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The Battle for Divestment from Israeli Securities in Somerville

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    Seva Brodsky has been heavily involved in Neoconservative activities -- especially Charles Jacobs pet causes. He often attends Israel-related talks and
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 3, 2005
      Seva Brodsky has been heavily involved in Neoconservative activities
      -- especially Charles Jacobs' pet causes. He often attends
      Israel-related talks and seminars in the Boston area. He likes to take
      pictures of anti-Israel activists, whom he has been known to harass
      and threaten as he did at the Jeff Halper and the Sharanski talks at
      Harvard, which took place in Spring 2005.

      An engineer, Brodsky enrolled as a student at the New England School
      of Law in Boston and recently interned at the Jerusalem Center for
      Public Affairs (JCPA), a Neconservative racist ethnic Ashkenazi
      Jabotinskian think-tank. Now that Brodsky is earning a law degree, he
      will probably add frivolous law suits to his arsenal in his defense of
      the ethnic Ashkenazi Jabotinskian transnational political elite.

      Brodsky, originally from Russia, owes his US citizenship to the
      Jackson-Vanik ammendment to the 1974 Trade Reform Act. Congress passed
      this ammendment in response to the false claims of the organized
      American Jewish community that Soviet ethnic Ashkenazim were subject
      to unique and potentially murderous racist discrimination.


      The Battle for Divestment from Israeli Securities in Somerville
      Seva Brodsky
      Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
      No 4, 27 September 2005, 23 Elul 5765

      From summer 2003, the city of Somerville in the metropolitan
      Boston area became the battleground for a municipal divestment project
      against Israel. Previously, anti-Israeli divestment campaigns had
      mainly focused on universities.

      The Somerville Divestment Project took the form of a campaign
      for divestment of holdings in Israeli government bonds and stocks of
      companies engaging in military business with Israel. Its target was
      the Somerville Retirement Board, which manages the pensions of city
      employees. The mayor of Somerville threatened to veto the proposition
      if it was passed by the Somerville aldermen.

      Sensing danger, the Jewish community quickly united against
      the campaign. In December 2004, the Somerville aldermen voted against
      the project. Meanwhile, the opponents of Israel have continued their
      efforts by proposing to place an advisory question on the subject of
      divestment on the November city ballot.

      During the summer of 2003, Ron Francis, a young high school
      teacher, founded the Somerville Divestment Project.1 He had previously
      been politically opposed to Israel. At the end of 2002 he took an
      active part in a boycott of Wordsworth, one of the last independent
      bookstores in Cambridge, Massachusetts, because its owner Hillel
      Stavis had stopped contributing funds to National Public Radio in
      protest against their anti-Israeli bias.2 The activists picketed the
      store for a week, effectively disrupting the business.

      The Problem and the Background

      After the failure to bring about anti-Israeli divestment at
      college campuses, the first attempt to do so with municipalities
      occurred in Somerville. The anti-Israeli activities there took the
      form of a campaign to force the Somerville Retirement Board to divest
      its holdings in Israeli government bonds and stocks of companies
      engaging in military business with Israel.

      The city of Somerville is an integral part of metropolitan Boston,
      bordering the cities of Boston and Cambridge. Somerville was primarily
      a working-class area until the subway was extended. When high real
      estate prices in Cambridge led many of its residents to relocate to
      Somerville, they brought with them their politically active culture.
      This new population attempted to reframe the city's political agenda.
      Whereas Somerville had been primarily concerned with local issues, the
      new activists forced the community to take a stand on international
      political issues as well.

      The Campaign's Beginning

      One summer evening in 2003, Ron Francis launched the divestment
      campaign at the College Avenue Methodist Church in Somerville. His
      presentation included a lecture with many visuals that depicted the
      Palestinian narrative. Francis portrayed the Palestinians as a
      "peace-loving" population that had been brutalized by the "ruthless
      Israeli aggressors.".

      For a year and a half thereafter, Francis and other divestment
      activists lobbied the Somerville aldermen (city councilors), trying to
      sway them toward the Palestinian stance. They redefined the
      Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a human rights issue and tried to
      appeal to the aldermen's sense of justice. These activists used a
      door-to-door campaign to spread their views and collect signatures.

      As noted, the Somerville Divestment Project sought to force the
      Somerville Retirement Board, which manages the pensions of city
      employees, to sell any Israeli bonds it had or stocks in American
      companies doing military business with Israel. The aim was to convince
      the aldermen to vote in favor of divestment. In October 2004, the
      activists tried to bring about an unannounced vote by the aldermen on
      the resolution so as to avoid any possible opposition.

      They almost succeeded, because eight of the eleven aldermen
      initially cosponsored the resolution. However, one alderman, Bill
      White, called for an open discussion of the motion before the vote,
      allowing the "other" side a chance to state its views. Thanks to his
      respect for the democratic process, the whole matter suddenly became a
      public issue. In autumn 2004, Somerville found itself the scene of a
      major political contest with international repercussions. Numerous
      articles and letters to the editor, sent from various places, appeared
      in the Somerville Journal, the city's main weekly publication. The
      mayor of Somerville, Joe Curtatone, threatened to veto the proposition
      if it was passed by the board.3

      The Jewish Community Responds

      The Jewish community mobilized quickly. It assembled an ad hoc
      antidivestment coalition consisting of the leaders of the Boston
      chapters of the Jewish Community Relations Council, the American
      Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Combined Jewish
      Philanthropies, Jewish representatives from labor unions, the Israeli
      consul-general for New England, and various concerned citizens from
      Somerville. The debate was scheduled to be held in the Aldermen's
      Chamber of the Somerville City Hall on 8 November 2004.4

      On that day, the chamber was filled beyond capacity. Advocates of
      each side were given the opportunity to speak for up to two minutes,
      and the vote hearing for the full board was scheduled for December.
      One participant in this debate was Shamai Leibowitz, an Israeli lawyer
      who came to Somerville from Washington where he was a New Israel Fund
      Fellow at American University's Washington College of Law. Leibowitz
      had published letters in favor of the divestment resolution in the
      Somerville Journal, the (Boston) Jewish Advocate, the Jordan Times,
      and elsewhere.5 Another Israeli-born, pro-Palestinian lobbyist was
      Iftach Shavit, a resident of Somerville, who had written a widely
      circulated letter in favor of the divestment.6

      The prodivestment activists presented the Arab-Israeli conflict
      using the idiom of the radical Left. They portrayed Israel as a
      racist, imperialist, expansionist, apartheid, colonialist, settler
      state. The pro-Israeli advocates emphasized that the other side had
      singled out Israel as a scapegoat for the ills of the Palestinians.
      Israel supporters tried to show that the Jewish state has a vibrant,
      pluralistic, multiethnic democracy where people of all faiths and
      origins partake in equal rights.7 They also emphasized the Palestinian
      terror campaign being waged against Israeli civilians during the
      recent intifada.

      Many prodivestment activists who took part in the meeting came
      from out of town. Israel supporters were disheartened to learn that
      about 40 percent of the divestment supporters were Jewish. One was
      Joachim Carlo Santos Martillo Ajami, a vigorous and vociferous,
      Boston-based anti-Israeli activist.8 At one time he was known to be
      virulently anti-Arab, but he eventually reversed his views.

      Another harshly anti-Israeli Jew at the meeting was Noah Cohen.
      One of the leaders of the Boston-based New England Committee to Defend
      Palestine (NECDP), he was also a friend of a militant Palestinian
      activist, Amer Jubran, who was arrested for assault and battery
      against several Jewish Bostonians and was eventually deported to
      Jordan for fraud in 2004 by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization
      Service. Marty Federman and Hilda Silverman, two of the better-known
      Boston-area "peace activists," also attended the meeting on the
      anti-Israeli side.

      Also among the divestment supporters were Lana Habash of the NECDP
      and Maria Hussain, also known as Karin Friedeman, also known as Umm
      Yakoub, who is the New Jersey-based editor of the pro-Arab World View
      News Service.9 She is also the wife of Martillo Ajami and a convert to

      On 7 December 2004, the divestment proposal was voted down in a
      brief interim hearing of the legislative subcommittee of the
      Somerville Board of Aldermen. Denise Provost, alderman-at-large, a
      lawyer and the most active prodivestment member of the board, stormed
      out of that meeting in anger. The full board hearing was scheduled for
      two days later.

      Both sides inundated the Somerville aldermen with letters. These
      locally elected representatives, who were not conversant in Middle
      Eastern affairs, were suddenly plunged into a passionate political
      debate. To their credit, they quickly learned the basics and were able
      to make an educated decision in the final vote on 9 December.11

      The Vote

      On the evening of the final vote, the atmosphere was tense. Both
      sides filled the Aldermen's Chamber with banners, placards, photos,
      leaflets, buttons, and flags. The gathering had the feel of a
      political rally. There were many leftist organizations in attendance,
      including representatives from Boston to Palestine (B2P), the Boston
      affiliate of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), as well as a
      number of Arabs and Muslims. In a particularly disturbing incident
      before the meeting began, a Jewish Israel supporter asked a man
      whether a chair next to him was available, to which the divestment
      supporter replied, "Not for the Jews."

      Ten aldermen voted against the divestment proposal with one
      abstention by Denise Provost. The results were greeted with cheers as
      well as hissing and booing. Alderman Provost, who presided, demanded
      that order be restored, at which point the prodivestment activists
      began passing out leaflets and singing the anthem of the African
      National Congress.

      Although Provost remonstrated with them, the divestment supporters
      ignored her and had to be removed by the police as they continued
      singing. After the public had finally left and the aldermen returned
      to their business of running the city, Provost tried unsuccessfully to
      bring the motion to another vote.12

      The Aftermath

      The advocates of Israel's legitimacy won this round. Although a
      flurry of letters appeared in the Somerville Journal and the Jewish
      Advocate, the issue receded as the city returned to its daily
      business. Despite their reversal, the proponents of divestment claimed
      their loss as a victory.13

      Shortly afterward, Mayor Curtatone visited Israel on a trip
      cosponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the American Jewish
      Congress, and returned with favorable impressions.

      In January 2005, the anti-Israeli activists tried to revive the
      divestment effort at the Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church in
      Somerville, whose pastor, Karl Gustafson, is known for hostility to
      Israel. Local Jews, joined by a number of Christians, protested
      outside the church.14

      The divestment supporters, including ISM/B2P members, continued
      their anti-Israeli activities in April 2005 by organizing a series of
      weeklong demonstrations at the entrance to the Massachusetts
      headquarters of the Caterpillar corporation, which sells construction
      equipment to Israel.15 This effort was led by Jeff Halper, a
      pro-Palestinian activist of the Israeli Committee against House

      The Somerville Divestment Project is making another try, planning
      to place an advisory question on the subject of divestment on the
      city's November 2005 election ballot.16 To this end, they have again
      begun "raising awareness" by spreading pro-Palestinian propaganda.17
      In spring 2005 they organized a viewing of the anti-Israeli film
      Qalqilya, distributing leaflets describing Israel as a "racist settler
      regime" and urging supporters to "Reject Racism. Reject Israel."

      The Somerville Divestment Project also now has workshops, paid
      advocates, and information tables near the two subway stops closest to
      Somerville, and is collecting signatures for its petition, handing out
      flyers, and canvassing the city once more.

      This time, however, the antidivestment activists were prepared and
      began organizing for the next round by forming a broad coalition and
      planning their future course. Meanwhile some church leaders, such as
      M. Thomas Shaw, the Episcopalian Bishop of Massachusetts, began to
      reconsider their support of divestment from Israel.18

      Lessons Learned: "United We Stand"

      Despite the activists' efforts, the Somerville Divestment Project
      did not achieve its objective of forcing divestment from Israeli
      securities. When its questionable tactics, such as secretive lobbying
      and trying to pass resolutions without democratic process were brought
      to light, the movement began to lose its legitimacy.

      When it sensed danger, the Jewish community united quickly,
      setting aside political differences. It drew on a variety of human
      resources, including student groups, labor unions, Jewish
      organizations, and concerned citizens. The success of the effort
      brought familiar accusations from the other side about Zionist

      Meanwhile, the Somerville Divestment Project continues its
      campaign by trying to place its agenda on the November city ballot.
      Supporters of Israel actively oppose this initiative.20 The Project
      has already run into trouble with the Somerville election commission
      for "failure to comply with the requirements of the election

      The next showdown of the Somerville divestment campaign will most
      likely take place during the November 2005 elections. The radical
      leftist and anti-Israeli advocates of divestment have not given up,
      and the friends of Israel will have to remain mobilized.

      * * *


      * Gratitude is extended to Dr. Joel Fishman and Dr. Manfred
      Gerstenfeld of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs as well as to
      the Center's intern Aviva Horowitz for their kind assistance.

      1 See HYPERLINK "www.divestmentproject.org". A thorough account of
      the events as they occurred, including background and key players, was
      written and is continuously being updated by Jon Haber, and is
      available at www.somervilleMEjustice.com. For Somerville-related as
      well as general divestment information, see also

      2 Mary Kathryn Burke, "Protest Targets Wordsworth: Bookstore Owner
      Criticized for Pulling Sponsorship of WBUR," Harvard Crimson, 10
      December 2002; Mark Jurkowitz, "Wordsworth Targeted for WBUR Funding
      Boycott," Boston Globe, 10 December 2002; Seth Gittle, "Hillel
      Stavis's Protesters Are Missing the Point," Boston Phoenix, 12
      December 2002.

      3 "Curtatone Opposes Israel Divestment Resolution to Be Considered
      Tonight," City of Somerville, 9 November 2004,
      www.ci.somerville.ma.us/newsDetail.cfm?instance_id=193; Joel Fishman,
      "A Case Study: Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A.: A Battleground for Israel's
      Legitimacy," Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 16, Nos. 3-4 (Fall

      4 Penny Schwartz, "Committee Hearing Slated for Nov. 8," Jewish
      Advocate, 5 November 2004.

      5 Shamai K. Leibowitz, "Support Peace by Divesting from Israel,"

      6 Iftach Shavit, "Help Israel Save Itself,"

      7 Gena Gorlin and Sharon Silverman, "The Crucial Difference,"
      Tufts Primary Source, 12 February 2005.

      8 Joachim Martillo, "How to Talk about Zionism: The New Improved
      Guide," www.divestmentproject.org/joachim_martillo.shtml.

      9 Maria Hussain, "Night of Power for Somerville," Al-Jazeerah, 8
      November 2004; Erin Dower, "Fake Jazeera Wants Prayers to Steer
      Somerville Pols," Somerville Journal, 18 November 2004.

      10 Maria Hussain, "Observations on the Palestine Solidarity
      Conference," http://jewishtribalreview.org/hussain.htm.

      11 http://somervillemejustice.com/marriage.html; Benjamin Gedan,
      "Proposal to Divest Israeli Funds Sparks Outrage," Boston Globe, 9
      November 2004.

      12 Hilary Leila Krieger, "Boston Suburb May Become First US City
      to Divest from Israel," Jerusalem Post, 26 November 2004; Benjamin
      Gedan, "Somerville Rejects Divestment Plan," Boston Globe, 8 December
      2004; Michael M. Grynbaum, "City Rejects Divestment," Harvard Crimson,
      10 December 2004; Penny Schwartz, "In City of Somerville, Mass., a
      Decisive 'No' to Divestment," Jewish Advocate, 22 December 2004.

      13 Tom Wallace, "Somerville Divestment Failure Is Bittersweet,"
      Electronic Intifada, 20 December 2004; Paul Beran, "On Divestment,
      Even Failure Breeds Success," Daily Star (Beirut), 8 January 2005.

      14 Erin Dower, "Church Protest Held for MidEast Speakers,"
      Somerville Journal, 20 January 2005.

      15 Sara Withee, "Activists Protest CAT Bulldozer Use by Israel,"
      Milford Daily News, 17 March 2005; Ran Dagoni, "Caterpillar
      Shareholders Reject Motion to Review Israel Sales," LexisNexis, 14
      April 2005; Shira Schoenberg, "Boston's Far Left-Wing Jews Are
      Determined Not to Be Left Out," Jewish Currents, 22 April 2005.

      16 Shira Schoenberg, "Somerville's New Divestment Row," Baltimore
      Jewish Times, 31 March 2005; Daniel J. Hemel, "Israel Divestment
      Debate Reignited," Harvard Crimson, 27 April 2005; Shira Schoenberg,
      "Will Somerville, Mass. Divest from Israel?" Boston Jewish Herald, 1
      April 2005; Shira Schoenberg, "Here We Go Again: Boston Suburb Center
      of Renewed Divestment Battle," Jewish Ledger, 25 May 2005.

      17 John Spritzler, "Fighting Zionism with a Class Analysis on the
      Streets of Somerville," Axis of Logic, 19 June 2005.

      18 Michael Paulsen, "Bishop Backs Off Push to Divest Funds,"
      Boston Globe, 23 May 2005; Associated Press, "Episcopal Bishop of
      Massachusetts Opposes Divestment in Israel," 23 May 2005.

      19 Karin Friedemann (Umm Yakoub), "Israel Out of Somerville! The
      JCRC in Boston Wants Somerville to Pay for Israel," Boston Independent
      Media Center (by way of the World View News Service), 23 August 2005,

      20 Penny Schwartz, "Another Divestment Struggle Opens Ahead of
      Somerville Senate Election," Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 11 August
      2005; Ted Siefer, "Somerville Group Wages Counter-Divestment," Jewish
      Advocate, 26 August 2005.

      21 Ted Siefer, "Move for Divestment Could Stall," Jewish Advocate,
      26 August 2005.

      * * *

      Seva Brodsky grew up in Moscow and immigrated to the United States
      in 1981. He received his BS and MS degrees in electrical engineering
      from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northeastern
      University in Boston, respectively. He is currently a student at the
      New England School of Law in Boston. Brodsky was actively involved in
      the struggle against divestment in Somerville. This article was
      written during an internship at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

      The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of
      the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.



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