Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not the only one who enjoys the travel service of Development Corporation for Israel/State of Israel Bonds. The organization flies and accommodates not only public figures, but also people from various walks of life who know how to give speeches or network with its leaders.
It is therefore a pity that a bill recently proposed by MK Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) to abolish Israel Bonds has gotten somewhat lost amid the Bibitours scandal. However important the Netanyahu story may be, this proposal goes to the heart of the matter, which is why it is worthy of much more attention.
Sheetrit first submitted his proposal ten years ago, but the government killed it. That was completely predictable, and Sheetrit presumably knows that the same fate is probably in store this time too. Why? As Sheetrit explains, "Israel Bonds has bought the support of the Knesset after flying ministers, MKs, and Ministry of Finance officials abroad for many years."
In other words, Sheetrit sees the continued existence of Israel Bonds as owing to the support of Israelis who have benefitted and will continue to benefit from its largesse - and this is of course correct. But Sheetrit does not mention, and he may be unaware of, the fierce opposition to abolishing the whole phenomenon of Israel going cap in hand, and Israel Bonds in particular, among US Jews and their leaders.
I encountered this phenomenon during a coast-to-coast lecture tour in the US - not on behalf of any official organization. The travel expenses were paid by Macmillan Publishers Ltd., which published my book "With Friends Like These: What Israelis Really Think About American Jews." Under the agreement with the publisher, I embarked on a sales promotion tour for the book. The message I gave in my lectures was that the donor-beggar relationship between Jews and Israel should stop, and that the relationship should be put on deeper and truer footing.
There were times, I explained, when the financial contribution of the Jews helped to save the state, and for that we are of course grateful, but meanwhile the Israelis have grown up and know how to look after themselves pretty well. Donations in present circumstances, I said, even insult me as an Israeli. Why? Because in order to collect the money, the fund raisers talk about how wretched and needy we are, making us out to be a bunch of unfortunates, which is certainly no compliment.
Nothing prepared me for the reaction. I thought they would fall weeping on my neck and thank me for the idea that their money should remain in their pockets. What actually happened was a general, loud and angry attack. How dare you! The contributions are our connection with the state; they're the glue that binds world Jewry to Israel!
Then I understood: more than we need to receive the donations, the Jews need to give them. Why? My conclusion from many conversations is that sending us the money gives them a sense of partnership, but even more than that, of patronage. In their view, the donations purchase the right to express their opinions about us and about our government's policy, and we are obliged to listen and take their opinions and criticisms into account.
To that must be added that it is not just Netanyahu and co. who benefit from Israel Bonds' generosity. The organization has a host of functionaries who enjoy very high salaries and excellent work conditions. Begging also confers endless high-sounding titles in great demand: president, vice-president, treasurer… Such titles confer on the bearer status in the community, buy him or her a picture with the state president and the prime minister, and carry other benefits that are priceless in the eyes of Diaspora Jews.
The irony is that today there is really no economic justification for the existence of Israel Bonds. A large proportion of the money raised goes on salaries and other payments to the organization's employees. And what about strengthening the tie between Jewry and Israel? "When you look at who buys the bonds," says Sheetrit, "you find that the buyers are mainly US banks and pension funds, more than individual Jews around the world."
In any event, there is no real reason for Israel Bonds to continue to exist, but it nevertheless probably will continue to exist, for unreal reasons.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 7, 2011
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011