As the United Nations Security Council intensified its economics sanctions against Iran, a group of legislators and Jewish activists gathered together and issued a call to governments and private entities in other states to follow New Jersey’s lead in using divestment to stop Iranian nuclear ambitions.
Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-Dist. 21) chaired the June 10 meeting in a tightly packed conference room near the State Assembly chamber in Trenton under the banner of “No Nukes for Iran.”
Bramnick called for “a bipartisan effort to make sure the public is aware of the efforts of the state in bringing attention to the serious problems of the Middle East.”
The Assemblyman quoted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement that “the Zionist regime is heading toward annihilation”; that rhetoric, said Bramnick, is “pure evil.”
Following him at the podium was Assembly member Linda Stender (D-Dist. 22), prime sponsor of the 2007 law that requires state pension funds to divest from companies doing business involving Iran’s defense, nuclear, natural gas, and petroleum sectors.
She said initially New Jersey sold off $14.5 million shares in companies linked to Iran, amounting to $489.1 million.
“We have until January 2011 to fully divest and $11 million to take out of those investments,” she added. “We will remain vigilant to make sure that is done.”
Jewish leaders in the room thanked the politicians for such efforts and urged other municipalities and companies to follow suit.
“A nuclear-weaponized Iran will change the balance of power and the world as we currently know it,” said David Lentz, chair of the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, who spoke on behalf of the NJ Stop Iran Now Coalition. The group’s members include the State Association of Jewish Federations, the community relations councils of the federations, and the American Jewish Committee.
“We recognize that many governmental subdivisions in New Jersey and elsewhere — counties, municipalities, and other public and private pension and investment funds — have not yet added their voices and taken action to divest,” said Lentz.
“Addressing Iran is not only a United Nations matter or a House and Senate matter. It affects all of us — every county, every public and private pension fund and investment fund,” he said.
State Sen. Robert Singer (R-Dist. 30) added a note of partisanship to the proceedings. “I’m hoping that this press conference today will have the ears of the administration in Washington and our president will understand our concerns for Israel and the well-being of Israel in the Middle East,” he said.
The day before, the UN Security Council had passed new sanctions against Iran, setting the stage for new and tougher U.S. actions against the country.
Still, some Jewish commentators have suggested the UN sanctions and U.S. proposals do not go far enough in isolating Iran.
Singer, whose daughter Sarri was seriously wounded in a Jerusalem bus bombing in 2003, called divestiture a “key to fighting terrorism.”
A prime mover in the “No Nukes for Iran” campaign has been Danielle Flaum, a 16-year-old Millburn High School student, who shared the podium with the politicians.
“I stand before you sharing the hope of the youth of America, standing up for human rights for all people,” she said.
She noted that June 12 marked the anniversary of violent street protests in Iran against the reelection of Ahmadinejad.
“The bloody day serves to remind us that we have the power and the capability to use all of our resources and unite to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons,” she said.
Also taking part were Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Dist. 37) and Jim Daniels, the Iranian-born chair of the MetroWest CRC’s Stop Iran Taskforce.
After the meeting, the Rev. Bruce Davidson, who is the director of the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry in New Jersey, said his office is working to raise public awareness of the divestment effort.
“Any nuclear proliferation in the world is a bad thing. We need to reduce the threat of nuclear war, not increase it,” he said. “If Iran is developing nuclear weapons, the target is going to be Israel. That is absolutely unacceptable.
“Iran may feel it is the target of Israel’s nuclear weapons,” he added. “However, Israel has never used its nuclear weapons, and I believe they would use them only if they were attacked first.”