DENVER – Colorado lawmakers are considering whether to join several other states that oppose a boycott seeking to punish Israel for its treatment of Palestinians.
The bill before the state Senate directs Colorado’s public employee pension fund to divest from foreign companies participating in the boycott.
Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association has $46 billion in assets, but the bill under consideration would affect a minimal amount of those holdings.
Only two Senate votes are needed to send the measure to Gov. John Hickenlooper. A scheduled vote on Monday was postponed. The House already passed the bill.
Backers of the movement claim responsibility for pressuring some large companies such as carbonated drink maker Soda Stream to stop or change operations in Israel or the West Bank.
The layoffs of about 500 workers after the closure of Israeli company SodaStream’s West Bank factory has even some Palestinians questioning the wisdom of the anti-Israel boycott movement. The fundamental contradiction: while Palestinians support the international outcry against the occupation of the West Bank, businesses attached to Israel’s far richer economy nonetheless offer much-needed jobs.
Supporters say the boycott seeks to advance Palestinian independence and end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Critics, however, accuse the movement of promoting anti-Semitism for singling out Israel while ignoring countries with poor human rights records.
California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania and Tennessee are other states that have passed or are considering bills or resolutions against the movement.
Some witnesses testified last week before the Legislature that the bill would restrict their First Amendment rights by directing how their money should be invested.
The pension fund’s board of directors decided to oppose the bill because it didn’t want politics to have influence over investment decisions.
The pension fund did divest from companies doing business in Sudan and Iran in 2007 and 2008, respectively, after the U.S. government imposed sanctions on those countries for sponsoring terrorism.
The bill does not affect U.S. companies since this country doesn’t have an active sanctions policy.
“In a situation like the Palestinian-Israeli situation, we need two partners to work to create peace,” Sen. Tim Neville, a co-sponsor, said last week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.