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Joe Negron bill to cut ties with anti-Israeli boycotters sails through committee stop

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A bill sponsored by state Sen. Joe Negron to prevent state funds from flowing to organizations that boycott or have divested from Israel on human rights grounds passed unanimously through a Senate budget panel general government Tuesday afternoon.

The bill creates a state list of “scrutinized companies” that boycott Israel to be kept by the State Board of Administration responsible for investing funds from state workers’ retirement and other state accounts, and prohibits the board from investing in those companies in the future.

Florida State University student and activist Derrick Silver testified in favor of the bill, calling the international “BDS” movement — short for boycott, divestment, and sanctions — against Israel “a cynical narrative predicated on lies” as well as “antisemitic and anti-American,” sentiments no one on the panel seemed to disagree with.

To those participating in the movement, Negron said, “that’s your choice. And unlike some countries where they do this, we allow people to have choice and freedom of expression. But our government is going to choose not to do business with your company or invest in your company.”

The testimony of Brian Pitts of Justice-2-Jesus, a St. Petersburg-based nonprofit, gained rare relevancy during the debate. He said he wishes the bill were more “hardline,” going even further to eliminate current investments from BDS-affiliated firms.

Negron said he wishes the Legislature could immediately divest all state monies currently invested with such companies, but that could jeopardize the SBA’s fiduciary duties to its stakeholders, creating instability in the near term.

“I do agree with Mr. Pitts that even if we can get a good return, we shouldn’t invest in companies that discriminate any nationality, but I’m trying to get a bill the SBA can support,” said Negron. “So that’s the reason for the compromise.”

The move comes as Arab-Israeli violence in Palestine flares, with a rash of stabbing attacks on both sides raising the specter of a third Palestinian intifada.

The bill passed with no debate among the committee members with zero ‘No’ votes. It moves next to the full Senate Appropriations Committee where passage appears likely.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at [email protected]

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