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State Senate passes anti-BDS legislation
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State Senate passes anti-BDS legislation

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

On May 9, the New Jersey State Senate unanimously passed legislation that would prohibit state pension and annuity funds from being invested in companies that boycott Israel or Israeli businesses.

The major sponsors of the bill are Sen. James Beach (D-Dist. 6) and Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Dist. 37). “We have Israel’s back,” said Beach. Focusing on New Jersey’s “long-standing relationship with Israel and a common bond,” he added, “We must take a stand against any efforts to boycott Israeli goods, products, and businesses as a way to harm the state.” 

The Senate passed similar legislation in August 2015, but after questions were raised regarding the constitutionality of the bill, particularly with regard to the First Amendment, the legislation was pulled from the Assembly. The amended bill — now focusing on the NJ-Israel relationship, providing more guidelines on identifying companies participating in boycotting Israel, and clarifying the status of companies offering humanitarian aid to Palestinians — had to be reintroduced into the Senate. 

It has been requested that the companion measure in the Assembly — whose prime sponsor is Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Dist. 37), along with Gary Schaer (D-Dist. 36), Nancy Pinkin, (D-Dist. 18), Chris Brown (R-Dist. 2), Raj Mukherji (D-Dist. 33), and Pamela Lampitt (D-Dist. 6) — be heard as soon as May 19. It will be heard with the amendments passed in the Senate.

At passage Weinberg said, “Israel has long been a vibrant trading partner, ally, and friend with our state, and making sure that we are not investing in any company that seeks to hurt the interests of Israel or its people through boycotts, divestments, and sanctions will send a clear message that we stand against this kind of discrimination.” 

Mark Levenson, president of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, said in a statement, “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 interests of New Jersey.”

He also said New Jersey must “stand by our friends and oppose boycotts and any other effort seeking to deny Israel the right to exist as a Jewish state.” 

Once the bill goes into effect, companies that violate the prohibition must be identified within 60 days, and investments must be divested from those companies within 18 months. The prohibition would not apply to the activities of any company providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people through either a governmental or nongovernmental organization unless it is also engaging in prohibited boycotts.

In addition to its primary sponsors, the bill received support from the following senators: Kip Bateman (R-Dist. 16), Jim Whelan (D-Dist. 2), Bob Gordon (D-Dist. 38), Tom Kean (R-Dist. 21), Joe Kyrillos (R-Dist. 13), Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Dist. 3), Dick Codey (D-Dist. 27), Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Dist. 5), Nia Gill (D-Dist. 34), Linda Greenstein (D-Dist. 14), Ray Lesniak (D-Dist. 20), Fred Madden (D-Dist. 4), Joe Pennacchio (R-Dist. 26), Robert Singer (R-Dist. 30), Bob Smith (D-Dist. 17), and Joe Vitale (D-Dist. 19).

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