Ohio invests in apartheid

Katrina Bacome reports on an Ohio coalition demanding that their state stop investing in Israeli apartheid.

Ohio state treasurer Josh MandelOhio state treasurer Josh Mandel

THIS YEAR, the state of Ohio made a historic investment. Unfortunately, for millions of Palestinians, Ohio invested in the wrong side of history.

On March 1, state treasurer Josh Mandel completed the purchase of $42 million in Israel bonds, the single largest government purchase of Israel bonds to date, bringing Ohio's total investment to more than $80 million. More than 80 state and municipal governments have purchased more than $2 billion in Israel bonds, according to the company's website. Purchasers include, among others, more than 1,700 labor unions and 1,800 foundations.

In order to understand the impact of these investments, we need to look at how Israel Bonds came to be, and what function they serve in bolstering Israel's apartheid.

After the 1948 war that founded Israel, known in Arabic as "al-Nakba" (the catastrophe), the first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, found himself in a bit of a quandary. After the forced expulsion of an estimated 725,000 Palestinians and a highly destructive war, there was hardly anything left with which to develop a technologically advanced colonial state.

In September 1950, Ben-Gurion took his crisis to American Jewish leaders at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Here, he proposed issuing bonds--securities issued by the state of Israel--in order to raise the capital necessary to support Zionist settlement in Palestine and the infrastructure of a Jewish state.

His venture was wildly successful. In the first year alone, the organization that would later become the Development Corporation for Israel (DCI) more than doubled its projected sales. Worldwide sales to date have surpassed $34 billion.

What are these bonds used for? According to the DCI website: "Proceeds realized through the sale of Israel bonds have helped cultivate the desert, build transportation networks, create new industries, resettle immigrants and increase export capability."

DCI proudly displays the smiling faces of new Israeli immigrants cultivating the Negev desert. They make no mention of the 45 "unrecognized villages" in the area, home to around half of the Bedouin population, that the Israeli government has been forcing out on the charge of "squatting," in order to make room for Jewish-only settlements.

While Israel develops new industries and increased export capability, Israeli restrictions on Palestinian trade make even the most simple transactions a tedious and costly affair. As ElectronicIntifada.net reported in 2011:

Constraints facing Palestinian trade to or via Israel include access within the West Bank itself prior even to reaching the boundary with Israel or Jordan; a time-consuming and expensive back-to-back truck loading system; and severe scrutiny measures imposed at the border crossing to Jordan (Allenby or King Hussein Bridge, the West Bank's only international crossing point) and the commercial crossings between the West Bank and Gaza and Israel, according to an unpublished World Bank report drafted in February 2011.

"The back-to-back system, internal West Bank checkpoints, and the clearance process at Israeli ports that require Palestinian goods to be searched several times and often held in warehouses for long periods, delay trade," said the Palestinian Authority's (PA) deputy economic minister Abdel Hafiz Nofal.

Barriers to imports and exports increase the cost of trade transactions by about 40 percent, he said.

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UNTIL OHIO'S recent investment, the record high for a one-time purchase of Israel Bonds was $25 million, made by several states. Treasurer Josh Mandel's press secretary justified the scale of the purchase by saying, "Israel Bonds are an attractive investment option for state and municipal public funds because they maintain a high credit rating, are dependable and yield a competitive interest rate."

A statewide coalition of solidarity activists and pro-Palestinian organizations in Ohio disagrees emphatically--a state that violates human rights and international law, in which segregation and inequality are codified, is in no way, shape or form an "attractive investment."

Michael Siegal, chair and CEO of Olympic Steel, which is headquartered in Cleveland, and former chair of DCI, responded to Ohio's purchase by saying, "With this significant investment, Ohio has clearly declared its support for Israel and confidence in its economy."

Mandel and the bipartisan cooperation that facilitated his decision may support apartheid, but a growing number of people are gathering in all corners of the world to say that enough is enough. We stand in opposition to the racist oppression of Palestinians that is materially supported at a national, state and municipal level.

Human Rights Watch summarizes the situation for Palestinians (6):

Israel engaged in discriminatory practices in the occupied West Bank, Human Rights Watch said. During 2012, Israeli security forces unlawfully demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes and buildings in areas under sole Israeli control. They denied West Bank Palestinian communities access to natural resources and basic utilities, displacing nearly 900 people, according to the United Nations. Meanwhile, Israel's provision of preferential services and planning--such as the approval of thousands of new settlement housing units and the retroactive "authorization" of settlement outposts--encouraged and facilitated civilian settlement in occupied territory in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Israeli forces also suppressed nonviolent Palestinian protests and used excessive force against demonstrators, arbitrarily banned the travel of human rights defenders, and unlawfully limited the ability of Palestinian farmers to access their lands. In December, Israeli forces raided the offices of several civil society groups in Ramallah. Israel's military justice system, from which settlers are exempt, subjected Palestinians, including human rights defenders, to prolonged arbitrary detention, coercive interrogations, and unfair trials. In the majority of cases, Israeli authorities failed to indict anyone for attacks apparently carried out by Israeli settlers that harmed Palestinians or damaged their property.

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AS OHIOANS, we demand that our government divest from Israeli apartheid. In this letter, endorsed by local chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, other Palestine solidarity organizations, the International Socialist Organization and other allies, we communicated this demand to Ohio officials with the following letter:

On March 1, 2013, the State of Ohio purchased $42 million in Israeli bonds, the largest single purchase of Israeli bonds in U.S. history. This purchase augments the total amount of Israeli bonds in the Ohio treasury portfolio to over $80 million. This enormous sum represents a massive investment on behalf of Ohio citizens, undertaken without our consent, in a state that regularly violates international law and human rights.

In 2005, Palestinian civil society put forth a boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) declaration which calls "upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era."

In 2010 Archbishop Desmond Tutu, historically a valiant fighter against apartheid in South Africa, proclaimed that with "great joy" he embraced the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against Israel because the system of apartheid there was so reminiscent of South Africa:

"I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government."

In the same year, a group of over sixty church leaders and theologians from South Africa released a statement condemning Israeli apartheid:

"From our own experience of apartheid, we can clearly and without equivocation say that your situation is in essence the same as apartheid and in its practical manifestation even worse than South African apartheid."

One year prior, the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa published an extensive report which concluded that "Israel has introduced a system of apartheid in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], in violation of a peremptory norm of international law." Likewise, South African dockworkers took up the cause of anti-apartheid struggle by refusing to unload ships carrying Israeli cargo in response to Israel's 2008-2009 assault on Gaza, a massacre which stole the lives of 1,300 Palestinians, a third of which were children, and injured 5,300 more.

In 2011, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel published a report documenting that "more than 30 main laws discriminate, directly or indirectly, against Palestinian citizens of Israel" and "Inequalities between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel span all fields of public life and have persisted over time."

In light of this, the recent purchase of Israeli bonds by the state of Ohio, in direct contravention of the international divestment movement, shames the state of Ohio and poorly reflects upon the character of Ohio's citizenry who strive for justice and equality. To rectify this grave injustice, we demand that the State of Ohio remove from its portfolio the entirety of its $80 million in Israeli bonds and refuse to invest in the state of Israel while it continues to violate international law and human rights in Palestine.

The abuse of Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government is abhorrent, and every penny that goes into its coffers needs to be challenged.

When Israel gains, the Palestinian people lose. It will take nothing less than a vocal, global movement to reverse this tide. We ask that interested organizations and individuals sign on to the statement above and stand with us in demanding divestment.

Derek Ide and Abberley Sorg contributed to this article.