Governor Schwarzenegger to sign Iran divestment bill into law

As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in New York Monday preparing to speak at the United Nations, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the U.N. talking about global warming, but the governor took time out to release a prepared statement saying he would sign into law a bill requiring state pension funds to divest an estimated $24 billion from nearly 300 companies doing business with Iran.

“California has a long history of leadership and doing what’s right with our investment portfolio,” the governor said in the statement. “Last year, I was proud to sign legislation to divest from the Sudan to take a powerful stand against genocide. I look forward to signing legislation to divest from Iran to take an equally powerful stand against terrorism.”

Schwarzenegger’s representatives said he will likely sign the bill into law later this week, upon his return from New York.

The bill, known as AB 221, unanimously passed the California State Senate earlier this month, as it had in the California Assembly in June. It specifically secures the California Public Employees Retirement (CalPERS) and the State Teachers Retirement (CalSTRS) pensions, which together are valued at nearly $400 billion and are funded by taxpayers.

On Monday, local Jewish leaders and elected officials gathered in front of Beverly Hills City Hall for a press conference to praise Schwarzenegger’s decision to sign the bill and said they would encourage other states and cities to enact similar Iran divestment laws.

“By signing this legislation, the governor is sending a great big message to Iran that we’re watching you,” Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad said.

After his re-election to the Beverly Hills City Council in February, Delshad who is of Iranian Jewish descent, led the way for passage of a similar Iran divestment measure in Beverly Hills for employee pensions, which was adopted by the City Council in July.

Ron Leibow, chairman for the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said The Federation has worked with both Jewish and non-Jewish groups in the city and state to pool support for AB 221.

“After [Assemblyman] Joel Anderson contacted us to support this bill, we reached out to the Los Angeles Chapter of the Jewish Public Affairs committee, the Catholic Archdiocese, the Episcopal Church and Muslim groups to support this very important legislation,” Leibow said.

Other local Jewish leaders in attendance included Rabbi Abraham Cooper from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the L.A.-based Iranian American Jewish Federation; elected officials included California Assemblymen Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) and freshman Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon), AB 221’s author, who praised the bipartisan efforts in the California Legislature for the bill’s passage.

“I am thrilled the governor will sign this legislation to squeeze Iran,” Anderson said. “I couldn’t have done this without the help of all my colleagues, including Mike Feuer. We want to send a clear message that we will not sit through another Hitler.”

Anderson initially drafted and introduced the bill last December in the State Assembly’s committees after discovering how California state investments in certain companies were directly supporting Iran’s regime. For months various committees have heard public testimony of the AB 221’s effectiveness, as well as a modified bill.

The legislation has since received wide support from 17 state and national Jewish organizations and local Iranian Muslim groups stating their opposition to the Iranian government.

“We believe that a strong moral and cultural resistance to the policies and practices of the Islamic Republic will help weaken and transform it without resorting to a violent conflict and military intervention,” said Jabbari, an Iranian Muslim spokesperson for the L.A. based Center for the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights.

Reza Pahlavi, son of the late Shah and the former Iranian crown-prince, also submitted a formal letter to Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez supporting passage of AB 221, calling it “a shining example and a great way to demonstrate solidarity with 70 million Iranians seeking freedom, democracy and a better life.”

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a Washington D.C.-based pro-Iran lobby, has been one of the few groups opposing AB 221. In addition, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have voiced opposition to AB 221, arguing that their pension fund boards should be the ones to make divestment decisions, not the state legislature.

Support for divestment from Iran has been ongoing among Jewish lawmakers. On Sept. 9, 15 Democratic California legislators and a few municipal leaders were honored by the Democrats for Israel Los Angeles at a private home in the Beverly-Fairfax area for supporting AB 221 and Iran divestment city measures. Among those honored by the group were L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles City Councilmember Jack Weiss, Feuer and Delshad.

In June, Los Angeles became the first city in the country to approve its own Iran divestment measure. In May, Florida became the first state to pass legislation to bar $1 billion in pension funds from being invested in companies doing business with Iran and Sudan. Currently 12 other states have similar Iran divestment bill pending in their legislatures.

In late July, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2007” encouraging government pension plans, private pension plans and mutual funds to divest from companies doing business with Iran’s oil production, lending money to the government or selling munitions to the country.