Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ordinary Citizens Need Not Apply

I read in the newspaper last week now the US Chief Negotiator on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Martin Indyk, met with a group of Jewish leaders to brief them on the "tightly held" details of what was being proposed by Secretary of State John Kerry. A few days before, New York’s new mayor Bill de Blasio, who had run for office pledging a new openness and transparency for the city government spoke privately at a dinner hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The gathering was not on the mayor’s public schedule, received no advanced publicity, and was closed to outsiders. A journalist who succeeded in entering was forcibly removed from the premises. At the meeting de Blasio went way over the top even for a New York politician, saying that it is "part of [his] job description to be a defender of Israel" and that AIPAC "would always have a friend and ally at City Hall." He went on to assert that defending Israel is "elemental to being an American because there is no greater ally on earth."

How de Blasio, a lifelong progressive, squares his commitment to undying fealty to AIPAC with his undoubted knowledge that the group is possibly the most virulent advocate of war with Iran this side of the Israeli government itself might best be left to his conscience, if he has one. And if there was any doubt that there is something rotten in New York, the State Senate meanwhile passed a bill by a vote of 56 to 4 rejecting the use of state funds to support any institution that boycotts "certain countries or their higher education institutions." Senator Jeffrey Klein, the bill’s co-sponsor boasted that he would "not allow the enemies of Israel or the Jewish people to gain an inch in New York." The bill is directed against attempts to divest from or boycott Israeli institutions but it clearly in Klein’s view does not apply to those who are taking every possible step to cripple Iran prior to attacking it.

It should also be noted that New York State, though lacking a foreign policy, is not exactly a disinterested observer of what goes on in the world. Thanks to folks like Klein and the former New York City and New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi the city and state have been using pension funds to invest in Israel Bonds, which are widely regarded as a huge Ponzi scheme in that they pay the interest for older bond issues by issuing new bonds, which will eventually result in a huge and unsustainable balloon of money due. As the bonds are dollar denominated, Israel can default without any damage to its own economy, making it a bit like being able to print money without actually having to do so. Meanwhile, the income from the purchase of the bonds goes to Israel tax free and can be used for anything, including settlement expansion. It is all part and parcel of the enormous cash flow from the US to Israel, much of it invisible, that occurs every year, but in this case the money frequently comes from state and city pension funds.

For what it’s worth, Hevesi was recently released from prison after being convicted of a $1 million pension fund fraud. Watching the shenanigans of those in power suggests that those who have gained most from New York State’s largesse tend to be those who have the political power and access to have their interests served, no matter how parochial or unwise, while the taxpayer and state pensioners will ultimately be left holding the bag when the Israel bonds eventually do a Madoff.

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