Somerville Divestment Revisited – Dialog

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.

During last year’s alderman’s debate, I kept noticing a nattily attired fellow who spent an inordinate amount of time jotting little notes on a printout of this Web site.

As I packed up my signs and prepared to go home to a celebratory peanut butter sandwich (having missed the latkes served at the Chanukah party the Divestment Project forced me to miss), this same person came up to me and asked if I was interested in joining the local synagogue.  Informing him that family obligations kept me from doing so, he replied with the seeming non sequitur: “So, I guess you’re not interested in dialog.”

Given how much bizarre behavior was taking place in City Hall that night, I had forgotten this particular exchange until recently when a letter in The Somerville Journal attempted to take this site to task for “offering no way of leaving comments,” in order to “moderate useful discourse.”

It should be noted that the name appearing at the bottom of my letters (and the bottom of each page on this site) is associated with an address in the Somerville phone book, allowing an avenue for useful discourse to anyone willing to buy a postage stamp.  Given that the threshold for discussion is little more than the cost of an envelope (preferably purchased from the Somerville-based Mass Envelope Company), to date, the dialog-starved members of the Somerville Divestment Project have kept their silence.

This thirst for constructive dialog seems particularly strange, given that it is being requested by those who have introduced the ultimate conversation killer into the Middle East debate: the call for divestment, for economically punishing one set of participants in the discussion.

With the loaded gun of divestment being pointed in only one direction, I’m left wondering what this “useful discourse” is meant to cover.  Are we free to talk about the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities in the Arab Middle East and the robust oil-for-gold trade between the Gulf States and white-ruled South Africa?  Or is dialog to be limited to defending Israel against accusations of Apartheid?  Can the expulsion of 850,000 Jews from the Arab world after 1948 enter into the conversation, or is ethnic cleansing only a moral issue when Arabs are the alleged victims, rather than the perpetrators?

Someone from the divestment crowd wrote a very telling essay analyzing their defeat last year, pointing out that once the discussion veered away from “human rights” (defined, of course, as solely the human rights of Palestinians under Israeli jurisdiction) they lost control of the debate.  Thus their frantic desire to suppress any other topic: the 10,000 Israelis murdered, maimed and orphaned in the last four years, the state of human rights of Israeli’s neighbors, the needs of the people of Somerville, that might interrupt “dialog” that consists of the SDP acting simultaneously as prosecutor and judge.

Given that their own vocabulary seems to consist of “Apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing” and a few pronouns, one would think that the Arab oil-for-gold trade with Pretoria and the expulsion of the Jews from the Middle East are at least relevant topics of discussion.  Yet Israel’s critics will never make mention of these issues, even to deny them, hoping that they can narrow debate by taking advantage of our actual concern for human rights, vs. their use of human rights and other lofty principles solely as a weapon to bludgeon their enemies.

Then again, perhaps I am wrong and that the So-Called Somerville Divestment Project (SC-SDP) is more than ready to have a frank conversation, with all subjects being on the table.  If this is the case, they have an extremely simple option to prove their sincerity: removing divestment – the ultimate discourse crusher – permanently from the table.  Only then can true dialog begin.

Anyone interested in taking this step towards useful discourse will find me ready to join their conversation.  Just drop me a letter.


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