"Anti-Israel group returns to ballot"SOMERVILLE JOURNAL (Somerville, Massachusetts)
July 29, 2008
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By George P. Hassett
The Somerville Divestment Project is back. The polarizing group that has brought hundreds to City Hall to protest and support Israeli policies in the Middle East, is pushing another non-binding ballot question to city voters in November.
The resolution would direct State Rep. Denise provost, D-Somerville, to “vote in favor of a non-binding resolution calling on the federal government to support the right of all people, including non-Jewish Palestinians of Israel, to live free from laws that give more rights to people of one religion than another.” Provost’s district covers roughly two-thirds of the city.
A similar measure calling for the “right of all refugees, including Palestinian refugees to return to their land of origin,” failed with 45 percent of the vote in 2006, according to SDP organizer Ron Francis. Another 2006 question called provost to support “all governmental entities of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to sell any investments they hold either in Israel Bonds or in companies that supply Military equipment to Israel.” That measure failed with 31 percent of the vote.
SDP has divided Somerville citizens over a seemingly far away conflict in another part of the world since 2004. That year, on Nov. 8 hundreds crowded City Hall to support and oppose an SDP resolution that all city investors sell their Israel bonds along with their stock in six companies – including General Electric – that build Israeli weapons. The crowd that night had their backpacks and packages checked by eight city police officers at the front entrance of City Hall.
The measure gave mayor Joseph A. Curtatone the opportunity – in front of a crowd in the Aldermanic Chambers that filled all 90 seats, lined the walls three and four deep and overflowed into the hallway - to weigh in on the foreign conflict.
“Fair and just treatment of the Palestinian people residing in the territories is essential to building peace in the region. However I also support Israel’s right to defend itself and safeguard it’s people,” Curtatone said. “The Retirement Board’s Chief responsibility is to secure the highest rate of return possible for the fund. In rare exceptions, the moral imperative is so clear and unambiguous as to warrant divestment. This is not such a case.”
Curtatone said if passed he would veto the resolution. The public hearing that followed featured a former Israel soldier being hissed at and accusations that opponents of the measure had “the blood of dead Palestinians” on their hands.
Since that meeting, SDP has alienated some of its own members by stepping up their rhetoric and describing the policies of the Israeli government as “apartheid.”
SDP member Bob Cable said this time around, “controversy is inevitable,” and he expects some opposition.