A previous essay discussed the closing moves of my favorite professional wrestler, Bill Goldberg. These included the Spear (a high-velocity head butt) followed by the Jackhammer (dropping an inverted foe head-first to the ring mat). This Monday, Somerville was treated to something unique in wrestling: the first self-inflicted Jackhammer delivered by the So-Called Somerville Divestment Project (SC-SDP) on itself.
Having lost the alderman’s vote last Chanukah, the SC-SDP’s second defeat in a year fell ironically on the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah. Having thumbed their noses at the rules for non-binding ballot petitions for close to six months, the SDP’s fantasy of having this November’s official Somerville election ballot printed with their accusations of Israeli racism and Apartheid word-for-word ran smack into reality in the form of the City Election Commissioner and the Cambridge Superior Court.
Absent anything to show for their effort (or the contributions in time and money by volunteers and donors), the organization has been left with few options other than declaring victory and slinking back to church basements where they can gather with the like minded, making speeches and showing films that “prove” that black is white, night is day and Israel (the target of aggression from dozens of tyrannical, oil-rich states since it’s birth) is the source of all misery in the Middle East.
Now that the group is busy demonstrating that it was never more than the latest reconfiguration of the same tired gaggle of anti-Israel activists that travel under numerous names in the Boston area, a question remains: how did such an unrepresentative, tiny bunch of extremists ever manage to hijack debate in the city of Somerville for over a year? No doubt they would claim that it was their “grassroots appeal” that made them “the voice of the people,” However, I believe that their source of influence came from somewhere else. Simply put, the SC-SDP got as far as it did because too many people who should have known better handed them the power to do so.
When Somerville’s alderman unwittingly gave the SDP the opportunity to give their agenda the backing of state power, suddenly the anti-Israel petitions and rallies that have always been background noise in the area turned into instruments by which city government was being asked to stake its reputation on the divestment message that Israel was a racist, Apartheid state alone in the world at deserving economic punishment.
The city’s aldermen cannot be blamed for being manipulated by a group as cynical and ruthless as the SDP. In fact, once they came to fully understand the issue, they became some of our best allies in helping see divestment defeated. Yet all of us have learned in the last year that had this motion not come close to being approved, many people would not have had to put months into seeing divestment defeated and defeated again before this issue was finally expelled from our body politic.
A few dozen Israel haters sharing films in church cellars is not only what the SDP has been reduced to. It’s all they have ever been. Yes, divestment’s alliances with Money and Power mean that their crusade against Palestinian victimization (solely under Israeli jurisdiction, of course) will always have a bigger megaphone than the suffering multitudes of Kurdistan, Tibet and Sudan. Yes, kings and presidents and chairmen of the board must pay homage to the Palestinian rights and Israeli wrongs, at least in the world of global politics and economics that often requires compromise and occasional cynicism. But that does not mean such cynical calculations need to filter down to our cities, our schools our churches and synagogues, the local building blocks of our civil society.
Somerville’s citizens and leaders learned a hard lesson that there are people out there who will ruthlessly misuse the language of human rights to further their own narrow partisan ends. By falling for a movement that wrapped itself in a false identity of “even handedness” and “justice,” divestment was let in the door and only the work of countless citizens putting in hundreds of hours has finally gotten them out.
Now it is the responsibility of not just city leaders, but all of us, everyone who took part in the debate and those who chose to sit it out, to let people in other cities, towns, universities, churches and civic organizations know that a movement roams the land asking virtuous organizations to lend their name and reputation to wicked purpose, all under the false guise of protecting the weak and fighting for progress. Divestment took over Somerville for a year because we let it do so. Vigilance is required to make sure it never happens again, in Somerville or anywhere else.