Colorado State Rep. Elisabeth Epps created an uproar in Denver’s Jewish community after introducing a bill on Jan. 31 that, if passed, would reverse a measure enacted in the 2016 General Assembly. That measure bans the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA) from doing business with any companies that have economic prohibitions against Israel.
Similar bans have been legislated by many states around the country and upheld in court.
Epps (D-Denver) attempted to introduce a different measure at the conclusion of a special session of the General Assembly dedicated to tax relief that would prohibit Colorado summer food programs from purchasing any food from “occupied Palestinian territories.”
On Nov. 20, Epps ended a two-day tirade in the House chambers, spewing pro-Palestinian rhetoric and sparking a feud with State Rep. Ron Weinberg (R-Loveland), who responded with an emotional pro-Israel plea to fellow lawmakers.
On Feb. 6, Weinberg introduced a pro-Israel resolution to the House Republican caucus. At press time, a vote was pending on whether to go forward. On Jan. 18, the JCRC declined to endorse Weinberg’s resolution.
When asked about the timing of his proposal, Weinberg told the IJN that after the visit to the Capitol on Feb. 5 of Israeli families with relatives held hostage or murdered by Hamas, “after they looked me straight in the eyes, I decided the time was now,” said Weinberg.
“She will have to go through me on this one and it will be an opportunity for me to ask very fair, logical questions that she will have to have answers to,” said Weinberg. “It’s up to her.”
Asked if Epps’ bill had anything to do with the timing of his own proposal, Weinberg said, “None at all.”
Epps did not return a phone message left at her Capitol office.
I think Representative Epps did this purely to provide herself with another platform to be able to speak on the issue of what’s happening in Israel and Gaza,” said Scott Levin, director of the Mountain States Anti-Defamation League.
“This was part of what she has now shown to be her priorities — not the people of Colorado, the homeless, criminal justice or other issues.
“The Speaker of the House marginalized Epps in the committee assignments and other things.
“I’m hopeful that as Epps continues to raise issues that offend my sensibilities, she will be on her own, or one of a very small number of voices.”
Some community stakeholders consider the JCRC’s position not to endorse Weinberg’s resolution as an opportunity for Epps to allow her pro-Palestinian bill to gain traction in the House.
“I think it shows the folly of the path chosen by the JCRC in opposing Rep. Weinberg’s resolution,” Dr. Tashof Bernton told the IJN. “I hope that they will change their position on that.
“If you have a lot of errant shots, one eventually may hit their target,” Bernton said of Epps’ measure. “I think there’s more than enough common sense in the Denver legislature and the Denver populace to oppose it.
“But, we should be concerned that at some point popular sentiment may change.”
Said Renée Rockford, president and CEO of JEWISHcolorado, of Epps’ bill in a statement:
“At a time when anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise both in Colorado and nationally, repealing a law that combats the delegitimization of Israel sends a dangerous signal.
“We’re incredibly disappointed that Rep. Epps would introduce such legislation without reaching out to discuss the potential harm this could bring to Jewish people, families and institutions in Colorado.”
Rabbi Emily Hyatt, president of the Rocky Mountain Rabbis and Cantors, said of Epps’ bill in a statement:
“This bill would negate the progress made in combating anti-Semitism in Colorado. The BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) movement targets Israel and gives a voice to those who wish to marginalize and demonize the Jewish community.
“We call on our legislators to recognize and understand the serious implications of repealing the broadly bipartisan 2016 HB16-1284. Doing so would embolden the BDS movement and overtly anti-Semitic forces alike.”
Epps’ bill has been assigned to the House Finance Committee for review.
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