Calling Israel “one of our greatest allies,” a House panel voted Wednesday to stop doing business with firms that boycott the country.
And lawmakers directed pension funds and the state treasurer to sell their shares in those same companies.
The unanimous vote came at the behest of House Speaker David Gowan who also is trying to get traction in his bid for Congress. And it could gain him the support of an important constituency: Every one who testified in favor of HB2617 was Jewish.
Gowan said the legislation is a counter to a growing movement by those who support Palestinians to convince pension funds to divest from companies that do business with Israel. He said those include Boeing and Caterpillar, firms that both have a presence in Arizona.
He said that movement is “anti-Semitic.”
“This bill is aimed at showing Arizona’s supportive of Israel, its strongest ally in the Middle East,” he said. “Nobody should be doing things for bigotry.”
Former Republican state Rep. Adam Kwasman said the legislation will help buffer other Arizona firms that may be facing challenges because of their business contacts with Israel. He specifically cited Raytheon, who Kwasman said helped develop the “Iron Dome” anti-missile system for that country.
“The economic benefit to both the state of Arizona and to Israel has been tremendous,” he said.
And former Republican state Sen. Barbara Leff called the efforts by some to target companies that do business with Israel “part of a global movement to destabilize and destroy the state of Israel by economic means.”
“It is economic terrorism,” she told members of the House Committee on Federalism and States Rights. “This is not appropriate, this is not acceptable in a civilized society to be promoting policies that are to terrorize and destroy a country.”
Leff, who has made several trips to Israel, also said that boycotts hurt not only Israeli citizens but also Palestinians living on the occupied West Bank who work at factories there.
“They were for the first time able to get good-paying jobs, full health benefits,” she said.
“They were happy,” Leff continued. “Their families were happy.”
Gowan’s original legislation had an escape valve of sorts to protect Arizona taxpayers.
It would have provided a waiver from the prohibition if the firm that boycotts Israel agreed to provide services to the state for at least 20 percent less than any other qualified company. It also would have exempted contracts of less than $1,000.
Gowan said he will have both provisions removed when the bill goes to the full House.
This isn’t the first time the Arizona Legislature has waded into Middle East politics.
In 2014 the House went on record as saying the entire West Bank belongs to Israel, and the 650,000 Jews who have settled there since the 1967 war “reside there legitimately.”
The resolution said the area, which some Israelis refer to by the biblical names of Judea and Samaria, was granted to Israel “through the oldest recorded deed, as recorded in the Old Testament.” Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, who pushed the measure through the House, said it does not call for displacing Palestinians but simply a statement that “this is historically part of Israel and the part of Israel that’s disputed now should remain part of Israel.”