Occidental trustees vote against divesting from Israel-linked companies

Students walk outdoors at Occidental College campus in Los Angeles, Thursday, July 27, 2023. Occidental College is the latest school to end legacy admissions in the wake of a Supreme Court decision removing race from admissions decisions. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Occidental College in July 2023. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

Occidental College’s board of trustees voted this week not to divest from companies with ties to Israel, saying the move would further divide the campus and limit freedom of expression.

In a letter to students, faculty and staff on Monday, Occidental Board of Trustees Chair Lisa H. Link acknowledged the devastating effects of the Israel-Hamas war but said that taking a position on a complex geopolitical situation could alienate certain members of the community and undermine its diversity.

“The diversity of community members’ opinions was a compelling reason to refrain from acting on the proposal, as the Board believes a decision in favor of the proposal would be divisive and damaging to the College community,” she said.

The divestment proposal set forth by leaders of the Occidental chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine in May called for the college to identify and disclose any investments in four manufacturing companies that have provided arms and equipment to the Israeli military.

The board said Occidental’s endowment does not include direct investments in any of the four companies. Indirect investments in the Israel-linked companies make up less than 0.1% of the college's endowment assets and are managed by third parties that restrict the college’s ability to divest from specific parts of a fund, Link said.

“The Board believes it is not in the best interests of the College, or our current and future students, to jeopardize the endowment by divesting from managed funds that have minimal exposure to certain companies," she said in the letter.

Read more: Divestment from Israel roils universities. Would it work? Some are dubious

The board's vote on the divestment proposal hinged on students taking down their pro-Palestinian encampment, not impeding commencement and not returning to occupy a space on campus without prior approval.

The board held the vote after Occidental's school year ended in early June.

Matthew Vickers, a co-organizer of the encampment and spokesperson for Occidental's Students for Justice in Palestine, said he was disappointed by the board's decision but not surprised.

"Based off of the pressure from Zionist parents and off-campus organizations such as the Brandeis Centerand [the Anti-Defamation League] and personal political biases of the Board of Trustees, they caved in to rejecting divestment," he said.

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and the Anti-Defamation League filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in May against Occidental and Pomona College, accusing the universities of permitting discrimination and harassment of Jewish students on their campuses.

Occidental Hillel directed inquiries to Director for Religious and Spiritual Life Susan Young, who declined to comment on the board's decision not to divest and the alleged antisemitism on campus.

Read more:UC rejects calls for Israel-related divestment, boycott driving pro-Palestinian protests

Although the board's vote came after many students had vacated campus for the summer, Vickers said students who are still in L.A. are planning to hold actions on and off campus to protest the board's refusal to divest.

On UCLA's campus, students continue to stage pro-Palestinian protests into the summer, erecting a new encampment on Monday that resulted in about two dozen arrests.

"People are still galvanized and willing to continue the struggle," Vickers said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.