By Karmel Melamed
Fourteen national and state Jewish organizations and dozens of Iranian Muslim groups opposed to Iran’s regime have found common ground in support of California Assembly Bill 221, which would require state pension funds to divest an estimated $24 billion in investments from more than 280 companies doing business with Iran.
The bill’s author, freshman Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon), said he was shocked to discover state funds were indirectly benefiting Iran’s regime.
“We cannot be doing business with a country like Iran, whose president wants to eliminate another country in the region,” Anderson said. “Once they show a sign that they want to rejoin the world community in a peaceful manner, my bill goes away.”
Aside from the economic impact AB 221 might have on Iran, Anderson said the primary goal of the legislation was to secure the California Public Employees Retirement (CalPERS) and the State Teachers Retirement (CalSTRS) pensions with wise investment strategies, since both are valued at nearly $400 billion and funded by taxpayers.
“I’m not in a position to decide foreign policy, however I am responsible for protecting the state pensions and Iran runs the risk of either being bombed or nationalizing companies there,” Anderson said. “So I feel Iran is clearly not a safe place to invest $24 billion of our taxpayers and state’s employees’ money.”
National Jewish organizations in support of AB 221 include the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA). But the groups said they have not been involved in direct lobbying efforts.
“The goal for these types of legislation is to convince Iran to abandon its quest for nuclear weapons and their violent rhetoric toward Israel,” said Hadar Susskind, JCPA’s Washington director. “Using economic means is a way to hopefully avoid the possibility of military conflict in the future.”
Local Iranian Jewish leaders, who have long been cautious about rhetoric concerning Iran out of fear that the regime may seek retribution on nearly 20,000 Jews still living Iran, said they too were supportive of the Iran divestment bill in the Assembly.
Military confrontation in the Middle East “is neither a desirable nor wise option,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Los Angeles-based Iranian American Jewish Federation. “It is [instead] AB 221 and other similar measures in other states and on the diplomatic scene that enjoy the broad support of our community.”
Aside from Jewish support for the divestment bill, local Iranian Muslim political groups and media outlets opposed to the regime in Iran have mobilized their constituents to publicly voice support for AB 221.
“The economy is the Achilles heel of the regime in Iran and this bill, along with strong sanctions, are the best nonviolent way to bring that government down,” said Roozbeh Farahanipour, head of the Marse Por Gohar Party, an Iranian political opposition group based in Westwood. “Those in Iran who oppose the regime have told us this type of legislation is the best option for the U.S. to take.”
Last month, Farahanipour testified before the Assembly’s retirement committee on the effectiveness of divestment from Iran.
Ali-Reza Moravati, owner of Radio Sedaye Iran, a Persian-language satellite radio station based in Beverly Hills, said throughout March entire programs on his station were dedicated to urging listeners in California to contact their state representatives in support of the Iran divestment bill.
Former Iranian crown prince Reza Pahlavi also submitted a formal letter to Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez supporting passage of AB 221 as “a shining example and a great way to demonstrate solidarity with 70 million Iranians seeking freedom, democracy and a better life.”
Despite widespread support among Iranian expatriates for the bill, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a Washington D.C.-based pro-Iran lobby has been one of the few groups opposing AB 221.
Based on a recent report prepared by independent Iranian researcher Hassan Daioleslam, NIAC is part of an extensive U.S. lobbying web that furthers the interests of Iran’s current fundamentalist Islamic regime. NIAC was established in 2001, funded by Iranian oil revenues and modeled after AIPAC, according to Daioleslam’s report.
NIAC representatives did not return calls for comment.
In addition, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have also voiced opposition to AB 221, citing their pension fund boards should make divestment decisions, not the state legislature.
Gidi Grinstein, head of the Re’ut Institute, a nonpartisan policy group based in Israel, expressed doubt as to the effectiveness of divestment alone in halting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
“Divestment ... may not be successful on its own in stopping the nuclear project, but compounded with the two legs of credible and viable military option and a political package, it may work,” Grinstein wrote in an e-mail. “Effective outcome is not guaranteed, but decisive action here is very important.”
Lawmakers in other states—including Missouri, Maryland, Massachusetts, Georgia and Ohio—have already planned to introduce similar Iran divestment bills in their legislatures. In February, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a bill requiring all U.S. government pension funds to divest stock of companies that had more than $20 million invested in Iran’s petroleum and natural gas industries.
AB 221 was unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee on April 24 and is expected to move to the Appropriations Committee on May 11.
If the legislation reaches the floor, Anderson anticipates AB 221 could become law since it has received bipartisan support.
“In the past, we’ve had success with similar divestment bills in the Assembly involving South Africa during apartheid and with the Sudan,” Anderson said. “I think California will again lead the way with this Iran divestment legislation.”
Reza Pahlavi’s letter to Fabian Nunez: http://www.rezapahlavi.org/press/?english&id:103
This article was originally published by the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles: