Franklin County ups Israel investments as calls for ceasefire grow

Franklin County has purchased $10.5 million in Israel Bonds since Oct. 7, bringing the total 2023 investment to $14.5 million and pushing the county’s total holdings to $33 million.
Ohio Statehouse
Ohio StatehouseSam Howzit for Creative Commons

Franklin County Treasurer Cheryl Brooks Sullivan has purchased $10.5 million in Israel Bonds since Oct. 7, bringing the total 2023 investment to $14.5 million and pushing the county’s total holdings to $33 million. Pro-Israel lobbyists have hailed the purchases as a win for Israel while peace activists have labeled it an investment in genocide.

“Not only do Israel bonds earn a strong rate of return, they are dependable and diversify the portfolio,” Jay Schottenstein, chairman of Israel Bonds Central Ohio Advisory Council and CEO of American Eagle, said in a press release. “This comes at a time when Israel deeply appreciates the additional investment.”

The time-sensitive context to which Schottenstein referred is Israel’s ongoing military campaign against Gaza. Israel launched the offensive in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7, during which 1,200 Israelis were killed and another 240 taken hostage, 110 of whom have since been released.

In the months since, Israel has killed more than 25,000 people in Gaza, roughly 70 percent of whom were women and children. Additionally, more than 100 journalists have been killed by Israel, making it the deadliest war for journalists in history. With more than 250 Palestinians being killed per day and more than 85 percent of Gaza's population having been displaced, Israel has been accused of committing genocide at the International Court of Justice.

Israel's bombardment has been met with widespread backlash from the international community, and protests have taken place both globally and here in Columbus calling for an immediate ceasefire – a call that continues to go unanswered by the Israeli government.

This past week, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the country’s largest unions, released a statement stating that “wherever violence, fear and hatred thrive, working people cannot.” 

Progressive Jewish voices have lobbied for a ceasefire across the country, and the local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace has been protesting outside of the offices of Sen. Sherrod Brown and Sullivan. At a rally at the Franklin County Treasurer’s office, speakers called for divesting county funds from Israel Bonds. “We should not be silenced … just because we oppose indigenous people getting bombed,” JVP member Josh Hollman said. “We have to stand with oppressed people in all forms, I don’t care if the oppressors are Jewish. … I stand with anti-Zionist Jews everywhere.”

Franklin County’s $33 million investment in Israel Bonds is the highest in Ohio. The bonds are held by the Development Corporation for Israel (DCI), which is the U.S. underwriter of debt securities issued by the state of Israel. In a statement, Sullivan said that she’s “proud to support investment in one of America’s partners and allies (Israel).” (Sullivan’s office did not reply to an email requesting comment.)

These bonds began as a way to support the state of Israel in the wake of the first Nakba in 1948, when 700,000 Palestinians were displaced by European Jewish immigrants after the Holocaust. By 1957, Israel Bonds accounted for “35 percent of Israel's special development budget,” acting as an essential economic foundation for the new state in the wake of this mass displacement.

In years of military aggression, specifically, 1967, 1973, 1991 and now 2023, Israel Bond sales skyrocketed. In the 30 days following Oct. 7, Israel Bonds secured more than $1 billion in bond investments from investors – an act that was as political as it was economic. The bonds purchased by the private and public sectors in the U.S. act as a stimulus for Israel’s economy, but they’re not, as Schottenstein and Sullivan claimed, solely for economic ends. In fact, Israel’s credit rating and other economic factors are worse since attacking Gaza. S&P Global Ratings downgraded Israel’s credit outlook from stable to negative due to the threat of a wider global conflict, which, as the U.S. bombs Yemen, is already unfolding.

“Never before in the 75 previous years has there been such sustained attention to the cause of the Palestinians and of Israeli brutality,” the historian Vijay Prashad wrote in an op-ed. Prashad argued that the legitimacy of countries in the “Global North” (Europe, the U.S. and Canada) is being challenged as they claim to be for peace while funding and arming Israel. “The Israelis say that they will continue this genocidal war for as long as it takes,” he wrote, “as each day goes by of this war, the legitimacy of Israel deteriorates.”

In an article about Israel Bonds, local journalist David Hill questioned whether the U.S. has the interests of Israelis or Americans in mind, as they claim. “The investment of state tax revenue in Israeli bonds diverts working-class resources towards Israeli militarism and yields little real value,” he argued. “A project of divestment from Israeli bonds would free up hundreds of millions of dollars for investment in projects closer to home.” 

As Israeli government and military officials repeatedly voice their intent to wipe Gaza off the map, county, state, and federal officials in the U.S. continue to invest in Israel’s economy. “It is clear to the majority of people in the world that it is the Global North that has failed to address the crises in the world,” Prashad wrote. “Empty words are no substitute for real actions.”

Correction: The piece initially read that Israel had been accused of committing genocide at the International Criminal Court rather than the International Court of Justice. Matter News regrets the error.

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