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Boston suburb in divestment fight

BOSTON, March 29 (JTA) — The issue of divestment from Israel was brought sharply back in the public eye again this week in the Boston suburb of Somerville after the city’s pro-divestment organization met to discuss putting a question it on the city’s ballot this November. The Somerville Divestment Project’s organizers announced the initiative to some 20 supporters at an anti-Israel film screening and discussion at a Methodist church in the city after three months of silence on the contentious issue. The group’s goal is to gather enough signatures to force a nonbinding question onto city ballots about divesting the Somerville Retirement Board’s $250,000 holdings from Israel Bonds and $1.2 million holdings from companies that allegedly supply arms and military equipment to Israel’s military. The proposed question, handed out at the meeting, accuses Israel of “extensive human rights violations,” “institutionalized racism” and “other discriminatory practices that meet the definition of Apartheid.” The Jewish Community Relations Council is working to convene an anti-divestment coalition to assess the threat and develop a strategy to combat it. Its deputy director, Alan Ronkin said, “We continue to believe these people represent a noxious minority voice that does not reflect the general feeling of the people of Somerville.” According to Massachusetts law, the group must present the question to city alderman at least 90 days before the election, which is set for Nov. 8. If the alderman do not approve the question, the group will have until 43 days before the election to obtain signatures from 10 percent of the city’s registered voters. In Somerville, this would mean approximately 4,200 verifiable signatures. The question would have no binding force; it would simply let town leaders know what the public wants. According to the Somerville election department, there has not been a city-wide ballot question in 20 years. The campaign marks the renaissance of a project that was defeated in December, when after a month of debate the Somerville Board of Aldermen voted 10-0 not to accept a resolution advising the retirement board to divest from Israel. According to Alderman Bill White, the issues’ having been tabled would not preclude future discussions of a ballot initiative. He said, though, that he would not comment on the proposal until the question is presented to the aldermen formally. As the Somerville Divestment Project claimed to “build moral pressure toward justice,” it made its anti-Israel agenda clear at the meeting, as organizers screened a film, “Qalqilya,” that accused Israel of apartheid, brutality and genocide. In a panel discussion called “Is Israel an apartheid state?” Layla Cable, a descendant of Palestinian refugees from 1948, detailed her family’s hardships under what she called “military rule,” “collective punishment” and “political repression.” Noah Cohen detailed Israeli laws on immigration; nationality and citizenship; and land and security, which he claimed illustrated “a racist settler regime” that “guarantees disenfranchisment of Palestinians in favor of a settler community.” He dismissed the concept of a Jewish state as racist, accusing Israel of “Judaising the land,” with the law serving to “appropriate and consolidate the apartheid reality.” The group’s literature urges supporters to “Reject Racism. Reject Israel.”The JCRC’s Ronkin called divestment “a strategy to delegitimize Israel and cast Israel as a pariah state not worthy of existence,” adding, “It will not lead to peace or justice in the Middle East.”