A controversial group that was unsuccessful in getting a question on the ballot in last year’s municipal elections was successful this time around in placing two questions on the November ballot in the 27th Middlesex District.
The Somerville Divestment Project (SDP) announced this week they had gathered the required number of signatures to place two questions concerning Israeli and Palestinian relations on the ballot in state Rep. Denise Provost’s district. The Attorney General’s office has approved the signatures and paved the way for their appearance on the ballot in precinct 3 of ward 2, all of ward 3, precinct 3 of ward 4 and all precincts of wards 5 and 6 in Provost’s entirely Somerville district.
The first question asks voters to call on Provost to support the state of Massachusetts issuing a statement in support of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The second question asks voters if they support Massachusetts divesting from Israeli bonds and military companies tied to Israel’s occupation.
Provost said she felt a public discourse on United States policy in the Middle East could be useful but questioned the phrasing of the questions put forth by SDP.
“I don’t think these questions are particularly helpful,” Provost said.
She said she would consult private counsel to discuss her obligation if the voters support the measure.
The City of Somerville invests $250,000 in Israel Bonds annually and also invests money in companies such as Caterpillar Tractor that sell equipment to Israel to commit human rights violations documented by Amnesty International, said SDP co-coordinator Ron Francis.
Somerville, through Caterpillar Tractor, profits off illegal attacks on Palestinian homes, schools, ambulances, and the destruction of millions of Palestinian olive trees – an economic mainstay of the Palestinian population, Francis said.
Maryna Axner is a Somerville resident who has worked to defeat SDP’s goal of local divestment. She said the resolution on the ballot divides people with common goals.
“The resolution gives people information that is erroneous in its facts and works against Middle East peace rather than bring people who have common areas of interest together towards a peaceful solution,” Axner said.
Alan Ronkin, President of the Jewish Community Relations Council, said SDP is an extreme, radical group and its proposal to divest Israeli bonds in Somerville will benefit no one.
“Around the world, divestment has failed to advance peace. All it’s going to do is make one-side, Israel, the bad guy and that solves nothing,” he said. “It’s just a symbolic move to demonize Israel.”
Ronkin said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone and U.S. Congressman Michael E. Capuano, D-Somerville, also oppose divestment.
Provost said she felt the ballot questions would not become an issue, even if passed.
“The Massachusetts legislature doesn’t handle foreign policy,” she said."