Harvard Ditches Investments in Israel: Politics or Business?

The stocks were trending downwards anyway, but some bloggers are suspicious

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Update 2:13 p.m.: Harvard has issued a statement saying that the university "has not divested from Israel"--rather, the holdings have been transferred out of the emerging markets portfolio due to their "successful growth."

Harvard University has ditched its investments in Israeli companies, raising red flags among Israel supporters. Was this political? With no comment from the university, the blogosphere is alight with speculation. Some assume there is political motivation, but others point out that the Israeli investments had done poorly in the second quarter, anyway--selling them off could have simply been a good business move.

  • The Hypocrisy!  "It seems unlikely that Harvard's portfolio managers would simultaneously decide that it was time to sell all shares in five different companies, with nothing in common other than the fact that they are located in Israel," muses John Hinderaker at Power Line. Simply put, he thinks it's political. Laid side-by-side with the money Harvard is "happy" to get from "real oppressors" like China and Saudi Arabia, it looks bad, Hinderaker thinks.
  • 'Goodbye Israel, Hello Turkey'  Joe Weisenthal notices that the new portfolio replaces investments in Israel with investments in Turkey. "Bear in mind that the infamous flotilla incident happened in Q2," writes Weisenthal. "Just saying."
  • This Isn't Political  Reuters's Felix Salmon is pretty skeptical:
The chances of this move being at all politically motivated are remote: the most recent concerted attempt that Joe Weisenthal can find to get Harvard to divest from Israel dates all the way back to 2002. And I'm sure that if you looked at all endowment 13-Fs on a quarterly basis, you'd find that every quarter a pretty large number of endowments will turn out to have sold out of some small market or other. It’s just that by sheer coincidence, this time it's the two big hot-button names, Harvard and Israel, and hence there's lots of headlines.
  • Agreed: These Investments Were 'Trending Down' Anyway  UCLA law professor Stephen Bainbridge takes a look at the individual Israel-based stocks, which hadn't been doing so well, it turns out: "the more I learn about this matter, the more it looks like a pure investment decision," he writes.
  • From Israel: Ditto  Carl in Jerusalem, blogger of Israel Matzav, says he's inclined to go with the theory that "the Israeli stocks in Harvard's portfolio had performed poorly of late," and that this is the reason behind the switch. He finds this "more plausible" than the theory that Israel, now admitted to the OECD no longer counts as an "emerging market" and was bounced from the emerging markets portfolio on these grounds.
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