. Indeed many of those who support divestiture against Israel actively support these repressive regimes. This divestment campaign has absolutely nothing to do with human rights. It is motivated purely by hatred for the Jewish state. As New York Times columnist Tom Friedman put it: "Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vial. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanctions -- out of proportion to any other party in the Middle East--is anti-Semitic and not saying so is dishonest."

The petition itself mentions nothing about terrorism directed against Israeli civilians, rocket attacks aimed at its kindergartens, and the unwillingness of Hamas even to recognize Israel's right to exist. It seeks to express "solidarity with Palestinian students whose access to education is severely inhibited by the Israeli occupation." It fails to add that Palestinian students have more and better access to education than Arab students in nearly every other part of the Middle East. It fails to mention that students are routinely arrested for expressing dissenting views in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and other Muslim nations. It fails to mention that Israel has affirmative action programs for its Palestinian students. It fails to mention that when Israel ended the occupation of Gaza in an effort to trade land for peace, all it got in return was more than 6,000 rockets fired from Gaza at its children. It fails to present any balance concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict.

When protests over Hampshire action began, the administration issued a statement of clarification, which did not mention Israel but claimed, obliquely, that "the decision expressly did not pertain to a political movement or single out businesses active in a specific region or country." [To read the entire statement go here]

But Hampshire President Hexter acknowledged that "it was the good work of SJP" -- the virulently anti-Israel group called Student For Justice in Palestine -- "that brought this issue to the attention of the committee."

They can't have it both ways. They undertook no action based on alleged violations by any country other than Israel, which allowed the anti-Israel group to claim victory, as they have been doing even after the "clarification." Virtually every media report was headlined "Hampshire First College in United States to Divest From Israel."

Before writing this article, I spoke to the President and the Chairman of the Board. They denied that this divestment action was directed against Israel. I asked them to issue a statement which made that clear: namely, "Hampshire rejected an attempt by Students for Justice in Palestine to divest from companies supporting the occupation of Palestine, and instead applied existing principles, requiring them to divest from companies which failed to meet certain standards." They refused to issue any such statement, obviously because they didn't want to alienate the anti-Israel students. Like most universities, they do want to have it both ways. They want to appear to be saying one thing to the anti-Israel students and another thing to those who would be appalled at singling out Israel for divestment. But on an issue of this kind, they simply can't have it both ways: either they rejected efforts to single out Israel for divestiture, in which case they should say so, or they accepted these efforts, and covered it up with a cosmetically-broader divestiture, which appears to be the case.

It may well be that the anti-Israel student group has hijacked the voice of the college, but if so the hijacking has not been strongly resisted. The voice of the student group has become the voice of the college because it has been clearer and less ambiguous.

My son, who went to Hampshire College, has urged me to take this action. We have supported the college through tuition payments and occasional gifts. No more! I now call on all decent people -- supporters and critics of Israel alike -- to make no further contributions to a school that now promotes discrimination and is complicit in evil. There must be a price paid for bigotry, and the actions of Hampshire College in singling out only Israel for divestiture is bigotry plain and simple. Silence is not an option. Inaction is not an option. Fighting back against the likes of Cynthia McKinney is mandatory for all people of good will.

The goal is not to harm the students or faculty of Hampshire College, but the petition claims that sentiment in favor of this bigoted resolution is overwhelming among students and faculty. Students and faculty too must understand that bigotry has its cost.

Hampshire College will survive its self-inflicted wound, but decency cannot survive with the kind of double standard bigotry directed only against the Jewish state.

Hampshire is a small college without much influence. But those who are conducting the national campaign see their victory at Hampshire as an opening wedge with which to get other more influential universities to follow suit by adopting similarly bigoted proposals. This is a cancer that is threatening to spread around the world, and it must be stopped where it began--at Hampshire.

Until and unless the Hampshire administration clarifies its ambiguous "clarification" to make it unequivocally clear that it rejects any and all efforts to single out Israel for divestment, contributions to that otherwise fine school should be placed on hold.

Alan M. Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard. He is the author of many books, including, most recently, "The Case Against Israel's Enemies."