Professors skeptical of Dartmouth New Deal divestment goals
The Dartmouth New Deal, a policy proposal, would have the College cut all financial ties with Israel-linked corporations “that are complicit in apartheid and its apparatuses,” it states.
On Oct. 27, student activist group Sunrise Dartmouth published the Dartmouth New Deal, which asked the College to “comply with the recommendations of the 2022 Amnesty International report on Israeli apartheid by divesting the College’s endowment from all organizations that are complicit in apartheid and its apparatuses.”
Practically speaking, the level of divestment stipulated in the Dartmouth New Deal will create challenges for the College endowment, should the administration accommodate those requests, according to economics professor Bruce Sacerdote ’90, who serves as a member of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
“We don’t do a lot of direct investment [at the College],” Sacerdote said. “That’s typically not how most endowments operate; rather, they find very professional, experienced, third-party managers. The process of divesting, I’m guessing, might take a while because you might have to switch your managers, or your managers might have to make adjustments.”
According to co-founder of the Palestinian Solidarity Coalition Ian Scott ’24, the divestment demand was the product of conversations between Sunrise Dartmouth and PSC.
“When [Sunrise Dartmouth] was creating the Dartmouth New Deal, they wanted to include something on divestment from Israel as a part of that platform,” he said.
Scott explained that Dartmouth’s status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization has allowed PSC members to access the College’s tax returns, which they have used to make claims about the school’s connections to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Companies such as Amazon, NXP Semiconductors, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., Blackstone Inc., PepsiCo Inc. and Qualcomm Inc. “are all different public investments that Dartmouth has that have supported Israel, either through direct partnerships or through infrastructure deals,” he said.
According to Scott, the PSC’s research into the College’s connections to the conflict is “ongoing.” Scott subsequently wrote that he could not provide a timeline as to when the PSC would be publishing a full divestment list.
Visiting government professor Bernard Avishai criticized the Dartmouth New Deal’s use of “apartheid” to refer to the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic, calling it “misleading.”
Divestment from companies involved in “Israeli apartheid” would be further complicated by the necessity of distinguishing between “greater Israel” and “global Israel,” Avishai said.
According to Avishai, “greater Israel” includes the settlement projects in Jerusalem and the West Bank. He characterized the treatment of Palestinians in these areas as “disgusting” and referred to these settlements as a “mini apartheid state within a state.” Avishai explained, however, that such settlements did not reflect the entire Israeli population, particularly those living in cities such as Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Netanya.
In contrast, “global Israel” excludes the settlement projects and is a “global, cosmopolitan, liberal, Hebrew republic” that accepts the Arab population, he said.
“Talking about apartheid in Israel not just gets [Israel] wrong morally, but completely misunderstands the harm that Israel would end up creating for the Palestinians,” Avishai said.
In comparison to South African apartheid, which Avishai defined as a system “conceived as a way of justifying, on racial grounds, the separation of a white settler-colonial cast from a [worker] population,” the problem with the global Israeli state is “displacement.” Avishai cited the fact that many Arab Israelis speak Hebrew, hold Israeli citizenship and are admitted to Israeli universities on the same merit as Jewish Israelis.
“It’s a national conflict, but it’s not racial,” he said.
Sacerdote added that divestment could be further complicated by the extent to which a company is related to the conflict; the College’s Investment Office would have to decide how direct a connection to Israel would be acceptable. On the other hand, Sacerdote acknowledged that some aspects of the request might simplify divestment, such as the relatively small size of the Israeli economy.
“I don’t mean to say that it’s undoable,” he said. “What I mean to say is that it takes a while to go from idea to implementation.”
According to Sacerdote, divestment is not the best way to address the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“When I think about it, the purpose of the endowment is not to be able to make political statements,” Sacerdote said. “[Dartmouth’s] power is not from redirecting the flow of our investment dollars. It’s from the flow of our graduates and our students into democratically elected positions to change the world. That’s how we really change the world.”
Avishai also criticized the demand for divestment as an appropriate way for the College to respond to the war.
Scott expanded the definition of divestment to include the termination of all connections, financial or otherwise, with interests that are associated with the conflict, citing the College’s professional recruiting relationships with defense contractors such as Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.
Additionally, Scott said New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s position as an ex officio member of the Board of Trustees was a connection that the PSC is “looking at,” noting that Sununu “passed laws in the state of New Hampshire to make it harder for businesses and private entities to commit to a boycott of Israel.”
Scott also distinguished between what he described as “corporate” Dartmouth and “academic” Dartmouth.
“There’s a sort of narrative around [students not] touching the endowment,” Scott said. “I don’t think we believe that [the corporate and the academic] should be discrete and mutually exclusive. We are stakeholders in Dartmouth College, and we shouldn’t just be relegated to individual action.”
Describing the companies for which Sunrise Dartmouth and the PSC have advocated for divestment from, Avishai said, “not only is their work in Israel only a small part of what they’re doing… but it undermines the very people in [Israel] who are standing against the settlement project.”
Avishai explained that “most” of the people involved in the Israeli peace movement are business managers and “the very people that divestment campaigns undermine.”
“You have to think about the business community as hope to defeat occupation,” he said.
Instead of divestment, Avishai suggested individual boycotts and sanctions against West Bank settlements in violation of the Geneva Convention. For example, the College could make clear that scholars from Ariel University, located in the Israeli settlement in the West Bank, were “not welcome here,” he said.
Additionally, Avishai suggested that the College continue to “[create] dialogue and open-spirited debate.”
Sacerdote also advocated for ongoing conversations.
“Leaving aside [the arrests], we are, at the moment, a very positive example for how American college campuses can handle this incredibly divisive issue,” he said.