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Should California Divest from Israel?
Back-dropped by the golden shrine of the Dome of the Rock, Palestinian youth play on a sofa in Ras al-Amud just outside Jerusalem's Old City this past Sunday (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Two new ballot initiatives were cleared for circulation this week by the Secretary of State's office. This is the stage where backers must get over 400,000 signatures from Californians to qualify for the ballot. Of the two, the most notable one would prohibit state retirement funds from investing in Israel.
Specifically, the Public Employees’ Retirement System and State Teachers’ Retirement System would be verboten from "investing in companies doing business in Israel," according to the proposition's language. Continued: "Requires these funds to sell existing investments in companies that continue to do business in Israel. Requires divestment to comply with fiduciary responsibilities." Some investments would be excluded, such as humanitarian, health and educational efforts.
Why do this? In an e-mail to LAist, the prop's sponsor explains. "It has been 17 years since the Oslo Peace Accords were signed between the Palestinians and the Israelis and the occupation and settlement of Palestine by Israel continues," writes Chris Yatooma. "My government does nothing to change this violation of international law and in fact is complicit in the violation of the law because it provides $3.5 billion in taxpayers funds to Israel that supports these settlement activities. Just as it took local and state government campaigns to change Apartheid South Africa through boycotts and divestments, we plan a similar peaceful economic boycott and divestment of Israel until it ends its occupation of Paletine."
Interestingly enough, the Obama administration and Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have been at odds this week over a building 1,600 housing units in east Jerusalem.
And at UC Berkeley this week, the Associated Students of the school are urging the "the university and U.C. Board of Regents to divest from companies that supply Israel with materials allegedly used to perpetuate war crimes," according to Jweekly.
In response, attorney and author Alan Dershowitz along with StandWithUs/Voice For Israel issued a statement about such actions. “Divesting from Israel is immoral, bigoted and if done by a state university, illegal,” the statement said. “It encourages terrorism and discouraged peace. …We will fight back against this selective bigotry that hurts the good name of the University of California.” If Yatooma's prop goes to the ballot, expect a larger debate.
As for the other initiative cleared for circulation, it seeks to change how ballot summaries are written, changing the duty from Attorney General to Legislative Analyst, among other changes. Two versions of this initiative were submitted.