News

Hickenlooper signs Nordberg-Moreno bill to fight anti-Israel boycott

Author: Jared Wright - March 18, 2016 - Updated: April 4, 2016

4dd86df3-d530-42ad-a93a-6b30316b54cb-e1458363805212.jpeg
DSC_0888
Legislators and supporters of an effort to fight back against the strategic boycotting of  Israeli businesses applaud as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (seated center) signs House Bill 16-1284 into law. The bill will prohibit the states Public Employee Retirement Association from investing in companies that are actively boycotting Israel. Rep. Dan Nordberg (governor’s immediate left) and House Assistant Minority Leader Dominick Moreno (standing to left of the table) sponsored the bill in the House and Sens. Owen Hill (far left corner) and Leroy Garcia (not pictured) sponsored it in the Senate. Doug Seserman, the CEO of JEWISHcolorado, which was the primary group promoting the legislation is pictured to Nordberg’s right just behind the governor. (Photo by Bernard Grant/The Colorado Statesman)

A bill sponsored by a bipartisan coalition of representatives and senators fighting an international boycott of Israel sailed through the process this session, clearing its last hurdle Friday when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed it into law in the ceremonial chambers of the governor’s state Capitol offices.

With nearly half of the 120-day legislative session remaining, this was a quick deal, and only because it had been carefully crafted by groups behind the scenes during the interim, meticulously studied by its sponsors and negotiated laboriously by state Jewish groups since its introduction — all of which earned the bill broad, across-the-aisle support. But, one might ask, what does the state of Colorado have to do with Israel?

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper chats with supporters of Israel in the governor's ceremonial chamber at the state Capitol just after signing HB-1284 into law. The bill prohibits PERA from investing in companies that support the Boycott, Divest and Sanction Movement against Israel. (Photo by Bernard Grant/The Colorado Statesman)
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper chats with supporters of Israel in the governor’s ceremonial chamber at the state Capitol just after signing HB-1284 into law. The bill prohibits PERA from investing in companies that support the Boycott, Divest and Sanction Movement against Israel. (Photo by Bernard Grant/The Colorado Statesman)

The boycott

The Boycott Divest and Sanction Movement was established in 2005 by a coalition of 170 Palestinian non-governmental organizations. It has since been coordinated and implemented by the Palestinian BDS National Committee. The committee’s mission is to apply as much political pressure as possible on Israel — using economic means — until the country meets a defined set of Palestinian demands. But supporters of Israel argue it’s not an economic tactic at all but is instead meant to incite increased violence against the country and its citizens.

The BDS National committee’s stated goal is to cause Israel to end its occupation and colonization of all lands it occupied in June 1967, while also dismantling the West Bank barrier. In addition, BDS supporters demand formal recognition from Israel that “full equality is a fundamental right of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel,” something many Palestinians claim Israel isn’t currently offering. The movement also calls for respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties. It’s a regular source of debate between Israel and the Palestinians whether Palestinians would ever lift BDS if Israel complied with its demands.

Ceremonial pens reflected in the table, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signs HB 16-1284 into law. The law requires that the state's Public Employee Retirement Association divest from any businesses supporting a boycott movement against the State of Israel. (Photo by Kevin Beaty/The Colorado Statesman)
Ceremonial pens reflected in the table, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signs HB 16-1284 into law. The law requires that the state’s Public Employee Retirement Association divest from any businesses supporting a boycott movement against the State of Israel. (Photo by Kevin Beaty/The Colorado Statesman)

Gone viral

Since its inception in 2005, the BDS Movement has intensified, reaching a fever pitch as some European countries have joined the bandwagon and helped clamp down even more pressure on Israel. The European Commission decided in November 2015 to begin labelling products produced by companies located in Israeli settlements in a strategic move to damage these companies’ bottom lines. This came well after the EU had already published new trade guidelines in 2013 that forbade “all 28 member states” from “any funding, cooperation, awarding of scholarships, research funds or prizes to anyone residing in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.” Meanwhile, countries like Sweden remain hesitant to take a public position in the midst of pressures from their sovereign neighbors, including Great Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Romania and Norway — all nations that have helped push pro-BDS laws.

Back home in the United States, the American Studies Association and the Association for Asian-American Studies have both endorsed an “academic boycott” of Israel that calls on U.S. universities to abstain from cooperating or collaborating with Israeli academic institutions.

Marchers cheer as they pass along a barricade separating them from anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement protestors during the Celebrate Israel Parade, June 1, 2014, in New York. (Photo by AP)
Marchers cheer as they pass along a barricade separating them from anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement protestors during the Celebrate Israel Parade, June 1, 2014, in New York. (Photo by AP)

Enter Congress

In December 2015, three members of Congress introduced a bill to counteract the BDS movement. U.S. Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Ed Royce (R-CA) unveiled a resolution denouncing the European Commission’s labeling guidelines, which, the bill stated, “undermined efforts to achieve a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

Then, on Jan. 20, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced another resolution that also opposes the European Commission’s labeling standards.

On Feb. 11, the Combatting BDS Act of 2016, authored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Reps. Juan Vargas (D-CA) and Bob Dold (R-IL), was introduced in both chambers of Congress. The bipartisan legislation sought to increase efforts to combat economic warfare against Israel at the state and local levels. Both bills, H.R. 4514 and S.2531, have been referred to committees and await further action.

On the corporate side, supporters of Israel in September 2015 criticized General Electric for engaging through a subcontractor with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers union, a supporter of the boycott. Another group pushing the BDS Movement is the United Auto Workers Local 2865. Bill Gates and George Soros have also made a show of selling their shares of Israeli companies G4S and SodaStream.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk R-Ill., speaks during an interview at his office in Chicago in this June 9, 2014 file photo. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk R-Ill., speaks during an interview at his office in Chicago in this June 9, 2014 file photo. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

The blowback

Some Palestinians were faced with the realization that the BDS Movement might have caused collateral damage to their own economic well-being when SodaStream closed its West Bank facilities last year, cutting hundreds of jobs — many of them filled by Palestinians — that reportedly paid three to five times the local going wage. While the closure coincided with increased BDS efforts targeting the company, like the stock sales by Gates and Soros, SodaStream’s CEO Daniel Birnbaum denied the move was related to BDS.

Several American states have begun pushing back against participants in boycotts against the State of Israel. At least six state legislatures have taken up anti-boycott bills, including California, New York, Indiana and Virginia. In California, sponsors strengthened an initially broad bill, AB 1552, to specifically target companies and organizations participating in the BDS movement.

State Rep. Dan Nordberg, R-Colorado Springs, and Assistant Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, present HB 16-1284 on the floor of the Colorado House of Representatives February 26, 2016. (Photo from Facebook)
State Rep. Dan Nordberg, R-Colorado Springs, and Assistant Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, the two prime sponsors of anti-BDS bill HB 16-1284, present the legislation on the floor of the Colorado House of Representatives February 26, 2016. (Photo from Facebook)

Colorado’s efforts

That’s where Colorado comes in. A bipartisan coalition of legislators — including state Reps. Dan Nordberg, R-Colorado Springs, and Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and state Sens. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs,  and Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo — introduced House Bill 1284 on Feb. 19. The bill requires Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association to divest from any U.S. companies that have economic prohibitions against the State of Israel. The ACLU and PERA opposed the bill. PERA officials said they believed the bill would create extra work and add to costs, while representatives of the ACLU argued the bill violated PERA members’ free-speech rights. But the legislation met little opposition in the House and Senate, passing 54-10 in the House and 25-9 in the Senate, demonstrating strong support for Israel by Colorado lawmakers. In addition, work accomplished between sessions by the JEWISHcolorado advocacy organization, which took the lead shepherding the legislation, appears to have paid off. Legislators who voted against the measure were all Democrats, except for newly appointed state Rep. Tim Leonard, R-Evergreen, who said he opposed the bill because it involved the state in “foreign entanglements.”

“Investing in companies that seek to weaken Israel economically, and delegitimize them from the international community, goes against the broad interests of the state of Colorado and are a bad investment for our public pensioners,” said Nordberg, emphasizing his belief that the bill was crucially important for PERA members.

Israel and Colorado have always been strong partners, observers say. Governors past and present have been frequent visitors to Israel, Colorado has multiple research and development agreements with the country and, just last year, the state exported more than $37 million in commodities to Israel.

The law goes into effect August 10, 2016, and PERA must begin fully implementing the standard into all of its investment decisions January 1, 2017.

jared@coloradostatesman.com

A staffer for Gov. John Hickenlooper waives people into position for the signing of House Bill 16-1284, a bill to place the state of Colorado in a position to offensively strike back against an international movement to boycott the State of Israel. The governor readies documents at the table as bill sponsors Sen. Owen Hill, and Reps. Dominick Moreno and Dan Nordberg look on. (Photo by Kevin Beaty/The Colorado Statesman
A staffer for Gov. John Hickenlooper waves people into position for the signing of House Bill 16-1284, a bill to place the state of Colorado in a position to offensively strike back against an international movement to boycott the State of Israel. The governor readies documents at the table as bill sponsors Sen. Owen Hill, and Reps. Dominick Moreno and Dan Nordberg look on. (Photo by Kevin Beaty/The Colorado Statesman
Gov. John Hickenlooper and state Sen. Owen Hill are reflected in the table in the governor's ceremonial chambers inside the Colorado state Capitol building on March 18, 2016. On the table, HB 16-1284 waits to be signed into law. (Photo by Kevin Beaty/The Colorado Statesman)
Gov. John Hickenlooper and state Sen. Owen Hill are reflected in the table in the governor’s ceremonial chambers inside the Colorado state Capitol building on March 18, 2016. On the table, HB 16-1284 waits to be signed into law. (Photo by Kevin Beaty/The Colorado Statesman)
JEWISHcolorado CEO Doug Seserman chats with Gov. John Hickenlooper (out of frame) as Rep. Lang Sias, R-Arvada, looks down. The two are standing with a large group present for the signing of House Bill 16-1284, into law inside the governor's ceremonial chambers at the Colorado state Capitol. The bill requires PERA to divest from any company participating in the boycott of the State of Israel. (Photo by Kevin Beaty/The Colorado Statesman)
JEWISHcolorado CEO Doug Seserman chats with Gov. John Hickenlooper (out of frame) as Rep. Lang Sias, R-Arvada, looks down. The two are standing with a large group present for the signing into law of House Bill 16-1284 inside the governor’s ceremonial chambers at the Colorado state Capitol. The bill requires PERA to divest from any company participating in a boycott of the State of Israel. (Photo by Kevin Beaty/The Colorado Statesman)

Jared Wright

Jared Wright

Jared Wright runs the business side of Colorado Politics, including circulation, advertising and marketing. He started as CEO and Publisher of the Statesman in 2015 and served as editor-in-chief for the journal during part of that time. He has worked in politics at both the state and federal levels, serving on a U.S. Congressman’s staff and working in government affairs in the private sector. Wright was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 2012 and served as member of Colorado’s 69th General Assembly from 2013-2014. He is also a writer, photographer and cartoonist.