Seattle’s Initiative 97, which called for divestment of the city’s pension fund from U.S. companies benefiting from Israel’s Occupation and settlement building, received a severe legal blow today. A Superior Court judge agreed with lawyers hired by Stand With Us, a national pro-Israel advocacy group, who claimed the initiative violated state law by interfering with fiscal decisions legally vested in the city pension board, and not with voters. The e mail from Divest from War was aptly titled “A Sad Day for Grassroots Democracy in Seattle.”
I-97’s supporters argued that state law did not preclude the voters from having a say. In addition, they argued that democracy would best be served by allowing the voters to have their say based on the merits of the arguments for or against the proposal.
A supporter of the initiative said:
“This is a blow to grassroots democracy in the city of Seattle,” says campaign volunteer and Phinney Neighbors for Peace member Karen Jones. “This ruling says that there is one aspect of city operations that is not subject to legislative oversight, giving too much power to the pension board. However, this campaign is in no way over.”
In effect, Stand With Us, a stridently partisan pro-Israel group, sought to stifle the democratic voice of the people. It didn’t even want to allow the issue to come before them. Given the fact that the people of Seattle likely might have rejected the initiative, the opposing side’s strategy appears quite desperate and cynical. Not only that, documents presented at a public meeting show that SWU and the Jewish community were prepared to spend up to $85,000 to defeat the initiative, a remarkable amount of money for a race that had no commercial interests involved.
Currently, I-97’s supporters are contemplating whether to appeal to the State Supreme Court. Since their lawyer has taken the case pro bono, they and he must carefully consider their options before going forward. The well-funded coffers of I-97’s opponents pose no such problem for the other side.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the campaign against I-97 were the deliberate, preposterous lies which claimed that the legislation was “anti-Israel” and that, if passed, it would harm Israel’s ability to defend itself from Palestinian terror. Partisans willingly obscured the fact that the campaign was FOR Israel by being AGAINST the Occupation. In the eyes of the opponents, any criticism of Israeli policy–including the Occupation–was, ipso facto, anti-Israel–an odd proposition, but one extremely common to pro-Israel partisans like SWU.
I was also disappointed that a popular progressive Seattle political blog like Horse’s Ass and its author, David Goldstein, was absent from the debate. Several e-mails to him went unanswered after he had initially expressed some interest in the issue.