Somerville Divestment Revisited – Democracy

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.

Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me. 

Commander Montgomery Scott, USS Enterprise

Why do organizations whose name includes “The People,” usually have the fewest members?  Probably for the same reasons that groups who brag most about their local “grassroots” origins are usually dominated by college students from faraway states.

According to the latest communication from the So Called Somerville Divestment Project (SC-SDP), the group is positively giddy about “demonstrating its grassroots power” through a ballot question that “will show the will of the people.”  “Let the people decide!” they cry out, even complaining that anyone mentioning Israeli democracy should support their ballot initiative punishing that democracy as proof of the democratic bona fides of Israel’s supporters in Somerville.

Given this passion for “people power,” one wonders why divestment’s backers didn’t attempt a ballot initiative first thing last year; instead of doing everything they could to keep the people of Somerville in the dark about their negotiations with the city’s aldermen.

If you want to get an SC-SDPer to pose indignantly, just point out their attempt to sneak divestment into the city without the public’s input last winter.  Yet here is what one member had to say when two of the city’s aldermen forced their anti-Israel resolution into the light of day:

“The Aldermen are 5 to 1 in favor of the resolution. However, the remaining Alderman threw us for a loop by insisting that “the other side” be allowed to speak.”

Given the magnitude of divestment’s defeat in 2004, this panic was understandable.  Having told the alderman that the Middle East consisted exclusively of Israeli torturers and Palestinian victims, having flushed 10,000 Israeli victims of terrorist bombing and 800,000 Jewish exiles from the Arab world down the memory hole, having neglected to mention to the aldermen that divestment would bring rancor and bitterness to the city, and possibly put Somerville in violation of federal anti-boycott law, their carefully cultivated secrecy was about to be breached by the truth.

Flash forward a month later and what seemed a sure victory for divestment turned into a 10-0 defeat.  And contrary to the fantasies of divestment’s backers that they were confronted by overwhelming organized Jewish power that pressured the aldermen to change their vote, opponents of the divestment measure never had time to organize, but instead simply communicated directly with their representatives by phone, by mail and in person.  During the resulting educational process, our leaders simply discovered that they had been had by the SC-SDP, that the Middle East was far more complex than they were led to believe, and that divestment was a means of perpetuating a propaganda war, not a human rights initiative designed to wage peace.

Heaven knows that if divestment’s backers had won in 2004, they would have hailed this as the ultimate victory for democracy and fanned across the nation to tell every city and town official that would listen that Somerville had declared Israel a racist, Apartheid state, alone in the world at deserving economic punishment and isolation.  No doubt many had Al Jazzera on speed dial, waiting to announce to the world that our city had joined the world-wide boycott movement against the Jewish state (forgetting that they had told the aldermen that they were voting on a simple, human-right’s measure).

If appealing to the people over the heads of their leaders seems like a strange tactic for a group that recently tried to go over the heads of those same people to have narrow political opinions enshrined into law, it makes sense if you understand their definition of democracy.

For most of us, democracy is the leadership of the citizenry, either directly making decisions or (more frequently) working through elected representatives.  Pretty simple. Civics 101.

To the So Called Somerville Divestment Project and their comrades (often in arms), democracy means one thing only: them getting their way.  Any setback, any rejection of their agenda by elected leaders or by the citizens themselves is proof positive that democracy does not exist.

Fortunately, Somerville – including its leaders and its voters – is not a city of saps.  And we wont be fooled again.

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