Over the years, many universities purchased Israel Bonds because they are a good investment. This does not happen as often as it once did, in part because interest rates dropped precipitously and universities could earn better returns with other investments. Today, however, interest rates are rising and Israel Bonds offer competitive rates. So this is an ideal time to resurrect an idea I proposed in 2005 I called Ivest.
The goal of the Ivest campaign is to increase the level of investment by U.S. colleges in Israel. This objective could be accomplished by encouraging donors to universities to donate cash that colleges would be required to convert to Israel Bonds, by donors contributing Bonds they already hold or wish to purchase for the purpose of giving to a university, and/or by establishing a program whereby universities match contributions of Bonds and/or cash with a Bonds purchase from the university’s funds.
The Ivest project has a number of goals beyond the broad desire to promote investment:
- By making contributions in the form of Bonds, donors can send a strong message to universities about their commitment to Israel and the value they place on how Israel is treated on campus.
- Rather than withhold donations from problematic campuses — something most longtime donors are reluctant to do — converting cash gifts to Bonds (or making any increased gift in the form of Bonds) offers a way to signal displeasure with the university’s policies and benefit Israel without taking a confrontational position. Doing this at one or more major universities can also send a message to other universities about the potential financial repercussions if they do not police their campuses and demonstrate a zero-tolerance policy for anti-Semitism.
- If done on a broad scale, the contribution of Bonds across the country will show the depth and breadth of support for Israel in a tangible way.
- It is also possible to accomplish the additional positive result of promoting Israel studies on campus if the Bonds or income derived from them can be directed to supporting courses on Israel, visiting Israel scholars, postdoctoral fellows in Israel-related fields and perhaps study/research abroad in Israel.
Donors can achieve a trifecta: they receive a tax deduction, they can send a message to the university regarding their support for Israel and/or unhappiness with how Israel is treated on campus, and they may be able to directly promote Israel Studies.
At one time, at least 20 colleges across the country had matching programs. I’m not sure if any exist anymore, but efforts should be made to resurrect them.
One now defunct program was at Emory where the donation of Israel Bonds benefited the Center for Modern Israel Studies. To give an example of what could be done, if a donor gave $250,000 to Emory to buy Bonds that paid 6% interest (yes, those were the good old days), Emory would buy $250,000 from its own endowment as a match. After one year, Israel Studies received the 6% interest on the full $500,000 in Bonds that were purchased. If Emory raised a total of $3 million worth of Bonds and a donor gave $250,000 for Bonds, the university allowed the Center to use a portion of the full $250,000 as needs arose (e.g., paying $5,000 a month for a visiting professor’s salary).
At Boston University, a donor could make a donation and BU purchased an equal amount of Israel Bonds for its investment portfolio. The University then placed the donor’s Bonds in the endowment fund of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies. Again, I’m not sure if that program exists anymore.
A third example was the University of Maryland, which agreed to match donations of Israel Bonds to the University by investing an amount equal to the value of the gift in Israel Bonds. As a result, a contribution of $25,000 in Israel Bonds generated a $50,000 net investment for Israel. Various rules applied but the donor, the university and Israel all benefited from the transaction. If such a program were to be resumed, the funds could be directed to the Israel Studies program.
Let’s say a donor wants to give a university a $25,000 Israel Bond. Israel benefits by getting $25,000, the university benefits by earning interest on the bond and ultimately collecting the principle, and the donor helps their alma mater and earns a charitable tax deduction. Large bonds are preferable, but even the purchaser of a $36 Bond could make a donation to a university fund (with the caveat that some universities may have rules about minimum donations and the types of securities they accept).
It would be even more appealing if the same university agreed to buy a $25,000 bond from its endowment (more or less the way a matching program works). The university gets a contribution that will ultimately be worth $50,000 plus interest and Israel gets $50,000. Win-Win for everybody.
If the $25,000 Bond could be earmarked either for an endowment or direct funding for Israel Studies (or an Israel-related program through Jewish studies), the investment is a Win-Win-Win.
Better still, if some of the money from the Bond is used to support study/research abroad in Israel, the donor will facilitate the invaluable experience of a scholar or student spending time in Israel. This, my friends, would be a Win-Win-Win-Win for Israel.
An even better outcome for universities and Israel Studies programs would be if donors contribute Bonds that are close to maturity. If those are donated, the departments could cash them in much sooner than a newly purchased bond that does not mature for several years.
If money is earmarked, a strong message is sent to the university that donors are committed to promoting cooperation with Israel, scholarly research about Israel and opportunities for students and scholars to travel to Israel. The university would send an equally clear message that it is committed to academic freedom.
What’s in it for a university to create a matching program?
- Bonds are a good investment.
- New donors who care about Israel may be encouraged to contribute to the university and existing donors would have an incentive to increase the size of their contributions.
- A university with a matching program would have a competitive advantage over those that do not.
Buying and contributing bonds to a university will show them that they can benefit from upholding their own values of academic freedom and intolerance for anti-Semitism. They can also attract the many students interested in Israel Studies, foster collaboration between faculty here and in Israel, and build ties between American and Israeli universities.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including the 2017 edition of Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict; The Arab Lobby, and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.