Seattle divestment initiative challenged

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An Israel advocacy group is going to court to stop a Seattle ballot initiative on divestment.

The Seattle-based organization StandWithUs Northwest is challenging the legality of the initiative in King County Superior Court. The initiative could bar the city from investing employee pension funds in corporations that do business with Israel.

I-97, spearheaded by a group called Seattle Divest from War and Occupation, links divestment from Israel with divestment from companies that are involved in the war in Iraq, such as Halliburton. Opponents worry that voters may be signing the petition out of concern over the war without taking into consideration the impact it would have on Israel.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, the American Jewish Committee and the Washington Israel Business Council joined StandWithUs Northwest in the challenge over what they consider flawed and imprecise language.

Ron Leibsohn, the community services chair for the Jewish federation, says it is important to stop the initiative from reaching the August ballot not out of concern for the economic impact it could have on Israel but on the message that Seattle’s divestment would send to the rest of the country.

“We wouldn’t want this to pass in Seattle and then spread to other communities,” Leibsohn said. “That’s why we think it’s important to stop it here.”

A similar motion three years ago that focused mainly on Israel failed to pass through the City Council of Somerville, Mass.

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