The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to economically pressure the Israeli state to adhere to international law has been gaining traction since its inception in July 2005. From individual to organisational boycotts, divestment by universities and pension funds, there are an increasing number of successes. While companies complicit in human rights violations – such as G4S – are an excellent boycott target, less attention has been paid to a more obscure form of economic security for Zionism in Palestine. The BDS movement has paid scant attention to bonds, but Israel Bonds has acknowledged BDS.
A bond is ‘A debt investment in which an investor loans money to an entity (corporate or governmental) that borrows the funds for a defined period of time at a fixed interest rate. Bonds are used by companies, municipalities, states and… governments to finance a variety of projects and activities.’[i] To buy a bond from Israel Bonds, then, is to assist in strengthening the apartheid state; this method of support is currently being aggressively marketed and juxtaposed against the BDS movement by Zionist agencies.
The US-based Israel Bonds – or the Development Corporation for Israel – was established by president Ben-Gurion in 1951. It is a broker-dealer member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Writing an op-ed in the Zionist organ, the Jerusalem Post, in January this year, CEO Israel (Izzy) Tapoohi Israel Bonds was described as a “record-breaking, strategic asset for Israel”. The article goes on to boast that bond sales of that financial year surpassed $1.12 billion – an increase of 37% from the previous year. The most interesting part is the political:
“A value-added aspect of investing in Israel bonds is the powerful statement it sends to Israel’s adversaries, especially the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Knowing Israel will never be defeated on the battlefield, BDS supporters employ confrontational economic tactics on a wide variety of fronts.”
Tapoohi concludes: “Yet, each and every Israel bond investment sends an unmistakable message to BDS advocates: Israel’s economy will remain strong.” Israel Bonds is hailed as a “dedicated, independent financial pipeline” for the Israeli state.[ii]
For those of us supporting the BDS movement or active within it, this is very flattering and a signal that we must be doing something right. Were the movement a simply a disorganised and incoherent fringe group, it would be ignored, or perhaps mocked.
BDS gets further attention on the Israel Bonds website, in the ‘from the CEO’ section, entitled “Israel Bonds are a Strong Response to the BDS Movement”. It’s Izzy again. He dedicates a whole page to defending the Israeli state and venting spleen on the BDS movement. After going through the usual red-herring platitudes (‘Why pick on little Israel?’ and ‘It’s great for gays and women’) he asserts the real reasons for economic pressure by BDS are:
“First, knowing Israel will never be defeated on the battlefield, they view the economic front as an alternate means of attacking Israel. Second, Israel’s economy represents an outstanding success story. Nothing agitates Israel’s detractors more than another achievement for the Jewish state, and Israel’s economic success is truly an exceptional achievement.”[iii]
Ignoring for a second the trouncing of the IOF by Hizballah in 2006, it is true that economic pressure is a non-violent means by which people living in imperial countries can assist in resistance against Zionism. The second one is clearly a ‘through the looking glass’ moment for Izzy; it’s doubtful that anyone involved in BDS is really motivated through envy of Israel economic ‘success’.
In May this year, Izzy gets another platform to remind the world again:
“Not everyone is applauding Israel’s stellar economic achievements—most especially the BDS movement. BDS advocates employ confrontational economic tactics in the belief they will succeed in isolating and weakening Israel.”[iv]
He is losing sleep over this.
According to the ‘learn’ section of Israeli Bonds website, 75% of investors are retail clients, while 25% are “institutional investors, encompassing states, municipalities, financial institutions, corporations, labor unions, universities and foundations.”[v] In the ‘history’ section, the broker-dealer is said to have a “legacy of achievement”, with proceeds that have “helped cultivate the desert [more on this later], build transportation networks, create new industries, resettle immigrants, and increase export capability”[vi]
If accurate, this means that Israel Bonds is a key agency in advancing land theft, creating apartheid roads for colonies, supporting the arms industry, assisting colonists occupy Palestinian land, the selling of goods produced on usurped land. Not only that, but universities and unions around the world are funding this.
Thirty years after the establishment of Israel Bonds, the Development Company for Israel (UK) Limited (or State of Israel Bonds UK) was created. It is virtually identical to Israel Bonds in aims and in terms of where proceeds are channelled. The website informs the reader that State of Israel Bonds UK has “enabled extraordinary advances throughout Israel”, giving the example of crops being grown in the Naqab, complete with pictures of colonists in their greenhouses. It quotes Ben-Gurion’s European colonial tropes of ‘making the desert bloom’.[vii]
That bond proceeds are important to maintaining occupation, colonisation and apartheid is quite obvious, but in April this year, a new development brought it to the fore. The state revealed that it planned to relocate Israeli Occupation Forces training bases to a single new facility in the Naqab, near Beersheba – a site of recent attempts to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian population – this ‘Training Base City’ plan would be funded through the sale of bonds to meet the first 19 billion shekels of a 50 million total.[viii]
Dissuading people and institutions from buying bonds that fund the Israeli state should not be made a priority for those in the BDS movement, for a couple of reasons. The first is that boycotting and divesting from complicit companies is far easier and more accessible in terms of process and results. The second is that bonds are simply a less-common economic link to Zionism; finding out who bought what number of bonds and at what price could be tedious and unfruitful. However, this is not to say that people in the US should not look out for Israel Bonds activity and those living in the UK aware of State of Israel Bonds UK – both have direct links to the Israeli state, and are therefore unequivocal BDS targets. Those in universities and trades unions can now begin to investigate whether or not their institutions are complicit in Zionist colonialism. The fact that bonds are now being promoted as a panacea to BDS is a hint that bonds must be given more attention by those seeking to strengthen and amplify solidarity with Palestinians.