Colorado lawmakers respect 2016 law declaring support for Israel and expressing sympathy for Palestinians
It has been five years since the Colorado General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bill – signed by the government of the day. John Hickenlooper – declaring his support for Israel and his opposition to any boycott, divestment or sanctions against the country.
Amid the violence this month in which Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 200 Palestinians and left thousands homeless and Hamas rockets killed 12 Israelis, eight current Colorado lawmakers who voted for state policy in 2016 reaffirmed their support for the bill, though some expressed their sympathy for the Palestinians.
Some also wonder why the state got involved in an international political affair in the first place.
The 2016 law was a declaration of solidarity with Israel and ordered the Public Sector Employees’ Pension Fund to disengage from any company refusing to do business with Israel. This turned out to be purely symbolic: State fund officials told the Denver Post that there were no companies in the fund’s $ 52.1 billion portfolio that had divested from Israel, therefore no impact to date.
Seventy-eight state lawmakers voted for the bipartisan measure, 22 of which are still in the legislature. Some of the sitting lawmakers who voted for divestment in 2016 have called the current violence “tragic,” “horrible” and “unfortunate.” One of them – Democratic Senator Faith Winter of Westminster – suggested that Israel in particular should be “held responsible” for the deaths of Palestinians.
Lawmakers by and large are holding their votes, including Republican Senator Kevin Priola of Henderson, who said this week: “Historically Israel has been persecuted and I don’t think it’s fair to pile in and out. add to that. That was my reason at the time… and to this day, I think it holds.
Senator Jessie Danielson, a Democrat from Wheat Ridge, voted in favor and said this week that sanctioning Israel “undermines the path to a two-state solution.” But she also believes that the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “have not only led to serious human rights violations”, but “have destabilized the security and civil society of Israel”.
Senator Dominick Moreno, a Democrat from Commerce City who sponsored the 2016 law, said at the time that it was “what we value in the state of Colorado.” He told the Post this week that he thinks the bill is the right thing, but that “times are changing and I think it would be pretty dumb to introduce a bill like this” now.
Three current lawmakers – Democratic Senator Pete Lee and Representatives Daneya Esgar and Susan Lontine – were among the 18 who voted against. Lontine still believes this was a violation of First Amendment rights and a hypocritical gesture on the part of some lawmakers who supported it.
“I was surprised by those who thought it was a good idea, people I knew were huge civil rights supporters,” she said.
Unusual for the Colorado legislature
It is proven that the opinions of Americans change slowly: A Gallup poll released in March showed an increase in favorable opinions of the Palestinian Authority from 21% in 2019 to 30%. And a protest at the Colorado Capitol in support of Palestine last week drew 2,000 participants, organizers said; another is planned this weekend.
But the GOP and the Democratic Party have firmly supported the Israeli government and its actions for decades. The United States government recognized the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state in 1948 and views it as an ally in the Middle East.
The tenor of the debate on Colorado’s 2016 bill was almost unequivocally pro-Israel; the word “Palestine” does not appear in the law signed by Hickenlooper. (The new U.S. Senator said in a statement to the Post that he was “horrified” by the violence this month and stood in support of Colorado’s 2016 law.)
Thirty-five states have passed laws, resolutions or decrees against Israel’s divestment and sanctions, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. Additionally, Colorado politicians on both sides of the aisle have also taken trips to Israel, some of which have been sponsored by groups outside allied to the Israeli government.
Colorado state lawmakers rarely vote on international affairs or order the state’s relinquishment of any special interest. Since 1985, Colorado lawmakers have proposed 12 different laws to get rid of one interest or another; seven concerned South Africa during apartheid and none were adopted. Overall, only two of the divestment bills have been signed and only one is still in force: Israeli law.
Many lawmakers, including people who voted for the bill, felt at the time that it was inappropriate for Colorado to intervene on international issues.
Former Democratic Representative Joe Salazar was “bothered” by the bill, saying that “it has to do with foreign affairs and I felt… that is none of our business.” He told the Post he regretted voting for the bill, which he did because, he said, he had been assured by Moreno that it was a “nothing-burger. – a simple declaration of solidarity with Israel.
Colorado’s first-ever Palestinian US lawmaker, Democratic Representative Aurora Iman Jodeh, was not in office in 2016. As she reflects on what happened prior to her term in office, she said she was frustrated by lack of recognition of the oppression of the Palestinian people, but thinks it is slowly changing as social justice movements take root.
“There is a lack of education on what is really going on,” said Jodeh, who has family in Palestine. “There is a disproportionate pool of asymmetric resources for the Israel lobby that the Palestinians cannot match.”
She also said she supports efforts to punish the Israeli government for what the United Nations has deemed to be violations of Palestinian human rights through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement, to which Colorado’s 2016 law. formally opposes.
Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Democrat from Commerce City, is the only Israeli American in the Colorado legislature. Michaelson Jenet, who took office in 2019, has family in Israel and believes the nation of Israel has the right to be a Jewish state.
She opposes the boycott movement in general and believes it is based on inaccurate information about the region, but she still doesn’t think lawmakers should have taken up the issue in 2016.
“I am very uncomfortable specifically calling Israel in Colorado law,” she said.