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Israeli divestment ban passes Senate

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(The Center Square) – The ‘Stand with Israel Act’ passed the Senate on Thursday with broad bipartisan support, moving Pennsylvania closer to a ban on divestment from the nation by publicly funded institutions.

It’s one of many that moved through the chamber amid a flurry of votes this week intended to prevent a repeat of last year’s summer stalemate.

And now, with the Senate out of town until Monday, all eyes are on the state House – including Treasurer Stacy Garrity, who told The Center Square on Thursday she was pleased with the bill’s swift movement.

“I congratulate the Senate for passing this legislation with such a strong majority,” she said. “I urge the House of Representatives to consider it without delay and send this bill to Governor Shapiro for his signature.”

Immediate passage of the bill would theoretically prevent anyone in Garrity’s position from divesting from Israel or Israeli companies as an act of protest, even as the nation’s security rating falters in the midst of its war on Hamas.

According to the S&P, the outlook on Israel’s long-term ratings is negative. Recently Samsung closed its offices in Tel Aviv, and businesses like McDonald’s and Starbucks have been hit hard as targets of international boycotts.

The bill’s provisions do not currently articulate how divestment would be identified within the context of fund management or how it would be enforced. Its crafters say that shifts away from Israeli investments made for “purely financial reasons” would still be allowed. Critics have claimed that the bill’s lack of clarity belies a purely political motivation.

“The bill [also] declares without argument or evidence that it is in the best interest of the Commonwealth to promote trade and financial activity with Israel. However the process of actually effecting and regulating ‘trade’ is highly detailed. This bill provides not a single provision in which to do so,” said Garrity’s challenger in the November election, Democrat Erin McClelland.

Sen. Steven Santarsiero, D-Doylestown, a co-sponsor of the bill, says it is intended to create a consequence for public institutions and would not infringe on private citizens or organizations from boycotts and divestments. He insisted that the bill “does not impact or inhibit anyone’s right to free speech.”

“It would say to our institutions of higher learning, whether they are public or private, that should they take the extreme step of divesting from Israel, that they would lose state financial support,” said Santarsiero.

On the chamber floor, Santarsiero reminded legislators of the millennia of persecution faced by the Jews and the importance of having a secure homeland for the Jewish people. He lauded Israel’s democracy, saying that claims that Israel is an apartheid state, one of the primary concerns of protestors who are seeking divestment, are “dishonest and offensive.”

According to Michael Lynk, a former UN Special Rapporteur on the subject, “There is today in the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967 a deeply discriminatory dual legal and political system, that privileges the 700,000 Israeli Jewish settlers living in the 300 illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

During the State Government Committee vote earlier this week, Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Chambersburg, evoked the Bible in his full-throated support for Israel and the bill. He echoed similar sentiments on the chamber floor Thursday.

“Anyone with eyes that see or ears that hear sees the wickedness of what Hamas did and the righteousness of Israel,” he said.

The sentiment is widely shared by Christians and politicians across the nation, with former president Donald Trump calling Joe Biden a “bad Palestinian” during last night’s debate in response to the protests that have swept the nation.

Supporters of Palestine say that this kind of rhetoric leads to an increase in both Islamophobia and antisemitism, fueling anti-Arab sentiment and equating dissenting American citizens to terrorists and terrorist sympathizers.

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