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September 30, 2005



There are some facts here that readers need to have filled in. A city official told another newspaper that SDP was told in March that they could not collect signatures until August 9. In fact, the election commission did not communicate this position to SDP until August 10, in a letter which I have seen, dated August 1 but mailed August 9. That letter makes no reference to any earlier communication.

The August 9 letter was also the first time the election commission tried to insist on supplying its own petition forms.

The problem is, SDP could not have accepted the City's forms, because their proposed question was radically rewritten, omitting almost all the wording that SDP intended to appear on the ballot. Had SDP accepted the City form and managed to collect the signatures all over again, the petition's opponents would have challenged it legally on that ground, and the legal process would have dragged on til past the election.

This sort of trick is unfortunately all too common in petition campaigns.

Judge Houston deferred to the City's discretionary power in setting the forms to be used to gather signatures. That kind of customary deference is no doubt what the City counted on. However, He did not agree with the City that signatures could be collected only after August 9.

Somerville City Hall has again acted in bad faith, just as they did when barring SDP and our organization, Mystic River Green-Rainbow, from participation in ArtBeat this summer.

The real object of these actions was clearly to defend the interests of the State of Israel and our cowardly local pols by keeping the divestment petition off the ballot and out of public debate. They succeeded in blocking the petition, but in doing so they have only exposed role of local politicians in undermining the republic for the sake of empire.

Ron Newman

To place a binding or advisory initiative on a state election ballot, you need to use state-approved petition forms and follow procedures and deadlines carefully laid out in this document:

State Ballot Question Petitions

My questions: does the city of Somerville have similar rules and procedures? If so, did you make a good-faith effort to follow them, or did you decide they somehow didn't apply to your organization?

Jon Haber

While I am not in a position to comment on the Somerville municipal government's role in the global Imperial order, I can provide some insights into the decisions of the Cambridge court on the matter since, unlike the original person commenting on this News story, I was in attendance throughout the hearing.

To begin with, while I can't say what "some [unnamed] city official told another [unnamed] newspaper," I can say that the Director of Elections in Somerville provided a written affidavit, uncontested by the SDP's own attorneys in court, which clearly states that he had been working with the SDP since at least March regarding their ballot petition. He also attests that the SDP was clearly informed about problems in their petition document and told when they could begin to legally gather signatures.

Conspiracy theories aside, the court was partial to the SDP attorney's argument that the Election Commission's substantially revised version of the petition might have been too minimalist. However, the judge pointed out that most of the original petition (i.e., the opening three "Whereas'" condemning the state of Israel for this and that) were "ideological," rather than informational and only seemed concerned about why the one paragraph containing facts (i.e., the fourth Whereas listing of the city's current holdings in Israeli bonds) rather than opinions was not included in the Election Commission's version.

The city's attorney pointed out that all of these issues could have and should have been worked out between the SDP and the Election Commission last spring which would have given the group ample time to gather their signatures legally, avoiding the problems they created for themselves by refusing to play by the rules.

As we discuss and debate these legal points, there is a 20,000 pound gorilla in the room that needs to be mentioned. By any measure one can make (as I analyze on my Web site, the SDP failed in its attempt to gather enough legitimate signatures to get onto the ballot. Parading around with cardboard boxes and insisting they contain 4400 or 4500 legitimate signed documents hardly demonstrates irrefutable proof of victory.

In light of this, could it be that the court actually gave the SDP what it wanted? By refusing to force the city to accept their documents, the SDP can now claim that they had the "votes," but that "the people's will" was thwarted by the villainous Mayor and the "You Know Whos," safe in the fact that their 4500 petitions will never be checked.

Might this seizing of martyrdom from the jaws of a second defeat in less than a year have been the SDP's goal all along? Or might it have become their strategy once it became clear that the organizations own fanaticism, blunders and arrogance meant they had wasted their donor's money and volunteer's time following a strategy that was doomed the moment they chose to make up their own rules as they went along?


Like the saying goes; when you have the facts on your side, pound on the facts. When you have the evidence on your side, pound on the evidence. When you have neither, pound on the table.
This is what the SDP has done. I've had a few brief encounters with them. While they may have a legitimate moral arguement with respect to the current Israeli leadership, trying to prosecute their case based on this, and then becoming threatening when anyone disagrees, will never get them over the top. I think they'd better go back and redirect their focus on a plausible arguement, and then craft their next petition accordingly.


I agree. SDP unfortunately used strategies that put them at odds with many of Somerville for reasons not directly related to divestment, and thereby allowed opponents to discredit divestment with ad hominem arguments.


I don't question the sincerity or motivations of people who want Somerville to place a divest from Israel question on the ballot.

I just think it's a really dumb idea that can do nothing but hurt and divide Somerville.

First, though not a perfect nation Israel is one of America's staunchest allies. And, the idea our little city opposes them will bring a lot of uncessary and harmful attention here. Among other inferences is that it will indicate Somerville is anti-Semetic.

Second, what point would this serve? Even if you think the Israel policies are wrong. This token vote will not change anything and will only bring negative attention to Somerville.

Finally, what about other injustices in the world? Should we divest from Great Britian because of their treatment of the Irish in the North? How about China and their treatment of people?

Frankly, these are not issues for a local person to decide. These are complex international matters.

And while I give each of you the benefit of the doubt with regard to your motivation, I suggest you are hurting Somerville and its image by pushing this agenda.

thank you


Well, somebody has to start...

Adam Bovilsky

There is a reason why the Somerville Divestment Project (SDP) failed so completely to get its question on the November ballot: the citizens of Somerville reject the idea of divesting from Israel.

By a 10-to-1 margin, voters told volunteers for the Somerville Coalition for Middle East Peace that they were opposed to instructing the Pension Board to eliminate investments in Israel and in American companies doing business with Israel. Some voters told us they thought that at a time of constructive movement toward peace, such as Israeli disengagement from Gaza, this ballot question sends the wrong message. Others called for the City to be engaged in more positive steps to peace, such as encouraging economic development in the Middle East. Still others said that the investments in question performed well and contributed to the fiscal health of the pension fund.

And almost everyone said that, while they were concerned about Middle East Peace, they are also concerned about such City issues as taxes, development, jobs, education, and crime. The people of Somerville want the November election to focus on those issues, and they said that after two successive failures of divestment proposals, it is time to move on.


The sad truth about divestment is that the average Somervillian doesn't really care one way or the other. I remember holding signs in Davis square for a candidate and saw the "divestment signs" being held also by a group of people. I think I am pretty in tune about Somerville politics but I actually had to go up to a divestment sign holder and ask what his sign meant. They need to re-group and think their strategy over and then present it to the people of Somerville. Like, how does this issue affect Somerville and it's families???

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