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Open Letter to Alan Dershowitz

Thursday, February 19, 2009

An open letter to Alan Dershowitz from Hampshire College President Ralph Hexter and Chair of the Board of Trustees Sigmund Roos

Dear Alan,

We begin by affirming our high esteem for you, both as a legal scholar and a powerful voice against anti-Semitism. We also appreciate that as a parent of a Hampshire College alumnus, you are part of a community that we hold dear. Nonetheless, we are saddened and frustrated by your recent column in the Jerusalem Post and elsewhere and by your many comments in the press, which present information about the actions of the Hampshire College Board of Trustees that is simply not true. Hampshire College did not divest from Israel or take the action it did because of Israel's relationship with the Palestinians or its presence on the West Bank. At no time did the college or the board take actions or make statements motivated by anti-Semitism, bigotry and anti-Israelism.

Your influence in the public sphere of ideas has the power to cause great harm to our—or, indeed, any—institution's reputation. So our frustration stems from your decision to rely not on the official statements of the board of trustees and from us as individuals, but rather from the press releases of a student group, Students for Justice in Palestine.

Hampshire College has made a strenuous, good-faith effort to explain its decision to exit a problematic mutual fund. We make this effort again, without equivocation: Israel was not the cause for divestment from the State Street fund. As you know, last spring, the student group SJP, which is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, petitioned, as is its right, the community-based subcommittee (CHOIR) on responsible investing, which is a subcommittee of the investment committee, in turn itself a subcommittee of the finance committee of the board, asking that the college exit from one particular fund, State Street SSgA. The group claimed that six companies in the fund were supporting or profiting from Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories. The companies were said to be Caterpillar, General Electric, ITT, Motorola, Terex and United Technologies. CHOIR passed a recommendation concerning these companies to the investment committee, in accordance with the board's procedures.

The investment committee, however, expressly rejected this narrow focus, and instead sought to apply our own socially responsible investment policies. This cursory review suggested multiple problems—none of them having to do with Israel—in the fund, and also revealed the implementation inadequacies of the policy. The committee then turned to an outside, independent reviewer, KLD Research & Analytics, the gold standard for socially responsible investment screening, to look closely into the fund's components. KLD's review vetted companies for several possible red flags, including employment discrimination, environmental abuse, military weapons manufacturing, unsafe workplace settings, and dealings with Burma or Sudan. Twenty-three equities were found to violate the military weapons screen; four dealt with Burma and three with Sudan; 70 were involved in significant employment discrimination controversies; 28 were found to exhibit poor environmental performance; and 197 were cited for employee safety issues. Some companies appeared in more than one screening category.

In sum, what KLD found was that of the fund's 455 holdings, well over 200 raised significant concerns relative to Hampshire College's socially responsible investment policy and were in violation of values of socially responsible investing. It was on this basis that the investment committee voted as it did to exit from the fund when an alternative fund has been identified. The decision was entirely unrelated to Israel or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, two of the six companies originally cited by students as problematic were given a clean bill of health on Hampshire's policy by the KLD screeners (and a third, it turned out, was not even listed as a constituent of the fund). As a consequence, stocks in these two companies (Motorola and Terex)—we speak unequivocally—remain among our holdings and will remain on our potential buy-list in accordance with KLD standards.

At the risk of repetition, let us emphasize again that this review did not include Israel, its interaction with the Palestinians, nor its presence on the West Bank as tests for the stocks in this fund. Moreover, Hampshire currently holds investments in funds that include many hundreds of companies that do business in Israel and in at least three actual Israeli companies: Amdocs, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Check Point Software. No other college or university should use Hampshire as a precedent for divesting from Israel, since Hampshire has refused to divest from Israel. Anyone who claims otherwise is deliberately misrepresenting Hampshire's decision and has no right to speak for the college.

We understand that socially responsible investing is a very powerful tool and must be used prudently. The investment committee and now the full board have recognized during this process that the college's policy on socially responsible investment, last revised in 1994, has become outdated and much too awkward to implement. We are now at work developing a new college policy on socially responsible investing, one that is up-to-date and provides clear guidance for our investment advisors.

Sadly, though, there have been students and some members of our faculty who have mischaracterized what happened here, claiming that the board did something that it did not do. None is a member of the investment committee. We have great respect for our students and encourage their endeavors—academic, social, political. We very much want our campus to be a place for learning and for healthy debate from all points of view. But we are also clear, and urge you to understand us clearly, when we say that students do not speak for the college and may not willfully misrepresent the school. It will be, and must be, the college's task to undertake any disciplinary action, according to its established rules and procedures. Discipline is an internal process that is not shared with the public.

We understand that this is an emotional issue for all involved. We simply want to state the facts plainly, separating them from the rhetoric, which, while very public, remains all too often untrue. Your good opinion matters to us; it matters, yes, because you are an influential public figure, but it matters even more because we count you as one of the Hampshire family, and hope that you will think of yourself that way, too.


Ralph Hexter, president
Sigmund Roos, chair of the Board of Trustees
Hampshire College


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