At one point during our 2005 campaign against a divestment ballot initiative in Somerville, I discovered where the local BDS group was receiving some of its funds. Here is what I had to say about the matter at the time.
For those of you fretting that the So-Called Somerville Divestment Project (SC-SDP) may not have the money required to fund their campaign; fear not! In addition to whatever other sources of income the group has, the organization has also been making use of at least $8000 from the Boston-based charity foundation The Haymarket People’s Fund.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Here is where he starts slamming the divestment crew for raising and spending dollars on lawyers, paid signature gatherers and other expenses related to getting their anti-Israel measure onto the November ballot.” Well surprise! In today’s era of politics, I fully recognize that it’s people, organization AND money that are required to run a modern campaign, and I would never condemn Israel’s critics for trying to raise needed money for their activity, just as the SDP would – I’m sure – never criticize it’s opponents for any fundraising we do to stop their efforts.
While it’s no mystery why the SC-SDP would try to solicit funds from wherever it can, the more interesting question is why the Haymarket People’s Fund would give $8000 – it’s largest grant of the year – to an organization like the Somerville Divestment Project.
As background, Haymarket People’s Fund (hereafter “Haymarket”) was founded in 1974 with a generous contribution from the heir of the Pillsbury Flour fortune, as a reaction to the irresponsible way other rich individuals made use of inherited wealth. The mission of Haymarket was to fund groups working on projects related to community activism. Established organizations trying to start a newsletter or produce a video, while worthy, are asked to look elsewhere for funding. Haymarket exists to help underwrite action, especially political action, on the ground.
One of Haymarket’s major innovations was the way it chose to make decisions regarding who gets funded. In contrast to larger and more bureaucratic charitable institutions, where decisions are often made by an elite executive group, Haymarket would make its funding decisions through local committees in each New England state, committees made up of activists working in their own communities. As they state proudly on their Web site: “Haymarket is an activist-controlled foundation committed to radical social change.”
Haymarket’s techniques in democratic decision-making have been emulated by other organizations, and are growing in popularity thanks to resources like the Internet (see, for example, the Funding Exchange). [Note: Global Exchange went out of business in 2013.]
Yet despite these worthy methods and goals (or, perhaps, because of them), groups like Haymarket are particularly vulnerable to appeals by organizations like the Somerville Divestment Project. Because for a program like Haymarket’s to work, it requires that all participants – granters and grantees – be acting in good faith, looking out for what’s best in their communities.
But what if someone is not acting in good faith? What if a person or organization is, in fact, motivated not by charity but by ruthlessness, masquerading (as always) in limitless self-righteousness? What if, for example, an organization is ready to make an appeal based on the most highly truncated, highly politicized version of events (such as events in the Middle East) and eradicate any trace of fact that might counter their arguments? What if a group like SDP was willing to challenge the progressive credentials of groups like Haymarket, just as they have challenged the worthiness of progressive cities like Somerville, by demanding such institutions wholeheartedly accept their view of the world? How can an institution built on consensus, one that assumes the language of human rights will be used as a tool for social activism, not a political weapon, withstand the lures of the ruthless?
Haymarket’s official flirtation with Middle East issues started with funding of the Boston Committee for Palestinian Rights (BCPR), yet another ad hoc coalition of the same anti-Israel activists and organizations that form, break apart and reform based on the latest news from the Middle East (like the violence of the last five years) or the latest tactics (like divestment). According to Haymarket: “The BCPR was formed shortly after the Al-Azsa Intifada arose in September 2000, when women of Arab and Jewish descent from Boston, distraught about the turn of events, gathered to begin planning a response.” Yet those of us familiar with the people and groups that make up this “spontaneous” new “grassroots organization” recognize all of the familiar names and faces that have been at the forefront of anti-Israel activism for at least two decades.
When the decision was made to provide the SDP with $8000, Haymarket crossed into new and particularly dangerous territory. For, as the SDP has made clear on its Web site and communication (particularly to other divestment activists), the goal of the group is to get the city of Somerville to add it’s name, it’s “brand,” it’s reputation behind the SDP message that Israel is a racist, apartheid state, alone in the world at deserving economic punishment. While Haymarket has made pains to say their funding of BCRP and SDP do not represent “taking sides” in the Arab-Israeli conflict, they have chosen to underwrite an effort to tie the city of Somerville to a message that Haymarket understands is too dangerous to officially state itself.
Haymarket’s commitment to the eradication of racism adds new ironic twists to their funding of SDP. On page after page of the Haymarket Web site, the organization states unequivocally its opposition to bigotry and racism in any form. Even their response to criticism of their funding of anti-Israel organizations (“Haymarket’s mission is to work for a world where these kinds of oppressions are obliterated and where we can finally live in a society free from the ravages of all forms of racism”) was couched in the language of the battle against bigotry.
And yet, as has been pointed out time and time again on this site, no organization has spent more time introducing the vile language of bigotry into Somerville’s political dialog than the SDP. Whether it’s the open homophobia of Karin Friedemann, the ravings about “Ashkenazi primoridalism” of Joachim Martillo, or the rantings of America and Europe’s most discredited Jew baiters, from Pat Buchannan to Israel Shamir, SDP has not missed a single opportunity to introduce the views of some of the world’s most notorious spewers of hatred to the city. Indeed, if the target of this endless onslaught was any minority group other than Jews, Haymarket would likely consider itself duty bound to fund any activity to counter such views.
This language, designed to set one ethnic and religious group against another, also demonstrates the hugely destructive influence of the tactics divestment has used on an ethnically diverse city like Somerville. Again, groups like Haymarket pride themselves on building bridges and bringing communities together. Yet their funding and support is going to an organization dedicated to having its way, even if that means tearing Somerville apart in the process.
The same tired refrain rings out whenever criticism like this comes up: of course community action, particularly political community action, will be controversial. Yet who is most responsible for distinguishing between a charity with political ramifications and a political organization masquerading as a charity? The decision makers at organizations like the Haymarket People’s Fund.
As noted in a previous essay, divestment asks of it’s supporters that they sacrifice everything they hold most dear at the alter of the divestment agenda. In Haymarket’s case, it’s the battle against racism, the lofty goal to build and strengthen communities and the cause for human rights that have been jettisoned in order to show support for an organization that has shown no problem spewing bigotry, wrecking communities and cynically manipulating the language of human rights to achieve their narrow political ends.
Sadly, rather than face up to mistakes, groups that have supported (like the mainline churches) or underwritten (like Haymarket) the divestment agenda are more likely to embrace hostility to the Jewish state ever more tightly in order to avoid looking at the consequences of their actions. For, after all, Israel’s crimes must be particularly heinous, indeed uniquely evil in the world, to justify everything divestment’s supporters have sacrificed in order to sign onto the movement.
As millions of moms would say in their simple, yet profound judgment: “Shame on them.”