Somerville Divestment Revisited – Confession

This next set of essays were written during the second year of campaigning against BDS in Somerville, MA (2005) when divestment proponents tried to get a divestment measure they failed to get past the legislature onto the city-wide ballot.

A description of how that issue played out can be found here.

Well this is the last Somerville Middle East Justice essay written from Boston Street on Prospect Hill.  Yes, I must fess up, I’m one of those: a long-time Somervillian (16 years) who is moving to the burbs.  (The name of the town shall be withheld, except to say that I expect to be running into the Divestment Project’s favorite, unassailable MIT linguistics professor at the post office this summer.)

The reasons for leaving are many and mundane.  A half-hour cut off from everyone’s commute means an extra hour with the kids each day.  We’re also moving closer to my parents, whose help we’ve come to rely on as we raise our young boys, just as they will likely come to rely on us in the years after that.

Given how often this site has tweaked the So-Called Somerville Divestment Project (SC-SDP) for flooding our Alderman’s chambers and streets with citizens and students from Cambridge and the suburbs in order to recruit Somerville as the poster-child for anti-Israel propaganda, I suppose my continued involvement in seeing divestment defeated permanently could be judged as a form of hypocrisy.

But is it really?  After all, I’ve lived in this remarkable city for over a decade and a half, and possess feelings about who’s right and who’s wrong in the Arab-Israeli conflict every bit as strong (if a bit more informed) as those pushing divestment in Somerville.  And yet never, in 16 years of living here have I ever considered, much less acted upon, trying to get the city to enshrine my political opinions on international affairs into law.

Even if those of us who battle against divestment possessed the arcane powers attributed to us by our opponents, I would never march into Brighton to demand that the city condemn the Saudi practice of stoning “adulterous” women (hear that Marty?) or into Medford to ask the city council to pour vitriol on the nation of Egypt for persecuting homosexuals (got that Hilda?), just to score points in a propaganda war.

If I had a dollar for every time an ally in this struggle suggested we turn the tables on our opponents by adopting their tactics, I’d probably have 50-60 bucks by now.  Yet the unlikelihood that this would ever happens demonstrates the key weapon divestment supporters bring to this issue: a ruthlessness that does not know shame.

Yes, many of us firmly believe that Israel’s most vocal critics on the world stage represent some of the planet’s most brutal dictatorships.  Yet are we willing to sacrifice the needs of our communities, turn neighbor against neighbor, put religious and ethnic groups at each other’s throats by importing the Middle East conflict into our city, school or church just to point that out?  The answer divestment’s supporters give to this question vs. the one you would get from divestment’s opponents represent the yawning chasm between the two sides of the debate.

“The personal is political,” was once a common slogan in political circles.  Yet divestment goes one step further, demanding that institutions: cities, towns, universities, churches, charities and professional organizations put aside their needs, goals and missions to take a stand on the Arab-Israeli conflict (always on one side, of course), regardless of the opinions and needs of the members of these communities.  Regardless of the fact that divestment is a slap in the face to individuals who have committed their lives to these institutions, never dreaming that they would be recruited to smear a fellow democracy, based on bogus arguments regarding “fairness” and “human rights.”

In the interest of full honesty, I will stop using “we” when describing Somervillians who need divestment on the November ballot like we (whoops!, I mean “they”) need more dirty needles in the playground.  That said, this city where I have lived a third of my life will always be a big part of me, not least of all because of the wonderful people I’ve met during the political battles of the last year.

So enjoy the neighborhood celebrations when Brazil kicks the planet’s butt in World Cup soccer next year, hopefully with peace on the ballot in the Middle East and divestment off the agenda in Somerville.

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