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Politics & Government

U.S. Senate candidate wants exception allowing Kansas to buy Israeli debt

A Republican U.S. Senate candidate wants to allow Kansas to invest tens of millions in Israeli bonds – an opportunity the state currently doesn’t offer any foreign country.

Right now, Kansas allows a board that invests state dollars to purchase debt only from the United States and other American government agencies. Legislation from Treasurer Jake LaTurner would give the board the power to purchase Israeli debt as well.

LaTurner is the only declared candidate in the race to replace retiring Sen. Pat Roberts in 2020, and the legislation comes after other attempts by Kansas lawmakers to show support for Israel.

A 2017 law required state contractors to affirm they were not boycotting Israel. The law was aimed squarely at the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which urges governments and businesses not to invest in Israel over its policies and actions toward Palestinians.

A federal judge blocked enforcement of the law and the Legislature narrowed it in 2018.

“We’ve made the statement that we are supportive of Israel with the anti-BDS legislation. I think that this naturally follows that,” LaTurner said. “But that’s not exclusively what this is about. This is about a first step in diversifying the state’s portfolio.”

On Wednesday, LaTurner introduced legislation in a Senate committee to allow the Pooled Money Investment Board to purchase Israeli debt. He called Israeli bonds a safe investment for Kansas.

As of January, the board had $3.8 billion invested, though the amount fluctuates throughout the year. LaTurner’s bill would allow the board to invest up to 2 percent of its holdings into Israeli debt – or about $76 million.

The board currently has none of that amount invested in U.S. Treasury bills, a type of U.S. debt.

LaTurner said he is open to allowing Kansas to invest in the debt of other countries beside Israel, but said Israel is a “reasonable first step.”

The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights has previously criticized the decisions of U.S. cities and states to invest in Israeli bonds. “Israel Bonds help finance the Israeli government’s budget, thereby aiding Israel’s ongoing colonization of Palestinian land and entrenching its apartheid policies and military occupation,” the group has said.

A number of states allow investments in Israeli bonds. Mississippi joined the list in 2018. And Ohio reached $200 million invested in Israeli bonds last year, according to the Cleveland Jewish News.

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