Governor trumpets pro-Israel bond acts

Arkansas has signaled that it intends to invest in Israel and, through the enactment of two laws during this year's regular session, is standing up to a movement that seeks to boycott, divest from and punish the Middle Eastern country, Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., said Monday.

One of the laws is Act 644 -- sponsored by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow -- that allows the state Treasurer Dennis Milligan to purchase bonds from Israel that are guaranteed and backed by the full faith and credit of that government. Dermer said at least 30 states allow these investments.

The other law is Act 710 -- sponsored by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs -- that prohibits state and local governments from contracting with and investing in companies that boycott Israel. About 20 states have enacted similar laws, Dermer said.

"Those are two very strong messages that, one, we ought to be open to invest in Israel as need be, and we should not have any restrictions on those investments," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during a ceremonial bill-signing event in the governor's conference room, which Dermer attended. "We should not honor those companies that boycott Israel."

Dermer said that "what you are doing here signing this bill is standing up to anti-Semitism.

"I don't throw that word around lightly. The mark of anti-Semitism is to treat the Jewish people differently than you treat other people. The mark of BDS [boycott, divest and sanction] is to treat Israel differently than any other state in the world," he said.

Dermer thanked Hutchinson and state lawmakers for their support.

"You send a very, very powerful message today and it is as timely as ever because we saw a face of anti-Semitism a couple days ago in Charlottesville [Va.]," he said.

"I was pleased to hear that American leaders, from the left to the right from the president earlier today, the vice president yesterday and all American leaders who stood up against anti-Semitism, so I couldn't think of a better time for you to send such a strong message that Arkansas stands against hate, that Arkansas stands against anti-Semitism and that Arkansas stands with Israel," Dermer said.

Afterward, Chief Deputy Treasurer Grant Wallace said the treasurer's office doesn't have a plan at this time to invest in Israeli bonds.

"It would be up to the state Board of Finance to look and see where the portfolio is and what would be the best option for the portfolio at that time. I know that in January there is a new release of paper that comes out from Israel and we'll just have to see what the [return on investment] is and what they are projected to be and how that would fit into the overall scheme of the portfolio," he said.

Wallace said he doesn't think Act 710 will affect the treasurer's investment portfolio now.

"[Based] on a quick look, we really weren't in anything we would have to worry about," he said.

The Arkansas Teacher Retirement System doesn't have any Israeli bonds and is working to identify investments prohibited by Act 710, said George Hopkins, the system's director.

The Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System owns $390,000 in Israeli bonds and has no investments tied to companies barred under Act 710, said Gail Stone, the system's director.

Business on 08/15/2017