Friday, February 20, 2009

USA, Land of the Free? Home of the Brave, because they have to be. JOEL KOVEL. Being terminated.

HAMPSHIRE College in western Massachusetts, has denied that it divested from an investment fund holding stocks of companies involved in Israel because of student protest over war and occupation. The College is anxious to ward off "retaliatory" action threatened by Israel's top cop on the campuses of the United States, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.

In a letter to Dershowitz, made public by Ben Morris for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the College says it "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 be environmentally problematic; 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).

"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".

So, you can see, it is alright to talk about divestment from Burma or Sudan, but you won't say anything about Israel if you know what's good for you!
"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."

Just as well they make that clear. I happen to know that some of the Hampshire students who have campaigned most vigorously against Israeli actions are Israelis. Mind you one of them was injured by Israeli forces when protesting against the wall at Bil'in, and before this had done time for refusing to serve Israel and its occupation. That's something Professor Dershowitz has never refused to do, albeit on a different frontline.

Perhaps more worryingly, the Hampshire College letter also makes a reference to possibly disciplinary action against students who had claimed the divestment as a victory. for the college, saying it "wants 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.".

I take that last sentence as an assurance the College will not be pushed around into taking action against its students. Let's hope it sticks to that.

Next, a story that looks like Zionist pressure can claim another success. We've heard about Professor Norman Finkelstein, who lost his job in Chicago, and whose invitation to speak at the Oxford Union was cancelled. He is currently back in Britain giving some lectures I believe. But Joel Kovel, another Jewish anti-Zionist, whose book Overcoming Zionism drew favourable comment here, even from critics who like me disagreed with some of his perspective, is facing new trouble. University of Michigan press withdrew the book from publication in the United States, but then was persuaded to change its mind. Now however Prof.Kovel is being told he has to go by his employer, Bard College(website motto: "a place to think"),in New York state.

It seems they - or someone they listened to - did not like articles he wrote for Tikkun, a magazine edited by Rabbi Michael Lerner, whose humanitarian interpretation of Judaism would not raise much heat here, but has been enough to earn him death threats from right-wing American Zionists. We might note the historical irony, that the chair which Joel Kovel is being told to vacate owes its name to Alger Hiss, a US State Department official who played a part in the formation of the UN, but then fell victim to the House Un-American Activities Committee and "Red spy" accusations. Presumably naming a chair after him was meant to signify that those days were over.

Bard College terminates Joel Kovel

Call for support and letter writing to the Bard administration.



In January, 1988, I was appointed to the Alger Hiss Chair of Social
Studies at Bard College. As this was a Presidential appointment
outside the tenure system, I have served under a series of contracts.
The last of these was half-time (one semester on, one off, with half
salary and full benefits year-round), effective from July 1, 2004, to
June 30, 2009. On February 7 I received a letter from Michèle Dominy,
Dean of the College, informing me that my contract would not be
renewed this July 1 and that I would be moved to emeritus status as of
that day. She wrote that this decision was made by President Botstein,
Executive Vice-President Papadimitriou and herself, in consultation
with members of the Faculty Senate.

This document argues that this termination of service is prejudicial and
motivated neither by intellectual nor pedagogic considerations, but by
political values, principally stemming from differences between myself and
the Bard administration on the issue of Zionism. There is of course much
more to my years at Bard than this, including another controversial subject,
my work on eco-socialism (/The Enemy of Nature/). However, the evidence shows
a pattern of conflict over Zionism only too reminiscent of innumerable
instances in this country in which critics of Israel have been made to pay,
often with their careers, for speaking out. In this instance the process
culminated in a deeply flawed evaluation process which was used to justify
my termination from the faculty.

_A brief chronology_

2002. This was the first year I spoke out nationally about Zionism.
In October, my article, "Zionism's Bad Conscience," appeared in
Tikkun. Three or four weeks later, I was called into President Leon
Botstein's office, to be told my Hiss Chair was being taken away.
Botstein said that he had nothing to do with the decision, then
gratuitously added that it had not been made because of what I had
just published about Zionism, and hastened to tell me that his views
were diametrically opposed to mine.

2003. In January I published a second article in Tikkun,
"'Left-Anti-Semitism' and the Special Status of Israel," which argued
for a One-State solution to the dilemmas posed by Zionism. A few weeks
later,I received a phone call at home from Dean Dominy, who suggested,
on behalf of Executive Vice-President Dimitri Papadimitriou, that
perhaps it was time for me to retire from Bard. I declined. The result
of this was an evaluation of my work and the inception, in 2004, of
the current half-time contract as "Distinguished Professor."

2006. I finished a draft of Overcoming Zionism. In January, while
I was on a Fellowship in South Africa, President Botstein conducted a
concert on campus of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, which he has
directed since 2003. In a stunning departure from traditional concert
practice, this began with the playing of the national anthems of the
United States and Israel, after each of which the audience rose.
Except for a handful of protestors, the event went unnoticed. I
regarded it, however, as paradigmatic of the "special relationship"
between the United States and Israel, one that has conduced to war in
Iraq and massive human rights violations in Israel/Palestine. In
December, I organized a public lecture at Bard (with Mazin Qumsiyeh)
to call attention to this problem. Only one faculty person attended;
the rest were students and community people; and the issue was never
taken up on campus.

Call for support and letter writing to the Bard administration.

To write the Bard administration:
President Leon Botstein <>.
Executive Vice-President Dimitri Papadimitriou <>


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