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Bill would cut pension ties with businesses boycotting Israel

Friday, May 20, 2016   (0 Comments)
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NJ.com 05/20/16

An Assembly committee on Thursday voted to bar the public worker pension fund from investing in companies that refuse to do business with Israel. The bill (A925) heads now to the full Assembly. The Senate passed the measure 39-0 last week. If approved, New Jersey would join Florida and Illinois as states that have etched into state law their opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that encourages a boycott of Israeli goods and services. Lawmakers supporting the pension prohibition cite New Jersey's $1.7 billion trade relationship with the country and shared values. "The state and Israel have a long history of friendship based on economic, cultural, intellectual and political cooperation and exchange, and the elected representatives of New Jersey recognize and support Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state," the bill says. "The BDS effort, according to proponents, seeks to advance human rights. However, the actual goal is a thinly disguised attempt to demonize Israel."

The Division of Investment would be barred from investing in companies that boycott Israel and would have to divest from any existing holdings within 18 months. In a statement, Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic), a sponsor, called the $68.6 billion public worker pension fund a "formidable disincentive for those considering boycotting Israel." The legislation makes exceptions for companies that provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people.  Mark Levenson of the New Jersey Association of Jewish Federations spoke in favor of the ban, telling the Assembly State and Local Government Committee that "In view of the fact that New Jersey is one of Israel's largest trading partners, nation or state, investing in companies that seek to weaken Israel economically is antithetical to the interest of the state of New Jersey."

But Stephen Shalom from Jewish Voice for Peace argued the bill is "an affront to human rights and the First Amendment," and questioned how the state would go about determining a company's motivations. "We're going to be setting up a database, an investigation into people's political views, and that is something that is contrary to the First Amendment," he said. "Imagine if a Republican legislature passed a law saying that the state could only invest funds in companies whose officers agreed with the GOP platform," he continued. "Clearly that would be improper. But that's what's happening here. If you don't have the right political views, if your political motivations are not right, you will be penalized.


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