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PACBI-Local Green Party pushes divestment from Israel

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Tom Gantert | The Ann Arbor News | July 1, 2006

Local Green Party pushes divestment from Israel

A group of pro-Palestinian activists has taken control of the local Green Party and hopes to make divestment from Israel an election issue in Ann Arbor, current and former party members said.
Henry Herskovitz, a member of Jewish Witnesses For Peace And Friends, said he is considering running for the City Council in the 5th Ward and his platform will be divestment from Israel. His group has been protesting outside Beth Israel Congregation synagogue before Saturday services every week for the past several years.

"If I have to run for City Council office to get that message out, I will do that,'' Herskovitz said.

The 5th Ward seat up for election this year is held by Democrat Chris Easthope, who is seeking a new two-year term. That seat already has Democratic challengers Sonia Schmerl and Richard Ankli competing in the primaries. Independent candidate Dennis Burke has pulled petitions and has a July 20 filing deadline.

Herskovitz said he joined the Green Party in April. He said four others from his group are members of the Green Party. The Huron Valley Greens caucus is July 12. At that time, the party would have to announce its candidates for the Nov. 7 general election. The deadline has already passed for major party candidates to file, but so-called minor political parties have until July 20.

Marc Reichardt had been the face of the local Green Party for several years, as well as the former state chairman of the political organization, but he said he is no longer active in the party. He blamed a combination of burnout and frustration with the "tunnel vision'' of the pro-Palestinian activists.

"Anyone not helping them with their single issue is some kind of heretic,'' Reichardt said.

Pete Schermerhorn, the Michigan organizer for the Green Party, said it's partially true that the pro-Palestinian activists have taken over the party.

"Some joined recently,'' he said. "Some have been members for years. They've definitely perked up the energy level and, to some degree, redirected it.''

Schermerhorn said he plans to run for City Council in the 3rd Ward.

City Council Member Joan Lowenstein, a past president of the Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County, said relations with foreign countries are not part of the council's agenda.

"We deal with issues such as water and sewer rates, parks and street maintenance and downtown development,'' Lowenstein said. "Relations with foreign countries doesn't fit it to what our charter says we should do.''

The national Green Party called for divestment last year from and the boycott of Israel until the rights of the Palestinians are realized.

"That has been a recruiting tool for growing our party,'' said Aimee Smith, who is co-chairwoman of the Huron Valley Greens. "We took a principled stand for justice on an issue many of the people in this country are concerned about. The major parties refuse to stand up for justice in this case. The Green Party should be out in front on all these justice issues.''

Smith moved to Ann Arbor 1 1/2 years ago. She said she joined the Jewish Witnesses For Peace And Friends shortly after arriving in town and has attended the protests at the synagogue.

Herskovitz said he fears that there is a movement to change courses on that national proclamation.

The Green Party has been one of the more active minor parties in Ann Arbor but has never won a council seat. In 2003, Scott Trudeau lost to incumbent Marcia Higgins, then a Republican, by a little more than 800 votes. Trudeau received 30 percent of the votes. In 2004, Reichardt ran in the 3rd Ward and received 860 votes. Incumbent Democrat Jean Carlberg won with 8,160 votes.

Tom Gantert can be reached at or 734-994-6701.

Posted on 02-07-2006

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