[This is a chapter from my book about Israel at Amazon. ]
CHAPTER 22. When Massachusetts Voters Saw The Issue Framed Properly, They Voted Against Zionist Inequality
In 2008 a group I belonged to named the Somerville Divestment Project (SDP) collected enough signatures to put the following non-binding question on the ballot in some state representative districts in Massachusetts:
“Shall the state representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of a non-binding resolution calling on the federal government to support the right of all people, including non-Jewish Palestinian citizens of Israel, to live free from laws that give more rights to people of one religion than another?”
We were just a handful of people and it was all we could do to get the question on the ballot. We were unable to do any “propaganda” work to persuade people to vote Yes.
Voters in the 34th Middlesex district of South Medford—West Somerville, the 23rd Middlesex district of Arlington, the 15th Suffolk district of Boston (Jamaica Plain), and the 29th Middlesex district of Watertown voted “Yes” by the following respective percents: 55%, 54%, 66% and 61%. In these districts a total of 30,778 people voted “Yes” (57%) and 22,813 voted “No.”
In the 27th Middlesex district (Somerville) 9,157 people voted “Yes” versus only 5,569 who voted “No,” i.e., 62.2% voted “Yes.” In the 25th Middlesex district (Cambridge) 9,753 people voted “Yes” versus only 3,686 who voted “No,” i.e., 72.6% voted “Yes.” I don’t know why the Massachusetts website with election results only includes the results for the 25th and 27th Middlesex districts, but at least those are visible online.
Voters in one district, the 2nd Suffolk district of Charlestown—Chelsea voted 48% in favor but came up short in passing the ballot question. This district is one in which, unlike the others, a majority identifies as Hispanic or Latino, and possibly more voters there had trouble reading and understanding the English language ballot question wording.
Not a single politician or newspaper supported this ballot question (“Question 4”). On the contrary, the Somerville Journal reported in its election week edition that:
"The City of Somerville, including all city aldermen, does not support questions 4 and 5, said spokesman Tom Champion.”
The mayor of Somerville also opposed Question 4 and the so-called “Progressive” Democrats of Somerville were silent (apparently they felt that supporting equal rights is not part of the “progressive” agenda.)
The only other Somerville newspaper, the Somerville News, editorialized:
"The Somerville Divestment Project has divided Somerville residents by bringing up far-away, world conflicts in a municipal context. Reject the tactics of the Somerville Divestment project and vote no on Question 4."
Apparently the voters saw things differently.
What this election result demonstrates is that when the issue is framed as being for equality or for inequality under the law, people voted for equality, and not for the Zionist principle of inequality. Americans are almost never provided this proper framework; the framework they generally are forced to think in terms of is “anti-Semitic or not-anti-Semitic.” There have been many decades of non-stop and unchallenged propaganda to persuade Americans that Israel is wonderful and anybody who says otherwise is an anti-Semite. The fact that majorities of people would vote “Yes” on a ballot question implicitly critical of Israel, when the only “propaganda” for a “Yes” vote was the wording of the ballot question itself, shows how shallow is the support for the Zionist idea of an exclusively Jewish state.
Another thing this election demonstrated is that even when a majority of a politician’s constituents tell them—by their votes in support of a formal ballot question—to do something that opposes Zionism, they won’t do it. None of the state representatives in the districts where a majority of their constituents, by voting “Yes,” told them to “vote in favor of a resolution…” did any such thing. These politicians completely ignored the vote; they didn’t even inform their constituents about the fact that a majority of them had voted “Yes” on the ballot question (and the newspapers didn’t tell them either.)
The story of the representative from the 27th Middlesex District (Somerville), where 62.2% of the voters voted “Yes,” is particularly revealing. The representative was (still is at the time of writing) Denise Provost. In the 2008 election (when we put the question on the ballot) Provost was running for the first time for the state representative office. Before this Provost had been an alderman (a member of the elected city council of the City of Somerville) for many years. In 2005 the Somerville Divestment Project collected about 1500 signatures on a petition to the Somerville Aldermen asking that body to divest Somerville funds (in a retirement account) from Israel. Surprisingly, the aldermen agreed and voted to divest. But immediately higher-ranking politicians in the state, and the Israeli Consul for New England, came down on the aldermen like a ton of bricks and essentially “read them the riot act.” The aldermen called a re-vote to reconsider the question. This time they all voted not to divest—except one alderman: Denise Provost, who stuck to her principled support for Palestinian human rights and voted to divest. Provost went on to become a good friend of the Somerville Divestment Project, attending our fund-raising events and becoming a personal friend of some Palestinian-American members of the SDP. Provost, in other words, was as knowledgeable about the plight of Palestinians and the injustice of Zionism as could be. So it is particularly instructive to see what happened in 2008.
In 2008, shortly before the election, I was at an SDP meeting of about a dozen of us in a room at a church that let us meet there. To our surprise, a woman who was Provost’s campaign manager came to our meeting with a message from Provost. She told us that the head of the Massachusetts Democratic Party had informed Provost that if she continued to express any support for Palestinian human rights she would not receive a dime from the Democratic Party for her campaign. The message was clear: Provost had to choose between succeeding in her political career or supporting Palestinian human rights. We found out what her decision was a few days later when one of the Somerville newspapers asked her what she thought about the SDP’s ballot question. Provost said she didn’t think it would do any good. Provost, like all the other state representatives, ignored the fact that her constituents voted for her to do something in support of Palestinian human rights, and she has, to my knowledge, avoided publicly supporting Palestinian human rights ever since. In the case of Provost, we know for sure that her behavior is not due to ignorance about the injustice of Zionism; it is due entirely to the power of the ruling class to make pro-Zionism (or at least neutrality about Zionism) a condition for career advancement as a politician