AAS Calls on Trustees to Divest from Israel’s War and Occupation

The resolution proposes creating a committee that would determine the list of companies to divest from. Its passage came amid nationwide student protests over colleges and universities’ financial ties to Israel’s war in Gaza.

In a nearly unanimous late-night vote, the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) passed a resolution calling on the Board of Trustees to divest from companies that enable Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and its longstanding occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The final vote, with 23 senators in favor and one senator against, came after more than five hours of debate and public comment during a special session on Thursday, April 25, at the end of a week that saw students at campuses across the country clash with their administrations and local police forces over Israel’s war in Gaza.

The resolution, adapted from a petition filed by members of Amherst for Palestine, proposes the creation of a “socially responsible investment committee” that would include students and determine which companies qualify for divestment as well as monitor the college’s investments on an ongoing basis. It also called for more transparency around Amherst’s endowment in general.

It appeals to a precedent set by the college’s past divestment actions in the face of apartheid in South Africa and atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan.

The trustees and members of the administration have already proved resistant to calls for divestment from students, faculty, and alumni. In a letter published in The Student in response to alumni demands, President Michael Elliott and Chair of the Board of Trustees Andrew Nussbaum wrote that divestment “poses significant ethical and practical challenges” and argued that there is not the kind of communal consensus on Israel’s war that existed in the cases of South Africa or Sudan. They also argued that institutional support for divestment would stifle debate around the issue on campus.

Additionally, Elliott and Nussbaum suggested that divestment would not be feasible because most of Amherst’s shares in individual companies are held in external investment funds whose composition the college does not directly control.

With the vote, the AAS joined a growing list of college student governments that have called on their institutions to divest from companies involved in Israel’s war effort, a category that has been defined more or less expansively, sometimes being limited only to weapons manufacturers but in other instances including companies like Google, Airbnb, and Sodastream.

The AAS’ petition does not directly name any companies that ought to be subject to divestment or offer much guidance as to how those companies should be selected, leaving the decisions to the proposed investment committee.

Taha Ahmad ’24, who helped draft the resolution, said that the idea for the socially responsible investment committee came from conversations between AAS senators and members of Amherst College Jews for Ceasefire.

Ahmad said he views the proposed committee as a key feature of the resolution, with the potential to make the college more responsive in the face of future divestment debates.

“We want students to have the ability to keep talking with the endowment office,” he said. “[The committee] is an engine of divestment, but it's also a means for further conversation.”

In the Red Room on Thursday night, the AAS seemed to be in broad agreement on the merits of the call for divestment. Most of the disagreements were over points of strategy, as senators debated dozens of line edits to the draft resolution.

The conflict, and the humanitarian toll in Gaza, where more than 34,000 people have died since Oct. 7, only took center stage during the initial period of public comment, when the dozens of non-senators in attendance were invited to share their opinions.

Most speakers expressed their horror at the bloodshed in Gaza and their perception that the college was complicit in it, while one student suggested that the senators and students in the room were not representative of the entire student body and another spoke of their personal connection to Israel and condemned antisemitism.

As the AAS turned to debate, some senators, and newly-elected AAS President Gent Malushaga ’25, advocated for a conciliatory tone in an attempt to forge the kind of consensus that Elliott and Nussbaum suggested was lacking.

“We should not deliver a resolution containing anything besides fact, specific calls to action, and logical reasoning linking the two,” Malushaga said in a speech at the beginning of the meeting. He argued that the senate should remove language that spoke to the college’s responsibility for the violence or the legality of Israel’s actions.

Though those words remained in the final document, it did not contain controversial terms like “genocide,” “apartheid,” or “settler colonialism,” whose application to Israel is often debated.

Senators also voted to remove sections that spoke of the college’s “complicity” in the violence in the Palestinian territories and called on the board to condemn Israel’s actions.

Ahmad emphasized that the decision to drop these clauses, and others from Amherst for Palestine’s original petition, was largely strategic.

“I, in my heart, would support ideological goals,” he said, “but I also see that if the board gets a list of ideological goals, they’ll just say, ‘Oh, we’re on the other side.’”

As for Elliott and Nussbaum’s concerns about the practicality of divestment, Ahmad said that he believed that the college could pass divestment demands on to external investment managers, as it did in the case of its 2021 decision to divest from fossil fuels, though this might have to happen over a longer time frame.

In a statement, Chief Communications Officer Sandy Genelius said that this kind of divestment demand could only be communicated to outside investment managers who directly hold stocks on Amherst’s behalf, accounts that make up around four to five percent of the endowment.

More than 90 percent of the college’s endowment takes the form of “indirect investments,” money placed in large funds whose management is beyond the college’s control, she said.

For now, the AAS awaits a response from the administration and board, who were informed of the resolution on Monday.

Ahmad was optimistic about the feasibility of divestment, and the potential impact the decision could have.

“Even if we’ve invested only one dollar,” he said. “If we can send the message that we’re divesting, other institutions will follow.”