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Why is the city council of Somerville so focused on the Middle East?

It became the first municipality in Massachusetts to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, the latter of which is the council’s perceived neighborhood bully.

Postcard of Somerville Highlands station in Somerville, Mass. The station was located at Hancock Street on the Fitchburg Cutoff (later the freight cutoff), originally part of the Lexington & West Cambridge Railroad, circa 1907. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Postcard of Somerville Highlands station in Somerville, Mass. The station was located at Hancock Street on the Fitchburg Cutoff (later the freight cutoff), originally part of the Lexington & West Cambridge Railroad, circa 1907. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Gilad Skolnick. Credit: Courtesy.
Gilad Skolnick
Gilad Skolnick is a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces and has worked in the Jewish nonprofit field for more than a decade, including as director of campus programming at CAMERA and the executive director of Northeastern University Hillel. He can be reached at: GiladSkolnick@Gmail.com.

Somerville is a delightful city: It was named in 2016 by Lonely Planet as one of the best places in the country to visit, borders Boston, is a short stroll from Harvard University, is home to the exciting new kosher restaurant of Lehrhaus, and, most importantly, where I lived for much of my 30s with my now wife. Recently, Somerville also became the first municipality in Massachusetts to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, the latter of which is the council’s perceived neighborhood bully.

As you would expect, this resolution has been dominating headlines all over the Israeli press and is exactly why the country is now slowing its operations against terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. We are finally moments away from the historic era of peace in the Middle East. People are asking why Somerville dragged its feet and took so long to pass such a resolution!

Of course, the part about the impact of the resolution is in jest; it has predictably failed to make a single headline in the Israeli press. If the goal of the resolution was to have an actual impact on the state of Israel, then it is hard to imagine actions by the city council that would have been a greater waste of time.

More than 100 days since Hamas started this war, Hamas is still firing rockets at civilian targets in Israel. Israeli villages that were decimated during the Hamas invasion on the morning of Oct. 7 are still uninhabitable, including Kissufim, where I spent the first years of my life. Hundreds of Israelis, men and women, babies to elderly, remain hostage and tortured. Hamas has been very vocal about their desire to repeat such atrocities again and again.

Does the city council of Somerville really think that they will cause Israel to ignore Hamas and just learn to live with this new reality? Perhaps they are reasoning that Jews have been the target of massacres for thousands of years and should continue to accept it?

In reality, resolutions like these have one effect, and that is to demonize Israel. A 2021 Pew study proves an overwhelming affinity by American Jews for Israel; more than 80% of U.S. Jews said that Israel is important for their Jewish identity. Our continued relationship for this spot on the planet dates back thousands of years.

After the second century C.E. Roman expulsion and enslavement of much of the Jewish population in Judea, Jews continued to inhabit the region, only avoiding it during periods when the penalty of inhabiting it was death. From serious attempts to rebuild the Temple to a brief period of Jewish control of Jerusalem in the fourth and fifth centuries, throughout history there were robust Jewish attempts to restore Jewish autonomy in the region. Many Jewish families fleeing the inquisition made a home in the land of Israel, and when Napoleon invaded, the de facto ruler defending Acre was Haim Farhi, a Jew. Montefiore’s Jerusalem the Biography outlines the continuous strong ties between the Jewish world and the land of Israel, despite thousands of years of oppressive discriminatory laws and violence aimed at Jews living there.

I have news for the city council of Somerville and its voters: One of the major components of being Jewish, as Avraham Infield, president emeritus of Hillel International, writes, is Memory. And we have a damned good one.

My personal favorite example that reflects the Jewish connection to the land of Israel is the prayer recited daily continuously for over a millennia by observant Jews, that makes an analogy of the return of Jews to the land of Israel to the streams of the Negev Desert—coincidently, a the target of Hamas on Oct. 7. Only a people passionate and intimately aware of this region would constantly bring up such specific phenomena. After winter rains, areas that appear to be a barren wasteland become an unrecognizable area lush with fauna and flora.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, adopted by the state department during the Obama administration—and since then adopted by dozens of Christian, Muslim and secular countries all over the world, as well as states, and other institutions—specifically clarifies that holding Israel to a double standard is an example of antisemitism.

Somerville’s council has not passed resolutions, at least in recent history, about any other nation. From the millions of Muslim Uyghurs held in Chinese concentration camps to the half a million casualties as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, from the horrible war in Sudan that has led to thousands killed and millions displaced to the reintroduction of slavery in Yemen, none of these are worthy of a resolution. Does the city council not find these situations problematic?

Perhaps the only problem that they see is the ones involving the only country in the world that has a Jewish majority. We seem to be living in Bob Dylan’s song about Israel, sarcastically named Neighborhood Bully: “ … he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized, old women condemned him, said he should apologize, then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad, the bombs were meant for him … he’s the neighborhood bully.”

So what does that make the city council of Somerville, members of which have avoided resolutions singling out any other country except Israel? If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck … ?

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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