MK Meir Sheetrit has submitted a draft bill that would do away with Israel Bonds, after an expose in the Hebrew version of TheMarker yesterday revealed that the organization sends MKs abroad in what is considered a job perk.
Israel Bonds was founded in 1951, shortly after Israel's independence, to give the country a way to raise money abroad. The organization no longer has a reason to exist, said Sheetrit. "Nowadays, Israel has no problem raising foreign currency," he said.
However, any campaign to do away with the organization is likely to run into problems. "For years, Israel Bonds bought the Knesset's support by flying MKs and ministers abroad. Some of the Finance Ministry clerks also traveled with Israel Bonds," Sheetrit said.
Yesterday, TheMarker revealed the extent to which Israel Bonds has been flying politicians abroad over the past several years. They traveled to Europe and the United States ostensibly to advance Israel's interest, and spoke before Jewish audiences in a bid to convince them to invest in Israel Bonds.
But the trips also turned out to be a bonus of sorts - they generally included expensive hotels, fancy restaurants and a limousine with a driver. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his predecessor Ehud Olmert, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, and MKs Dalia Itzik, Roni Bar-On and Rachel Adatto all flew abroad on behalf of Israel Bonds.
"The Bank of Israel currently holds $70 billion in foreign currency reserves, so there's no need for Israel Bonds, which brings in $1.2 billion a year," said Sheetrit. "Nowadays Israel can raise money abroad and take out loans at low interest rates."
Sheetrit rejected the claim that Israel needs the organization to maintain the connection between Diaspora Jews and the state.
"It turns out that more bonds are being purchased by American pension funds and banks than by Jews around the world," he said. "The banks and the pension funds buy the bonds because they offer attractive interest rates."
Yet another reason to do away with the organization is that it costs the state plenty to run; costs include the outfit's president, employees, offices and foreign emissaries. Sheetrit submitted a similar bill a decade ago, but the cabinet and Knesset rejected it.
Bar-On said yesterday said he went abroad with Israel Bonds several hours after finishing his term as finance minister. The trip was coordinated while he was still minister, and he asked the Knesset Ethics Board for permission to go ahead with it after finishing his term. The trip involved a large number of events and lectures, he said.
Adatto said that when she went to the United States on behalf of Israel Bonds, her schedule was full of events for the organization.
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