Let me wade into flame-war territory for a minute here

Every day or so I get another couple fliers about Somerville Ballot Initiatives 5 and 6. Every day there’s somebody out in front of the T stop urging me to vote yes and/or no on 5 and 6. And dammit, I am sick and tired of people being all high and mighty about it on both sides.

What people are voting on: Measure 5 is a non-binding resolution supporting the right of return for Palestinian refugees: allowing people displaced by the creation of Israel back in ’45 (and their descendants and so forth) back into the country. Measure 6 is a binding measure that would pull the city’s investments (retirement funds, etc.) from Israeli companies and government bonds.

You’d think I would be a natural supporter of those goals. After all, I don’t always (or even usually) agree with the policies of the state of Israel. As a general rule, I don’t like the idea of religious or ethnic city-states. I believe that market-based sanctions are good tools for foreign policy and I believe in voting with my dollar as well as with my ballot. I am sympathetic to refugees. But no, these are stupid laws. Here’s why:

Measure 5 is especially asinine. Let me count the ways:

  • First of all, it’s a non-binding resolution, which makes it a total waste of time and effort for everyone involved.
  • Second, a small city in Massachusetts has no business criticizing the immigration policy of a nation on the other side of the planet. Remember earlier this year when the City of Cambridge passed a non-binding resolution criticizing US immigration policy? They got called idiots, with plenty of justification, and that was a domestic issue that had some bearing on the city. This would be even less relevant.
  • Third, the right of return for Palestinian refugees (and/or their descendents– not sure how many of the people displaced in ’45 are still alive at this point) is simply not on the table — it’s up there with things like “Israel is a Jewish state” and “we speak Hebrew here.” Even if the federal government were to pressure Israel to allow it, they’d say no. It just ain’t gonna happen, no matter how many strongly-worded municipal resolutions are passed.

Measure 6 is slightly less stupid, in that if Israel were really all that bad, then this would be the logical step to take at the municipal level. It’s the same kind of work that, combined with international sanctions and diplomatic pressure, led to the fall of apartheid in South Africa. But we shouldn’t divest.

  • First, Americans don’t have much moral authority at this point, especially not in the Middle East and definitely definitely not on these issues. In the 80s, the US was a beacon of democratic virtues and civil rights, and could call out to the world to follow its example (we supported plenty of dictators, too but that’s not the point). Right now, the US has a discriminatory and jingoistic immigration policy and the military is dogged by human rights abuses. Nobody’s going to listen to us if we tell them to do better than us. If we really want to start a divestment campaign aimed at improving human rights, we’d have to start with things that aren’t so transparently hypocritical. For example, we could threaten to stop buying Saudi Arabian oil until they let women drive.
  • Second, Israel doesn’t deserve sanctions. No matter what the fliers say, Israel is not South Africa, and the PLO is not the ANC. I disagree with many of Israel’s policies and many of the actions of the IDF. However, they are not as a whole reprehensible and do not deserve international sanctions. Israel is not fighting for minority control of a captive ethnic population, but fighting to maintain its own borders and work out some sort of two-state solution. I do not wish to imply that there is no racism or oppression; I acknowledge that there are moral outrages of all kinds on all sides. But the state of Israel is not deliberately racist or totalitarian and its actions, although imperfect, are not evil.

I continue to support my country despite the fact that it is imperfect, despite the fact that I disagree with many of its policies and the actions of some of its soldiers. I continue to support Israel in the same manner.

And that’s why you should vote no on measures 5 and 6. (If there any Somerville residents still reading at this point. Hello?)

2 thoughts on “Let me wade into flame-war territory for a minute here”

  1. None of the extra ballot questions are binding. See the official City of Somerville sample ballots for confirmation: http://www.ci.somerville.ma.us/section.cfm?org=elect&page=301

    Non-binding Question 5 states that the state representative from our district should be instructed to support the United Nations resolution enforcing the “Right to Return” for all refugees, including Palestinians.

    The arguments for Question 6 state that Israel is a questionably stable investment, and that there are more solid ways to gain interest on money … note that Israel is the only nation the city of Somerville has invested bonds in. See http://www.divestmentproject.org/somerville_investing_101.shtml for more detail from the pro-vote-6 campaign site.

    It should also be noted that nobody has to vote the same on each of these questions! They are very different questions, not a block.

    See also http://community.livejournal.com/davis_square/704946.html

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  2. buddha’s ears: Deciding what is a stable or better or worse investment by ballot strikes me as rather inane. This is a political question, not a matter of financial prudence. Vote based on the politics.

    Aaron: “First of all, it’s a non-binding resolution, which makes it a total waste of time and effort for everyone involved.” I disagree with that premise in general, but I think you’re right about this one. Public Policy Questions (nonbinding, per-district ballot questions) can be a useful political tool, because they demonstrate what real voters actually support. PPQ’s are useful if:
    1. There’s a coordinated campaign in a bunch of places on the same question
    and/or
    2. A combined campaign with a PPQ, a media push, and organizing, with a good message

    In this case, questions 5 and 6 are on the ballot in exactly one district in Massachusetts, which covers half of Somerville (not all of Somerville), and the combined campaign’s main message seems to be to annoy people. So I agree that these two PPQ’s are pointless, but that doesn’t mean other PPQ’s can’t be useful.

    In particular, question 4 is an example of a good PPQ. It’s on the ballot in lots of places all over Massachusetts, and it’s part of a national movement to show that voters support getting the US out of Iraq, which ties into a message widely promoted by political candidates and larger groups. In that context, a solid vote for Question 4 across Massachusetts could be a useful tool for our congressional delegation (and could help sway Lynch, the reluctant pro-Iraq-war exception among them).

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