Somerville Divestment Revisited – Links

24 Aug

Note: This is the last week where I’ll be republishing pieces written in the 2000s regarding my first encounter with the BDS “Movement” in Somerville, MA.  The web site for the Somerville Divestment Project mentioned below still exists as a cobweb, with many of the items referenced in this piece departed, but not forgotten.

Well it looks as though the So-Called Somerville Divestment Project (SC-SDP) Web site (www.divestmentproject.org) has gone through a substantial clean up recently.  Gone without a trace are their original links to the bigoted race-rantings of Joachim Martillo and the work of Israel Shamir.

One wonders if it is their upcoming petition campaign, or pressure from donors that has caused them to bury their previous showcasing of the outlandish bigotry of Mertillo and Shamir with the innocence of those who have never heard of an Internet “cache” (or Internet Explorer’s File -> Save As command) which means previous versions of their Web site remain available for all to see and appreciate.

Note to the SDP Webmaster: You missed one!  Your Thinkpiece section contains Lasse Wilhelmson’s delightful essay “Anti-semitism as a Political Weapon,” available from the Marwen Media Web site.  This is what one commentator had to say about Marwen:

“I have now had a chance to take a closer look at this site and consult Jewish friends on their views of it. There was nothing anti-semitic on the home page, which was all I was linking to; but buried in other pages on this site is some pretty nasty stuff which borders on Holocaust denial and further nasty stuff which crosses the border from anti-Zionism into anti-semitism. I’m happy to pull the plug on it.”

Lest anyone think this criticism of Marwen comes from a member of the Zionist Cabal ™ or associated sympathizers, this quote comes from Sue Blackwell, one of Europe’s most deranged Israel-hating fanatics who earlier this year dragged her academic organization, the UK Association of University Teachers (AUT), down the same divestment black hole where her American equivalents want to yank Somerville.  Apparently, hate-filled ravings too extreme for one of Britain’s most extreme extremists (which, given British attitudes towards the Jewish state, is saying a lot) are still just fine for the Somerville Divestment Project.

Even with its recent disinfection, the SDP Web site is still quite a piece of work.  Looking over it’s many pages and links, you would never have the slightest idea that over 1000 Jews have been murdered in the Middle East in recent years, and that the actions they decry in page after page, commentary after commentary, might have something to do with Israel choosing not to allow another thousand citizens to perish under the relentless attack of the suicide bomb.

I understand that militant activists are not required to present both sides of any argument, but for a movement which claims its mission is one of “educating the public,” their Web site, indeed their entire campaign, is predicated on finding a population ignorant of the fact that the Middle East consists of anyone other than Israeli brutes and pristine, innocents Arab victims.  Given that Somerville’s aldermen almost bought the SDP’s unbelievably lopsided view of the world last year, it’s entirely possible that their strategy to dump every piece of information that counters their propaganda down the memory hole will bear fruit.  However, I continue to maintain confidence that the citizens of Somerville at least know enough to know when they are being played for fools.

The divestmentproject.org Web site’s links page provides a particularly hilarious example of the level of concern the SDP has for “the other side.”  Buried at the end of a long list of links to dozens of organizations that share their agenda (what was that about divestment proponents being tiny, unsupported “voices in the wilderness?”) is a link to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI – link to www.memri.org) which provides unedited translations of the Arabic press to the public.  Just to make sure this one dissenting opinion (which just provides access to the Arab media in their own words) does not “infect” their visitors, SDP lists it under “Curiosities” with the following description:

“News organization run by former (?) Israeli intelligence officers with a Zionist agenda.”

As my mom might say: “Why do they even bother?”

As a final note, when the aforementioned Sue Blackwell removed the work of Marwen, Israel Shamir and others from her own Web site, she announced their removal on her site’s Home page and in a special section called “Nazi Alert,” informing her readers that those she removed, while posing as simply Israel haters were actually right-wing bigots.  In quietly eradicating embarrassing views they previously championed, and hoping they left no footprints, the SC-SDP fails to show even Blackwell’s shred of integrity, not to mention shame.

Somerville Divestment Revisited – Reputation

23 Aug

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.

Few outside of British academic circles had ever heard of the Association of University Teachers (AUT), a UK-based union of university level instructors and professionals, until earlier this year when the organization voted to boycott two Israeli universities on a series of trumped up charges.

For veterans of divestment debates in the US and abroad, the details of the AUT debate will sound familiar.  An organization whose primary mission is support of its members through collective bargaining and other union services, the AUT also had a “social justice” constituency that was hijacked by a group of anti-Israel activists, led by Birmingham lecturer Sue Blackwell (an declared anti-fascist with a preference for Palestinian Flagwear who nevertheless links her Web site to various Nazi organizations).

Through relentless parliamentary maneuvering within a bureaucratic organization, Blackwell and her allies managed to pass a resolution calling for British academics to break all ties with Bar-Ilan and Haifa Universities.  World reaction to the move was swift.  Jewish groups scorned the decision while anti-Israel activists hailed it as another “victory.”  More importantly, academics worldwide condemned the AUT’s assault on intellectual freedom, and AUT members revolted against the usurpation of their name by a small group of fanatics, overturning the decision in an overwhelming vote that reversed the short-lived AUT boycott policy.

By then, the damage was done.  If AUT is known outside of UK and teaching circles today, it is known as an organization that was willing to sacrifice the one virtue upon which its reputation rested, the value of unimpeded academic freedom, upon the alter of anti-Israel activism.

Seen through the AUT prism, the Somerville divestment debate represents a similar attempt to “leverage” the reputation of an institution, in this case the city of Somerville, towards a narrow political end.  All of their talk of “fairness” and “evening the playing field” is simply a ruse to appeal to the better nature of Somerville’s leaders and citizens, the better nature that is the basis of the city’s reputation as a friend of human rights.  The goal (as boasted on various anti-Israel Web sites during last year’s divestment debate) is to “sign on” Somerville to their cause so that the city’s name, a name built on its reputation, can be used to maneuver other cities and towns to also join the boycott-Israel bandwagon.

I’ve thought a lot about reputation recently as more and more “mainline” Protestant churches have followed the lead of the Presbyterian Church which last year started the machinery that would lead to divestment of church assets in companies doing business with the Jewish state.  As bragged on the So-Called Somerville Divestment Project’s (SC-SDP’s) Web site, the New England Methodist Church and Anglican Church in the UK are ready to follow the Presbyterian’s down divestment’s blind alley.

As with the AUT, these churches have convinced themselves that an economic attack on a tiny Jewish state is a demonstration of the highest virtues of their faith: fairness, peace, human rights.  Yet one only need look at the spurious charges, the faux history, the absolute unwillingness to consider the other side that underlay each church’s resolution to understand that divestment is a gross example of little more than institutional bullying.

As we were all taught in Saturday morning cartoons from the 1970s, most bullies are actually cowards.  And these “mainline” churches certainly have a lot to fear.  Their flocks are diminishing rapidly, even as competing faiths like evangelical Christianity and Islam are expanding rapidly.  It’s been years since these churches had a major voice in a political or moral debate and when they have tried (as in their stand on the Iraq War or last year’s presidential election), they have found themselves on the losing side.

As their relevance declines as rapidly as their numbers, the leadership of the churches pushing divestment have found they can do something: they can bully one of the smallest states in the world, even as they fail to put their assets where their mouths are when confronting the rich and powerful.

Yet in taking these actions, these churches are mortgaging more than their own reputations.  Just as the AUT that was willing to wreak havoc on academic freedom under the guise of protecting it, these bullying mainline churches are using the voice of religious moral authority in general, the same voice that proved so important during the desegregation, anti-Vietnam War and anti-Apartheid movements (movements supported in partnership with American Jews) to support narrow and partisan ends pushed by a small but highly vocal minority.

If it’s been hard to take the voice of the Church of England or the Presbyterians seriously during serious moral and political debates in recent years, how much harder will it be to listen to any religious authority in the future when the public realizes that this authority is susceptible to hijacking and moral blackmail by the rich and powerful against the small and vulnerable?

Even worse, these churches are also mortgaging assets they do not own: the ethical power of social investment, the economic power of the boycott, responsibly wielded as it was during the anti-Apartheid era, in order to float a morally bankrupt Israel divestment policy.  One can imagine a time in the near future when a corporation or nation that truly deserves censure can point to the actions of the churches as a demonstration of how legitimate boycotts directed at them are just another example of partisan politics wrapped in ill-fitting moral garments.

Just as Somerville’s aldermen (and, one hopes, its citizens) realize that the reputation of the city was not theirs to give away, one hopes that leaders and followers in cities, churches, schools around the world will reject the cynical lures of divestment, refusing to sell their reputations, and the reputations of what they represent, to those most willing to ruthlessly exploit the language of virtue.

Somerville Divestment Revisited – Rachels

22 Aug

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.

“A combined fundrasing event for BostontoPalestine and the BootCAT campaign against Caterpillar will be held on Friday, May 27, at the Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church,” read the announcement.    “The event will feature the premiere showing in Boston of the new film: ‘Rachel Corrie – An American Conscience.’”

For those of you who missed this event, or the many other attempts to put Rachel Corrie on the cultural and political landscape (including a London play and a lawsuit by Rachel’s parents against the state of Israel), a bit of background:

Ms. Corrie was a young student from Washington State who joined one of the more virulent anti-Israel organizations, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which (among other activities) has attempted to block the Israeli destruction of Palestinian homes with their bodies.  Rachel was engaged in such a “human shield” operation in the Gaza Strip when she was allegedly crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer.  Her death sparked numerous political campaigns, including a political movement against Caterpillar Tractor that formed part of the So-Called Somerville Divestment Project’s (SC-SDP) divestment agenda in Somerville.

ISM supporters are fond of using this picture, the vision of a fresh-faced, smiling young Rachel, to present their case.   They have had less use for this picture or similar ones that show that once-smiling face twisted in rage as she torches the American flag, surrounded by like-minded supporters.  They also never quite explain why ISM “anti-demolition” activities are focused on protecting Palestinian homes that have been used as cover for tunnels for smuggling weapons from Egypt to groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Israel (as opposed to houses, say, on the West Bank).

As a parent, the death of Rachel Corrie is meant to illicit my sympathies for a girl who perished so young under the treads of a piece of industrial equipment in a faraway land.  But as a parent, I must also reflect on what adults must have filled this young girl’s head with to turn her from a happy child to a furious flag burner, and what kind of people would put such a girl in harm’s way, then capitalize on her death by turning her into a martyr.

Let’s focus on those weapons tunnels for a moment, for the explosives and munitions that came into Israel via the those tunnels may have intersected with the lives of six other Rachels who have never received the media attention given to Rachel Corrie.

These include:

rachel-levy

Rachel Levy was 19 when a Palestinian rammed a bus into a crowded Israel bus stop, killing Rachel and five others on February 14, 2001.   She left behind her parents and two younger sisters.

rachel-thaler

Rachel Thaler, 16, the daughter of US-and UK-born Israelis, was enjoying dinner with her 14-year old brothers and friends at an Israeli pizzeria when a suicide bomber detonated himself at the restaurant.  While her brother survived, Rachel was less fortunate, leaving behind a family of four.

Rachel-Gavish

Rachel Gavish was 50 when a Palestinian terrorist infiltrated her home in Israel, shooting dead Rachel, her husband David, her son and Rachel’s father.  This triple-generational murder left Rachel’s six other children orphaned.

rachel-levy-2

This second Rachel Levy, 16, was a high-school student who was killed when a Palestinian suicide bomber detonated herself at an Israeli supermarket.  Her death came on the heels of the death of Rachel’s cousin once month earlier in a terrorist shooting attack.

rachel-charhi

Rachel Charhi, 36, was critically wounded in a suicide bombing attack in Israel on April 4, 2002.  Her husband, survived the assault to care for Rachel’s three orphaned children Kinneret (14), Ariel (13) and Barak (7).

rachel-shabo

Rachel Shabo, 40, (top right) and three of her sons were murdered on June 20, 2002 when a Palestinian terrorist entered the family home and opened fire.

So many Rachels, all mourned in sad silence by surviving friends and relatives who have chosen respectful grieving, rather than turning their murdered love ones into cause celebes to further a political agenda.

What a sharp contrast to those who continue to brandish the “martyrdom” of Rachel Corrie to further their political agenda without ever stopping to consider their own responsibility for Corrie’s death.

Somerville Divestment Revisited – Confession

21 Aug

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.

Somerville Divestment Revisited – Conspiracy

20 Aug

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.

An old joke describes a Jewish train traveler in 1930s Germany who is flabbergasted when he sees his friend Moshe reading a Nazi newspaper.  “Moshe, have you lost your mind?!” he cries out.  “Why are you reading that hateful rag?”

“I used to read the Jewish newspaper,” replied Moshe, “but it was too depressing.  When I read this paper, the Jews own all the banks, they control the media, we’re rich and powerful, we run the world!  This news is so much better.”

While I would never compare those pushing divestment with the “you-know-whos” (and certainly hope they will one day return the favor), this joke did came to mind the more I read about how divestment’s backers explain their overwhelming defeat during last year’s Somerville Alderman’s debate.

The So-Called Somerville Divestment Project (SC-SDP) hinted at their planned storyline, with quotes like:

“Last year, the SDP pressured the city council to pass a resolution for divestment that nearly passed, but was ultimately defeated due to pressure from the local pro-Israel lobby.”

Soon, however, this “local pro-Israel lobby” had morphed into something much larger.  In their most popular write up of last year’s events, divestment’s backers described the reasons behind their defeat as follows:

“Several factors converged to facilitate the defeat of the Somerville Divestment Resolution not the least of which was media combined with the full weight of the Jewish establishment.”

From “a local pro-Israel lobby” to “the full weight of the Jewish establishment” (not to mention the media), it was just a short step to this characterization from a recent issue of the Somerville Journal:

“The letters to the editor supporting Somerville divestment from Israel are words from citizens telling the other side of the story we hear from the powerful Israel lobby, consisting of more than 50 organizations, AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) being one of the most influential. The Israel lobby is considered by many to be the most powerful lobby in Washington and seems to be in Somerville, too.”

The chuckling you hear is only partly from the notion that divestment represents humble “citizens” speaking truth to power.  For those of us who fought successfully against divestment last year, the question we have to ask the vast, all-pervasive and all-powerful Jewish lobby was: so where are you guys anyway?

This is not a slight on the many Jewish community and political groups who have helped battle anti-Israel activities in the past.  It’s just that with barely a month to defeat divestment, we critics of the resolution barely had time to organize ourselves, much less recruit the vast Zionist conspiracy to our side.  In fact, it was only months after last year’s debate ended that any of us found ourselves in the same room, much less coordinating our activities.

The SC-SDP just has to face the fact that their defeat came as the result of a group of Somerville citizens, acting largely independently, combined with the might of common sense among Somerville’s leaders and the citizens at large.  If we are more organized this year to defeat the drive to get divestment on the November ballot that is only because we could not possibly be less organized than we were in 2004.

Certainly, it sooths the fragile ego to believe that defeat came as the result of an all-mighty, mystical enemy, rather than at the hands of the citizens in whose name one professes to speak.  Yet there is also a darker side to what Pulitzer Prize winning essayist Richard Hofstadter described as “The Paranoid Style of American Politics.”

In that groundbreaking work on America’s radical right, Hofstadter describes how a conspirator’s worldview is not just a product of his or her frightened fantasy, but actually describes the world in which a conspiracy theorist lives or most wishes to dwell.

An organized cabal, trying to manipulate the levers of power, with as little input of the citizens as possible.  Does that sound more like the Divestment Project that almost succeeded in deceiving Somerville’s Aldermen into voting “Yes” for divestment, or those of us who – in the full light of public debate – helped defeat their activities?

I’m tempted to ask those who see the all-powerful Jewish lobby behind every keyhole what color the sky is in their world.  Yet their own paranoid fictions best describe the planet in which they inhabit, a world I hope we have all helped defer coming into existence

 

Somerville Divestment Revisited – Democracy

19 Aug

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.