Hickenlooper signs Nordberg-Moreno bill to fight anti-Israel boycott
Author: Jared Wright - March 18, 2016 - Updated: April 4, 2016
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.