Judge kills divest-from-Israel petition in Massachusetts

From the Somerville, MA, Divestment Project:

Dear Friends,

The Somerville Divestment Project collected 4,400 signatures (more than the 3966 required, which is 10% of registered voters in Somerville) on a petition (copied below and posted at http://www.divestmentproject.org/petition.shtml ) to place a non-binding Question on the November municipal ballot that would let people vote whether or not Somerville should divest from Israel and from corporations that supply military equipment to Israel.

According to state law (which trumps municipal law), and according to prior verbal assurances from both state and city election officials in March, the petition form is fine and there is no limit as to when signatures could start to be collected before the deadline of September 26. But a few weeks ago Somerville city officials told the SDP that the petition form was not valid and that signatures collected before August 10 were not valid. Not coincidentally, Somerville’s Mayor Curtatone was one of eleven mayors across the U.S. whom the Israeli government paid to visit Israel. Mayor Curtatone was selected because of his strong opposition to the divestment campaign. The Mayor, for example, barred the SDP from setting up a table to collect signatures at the city’s Arts Festival this summer on the grounds that divestment was “political” even though the Festival has always been a venue for such activity in the past and the Mayor allowed another group to have a table at this year’s Festival to collect signatures for a different ballot question.

Yesterday the SDP filed a motion in Superior Court asking that the city accept the petitions since they are valid according to the state law and even the state elections department guidleines. Our lawyers believed we had a strong case and would win. The city made a weak argument and complained that the Question was inflammatory and would sully the reputation of the City. The Superior Court Judge ruled against us in a grossly unfair decision. The Judge thereby killed the 2005 ballot initiative aspect of the divestment project. Our so-called democracy is a sham.

On October 6, at the invitation of the SDP, Rachel Corrie’s mother will give a public talk in Somerville. Following this we will chart our future course of action.

One thing the Judge cannot kill is the fact that 4,400 Somerville voters want a democratic vote on divestment from Israel. Nor can the Judge kill the fact that Somerville residents — as a result of SDP’s mass leafletting, door-to-door discussions with people, film showings and a stream of letters to the editor — are far more knowledgable now about the Palestine/Israel conflict than they were two years ago. Pro-Zionist propaganda (about Israel being the “only democracy in the Middle East” or about it being anti-Semitic to “single out Israel” or that Israel “works for peace” while Palestinians reject peace) is effective when unchallenged, but in Somerville these lies have been challenged in thousands of conversations on the street and in people’s homes and as a result this propaganda has lost so much of its power to influence people that now the pro-Zionists have to resort to the naked power of city officials making up the rules as they go and a Judge ignoring the law to kill a referendum question.

That our opponents have to resort to such heavy-handed tactics shows that while they are tactically strong in the sense that they can keep divestment off the ballot, they are strategically weak in the sense that they are becoming more and more isolated from, and unable to control the thinking of, ordinary people.

We may have lost a battle but we will win the war.


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Whereas in 1948 Israel forcibly displaced over 780,000 Palestinians from their homes and has since denied these refugees the right of return, a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and

Whereas in 1967 Israel invaded the remainder of Palestine and continues to hold these territories under military occupation in which Israel commits extensive hu- man rights violations that run contrary to the Geneva Conventions, such as

* Confiscation of land, water, and property for Jewish settlement;
* Collective punishment and torture;
* Destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, farms and other
life-sustaining infrastructure; and

Whereas Palestinians inside Israel face institutionalized racism in the form of

* Confiscation of land, water, and property for Jewish settlement;
* Confinement into ghettos;
* Denial of land, housing, and water;
* Residential and school segregation;
* Denial of civil liberties;

and other discriminatory practices that meet the definition of Apartheid as given in the International Convention on the Crime of Apartheid; and

Whereas the Somerville Retirement Board currently invests $250,000 in Israel Bonds and over $1.2 million in companies that supply arms and military equipment to Israel;

Shall the city of Somerville divest these publicly administered financial holdings?

volunteer form

Please, fill out the form and mail it to:

Somerville Divestment Project
P.O. Box 441259
Somerville, MA 02144



See our last post on Israel