For generations of American Jews, including my family, purchasing Israel Bonds to honor lifecycle events was an essential part of our communal identity. When our grandparents, aunts and uncles gifted us those bonds, they were betting on our future. They were also betting on the future of a young country whose democratic values were embedded in its very founding. These bonds were an expression of American Jewish commitment to Israel, and Israel’s reciprocal commitment to the shared values that held us together.
But Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, whose office oversees Israel Bonds, is not holding up his end of the bargain. Last week, he called on the state of Israel to “wipe out” the Palestinian village of Huwara, the scene of a horrific attack by hundreds of settlers protesting the terrorist murder of two Israeli brothers.
Following vehement protests, Smotrich backtracked, apologizing for what he called “a slip of the tongue” committed at a time of emotional stress. But then, in an interview with the rightwing newspaper Yisrael Hayom, he said this about the people of Gaza: “Let them rot, let them die of hunger and thirst and malaria.”
So much for contrition.
As Smotrich heads to Washington to kick off this year’s Israel Bond campaign, American Jews have an opportunity to make our voices heard. We can do so in a simple but effective way: by gathering up the Israel Bonds collecting dust in desk drawers and safe deposit boxes – and redeeming them now. And saying a resounding no when asked to buy Israel Bonds this year.
In 2022, the Israel Bonds campaign raised over $1 billion in the US from individuals and state pension funds. But there is no transparency about how the proceeds are spent. According to the bond prospectus, the proceeds are generically described as being earmarked for the ‘purposes of the state’, giving enormous discretion to a finance minister whose far-right ideology could drag Israel into committing war crimes.
How do we know to what purposes the finance minister will apply the proceeds from the bonds? Can someone who is a self-declared “proud homophobe” and who in 2021 told Arab lawmakers that “it is a mistake that Ben-Gurion didn’t finish the job and throw you out in 1948,” be entrusted with authorizing budgets in accordance with democratic norms and equal rights, as promised in Israel’s Declaration of Independence?
I am not suggesting that American Jews boycott Israel. Far from it. Instead, I am asking my fellow American Jews to donate their bond redemptions to the institutions that foster democratic values, pluralism and opportunity for all Israeli citizens – including universities, museums, arts innovators and performing arts organizations, scientific research institutions, and myriad civil society organizations working hard to fight for democracy, rule of law and the rights of minorities.
If you are considering the purchase of an Israel Bond for a lifecycle event, why not donate instead to an Israeli institution grounded in the very values that moved American Jews to stand with Israel for the past 75 years?
Many American Jews want to express their support for the hundreds of thousands of Israeli patriots taking to the streets to defend democracy. When the 2023 Israel Bond conference launches next week, we can do just that – through a massive redirection of our Israeli philanthropic giving that honors the ideals of Israel’s founders. It would make our Zionist parents and grandparents proud.