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I-97 is struck down; a brush with anti-semitism

Wednesday, Sept. 10, was "a sad day for grassroots democracy in Seattle," according to Seattle Divest from War and Occupation (SDWO). The group — sponsors of Initiative 97, which would have directed the Seattle City Employees' Retirement System (SCERS) to divest "from stocks and bonds funding war and occupation in the Middle East" — was referring to King County Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez's decision that I-97 was unenforceable in that it exceeded legislative authority by making specific investment directions to SCERS, which is bound by the prudent-person rule.

Wednesday, Sept. 10, was "a sad day for grassroots democracy in Seattle," according to Seattle Divest from War and Occupation (SDWO). The group — sponsors of Initiative 97, which would have directed the Seattle City Employees' Retirement System (SCERS) to divest "from stocks and bonds funding war and occupation in the Middle East" — was referring to King County Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez's decision that I-97 was unenforceable in that it exceeded legislative authority by making specific investment directions to SCERS, which is bound by the prudent-person rule.

SDWO is now "studying its options, including the possibility of an appeal." But it's unclear, even if Judge Gonzalez's decision is reversed, how much success I-97 would have had. Of its ten prefatory clauses, four refer to Israel, two to Iraq. A similar ratio obtains in the body of the measure itself, which in addition to specifically mentioning Halliburton and Caterpillar, calls for SCERS's divestment from Israeli government bonds — whether held individually or as part of a larger investment portfolio — should Israel attack Iran without the UN's go-ahead. This got the attention of the Jewish Federation of Seattle and other local and national Jewish groups, who joined a number of local Democrats in opposition to the measure.

The merits, or lack thereof, of I-97 have been thoroughly discussed in the blogosphere, and it is not my intention to rehash them. In addition, though part of my personal opposition to the initiative does have to do with the clauses relating to Israel (which I find to be a little closer to the line than I'd prefer), I do not consider SDWO — nor their endorsers, which include the local Green Party and Palestine Solidarity Committee — to be inherently anti-semitic. However, I-97 has attracted at least one anti-semite, and should SDWO go forward or resurface with a new strategy, I counsel them to go out of their way to make their campaign unwelcoming to the likes of the supporter I encountered Tuesday night.

On what, in retrospect, turned out to be the last night of the campaign, I was approached by an I-97 signature gatherer outside the Roosevelt Whole Foods, who told me that, as I "looked like a guy who cared about what was going on in the world," I might want to sign his petition. When I saw what it was for, I declined. He asked me why, which I recall from my own signature-gathering training is a no-no (don't engage; just move on to the next pedestrian), and for some reason I replied that it had partly to do with Israel. "They got you too, huh?" said the young man, who looked like he was fresh out of college. "They" turned out to be the "Zionazis," who apparently count among their membership "Israeli citizen" Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security. When, against my better judgment, I asked him if he really believed Jews ran the world, he said "they're certainly trying." After telling him I didn't realize I had so much power (no response to that), I went home and asked for SDWO's reaction. "This is certainly not the position of the campaign," they wrote, "and this kind of statement should not be used by any of our signature gatherers. ... People are entitled to their opinions, even when those opinions are incorrect, racist, and/or paranoid. But they should not be making such statements if they are working on this campaign, including as volunteers... We will figure out who this person was, and have a talk with him."

For their sakes, I hope they do more than that. Having my first personal experience of overt anti-semitism come from a representative of a political campaign mere blocks from my home is, among other things, terrible PR. I will do my best to not paint with as broad a brush as my paranoid interlocutor, but if SDWO wants to make any headway in this city I advise them to become as unfriendly and unattractive to anti-semites as the Anti-Defamation League.

Seattle native Benjamin Lukoff's interest in local history was kindled at the age of six, when his father bought him Sophie Frye Bass’s Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle at the MOHAI gift shop. His first book, Seattle Then and Now, was published in 2010. You can send him e-mail at lukoff@gmail.com or find him on Twitter at @lukobe.


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