Sparked by fund-raising events nationwide, the State of Israel Bonds drive to attract individual buyers rather than institutional investors is paying dividends. Last year, 95,000 Jews purchased a total of $600 million in bonds, compared with about 55,000 in 1997. Banks, meanwhile, bought only $31 million last year — 3.4 percent of the $920 million sold — after purchasing $300 million two years earlier. Pension funds and city and state governments bought the rest last year.
With figures indicating that as many as one-fourth of immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union are not Jewish, the government of Israel is about to embark on a program to teach prospective immigrants Hebrew, Israeli culture and Judaism.
“These are courses in Judaism, they are not for conversion,” said Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israel’s minister for Israeli Society and Jewish Communities. “Of course, there may be some non-Jews who might wish to continue their studies for the purpose of conversion once they are in Israel.”
This was to have been the weekend Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was to meet with Palestinian President Yasir Arafat to sign the framework of a peace treaty. Instead, it was a week that saw Palestinians break off further peace talks and that found Barak in northern Israeli bomb shelters, commiserating with Israelis ordered there for fear of a Hezbollah rocket attack from Lebanon.
In the midst of fending off a no-confidence vote this week in the Knesset over his party’s alleged campaign finance abuses, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was informed that three Israeli soldiers had been killed in a fierce Hezbollah terrorist attack in southern Lebanon. Another Israeli soldier had been killed there just a week earlier.
The criminal investigation launched against Ezer Weizman, Israel’s president for the past seven years and one of its most respected leaders, has rocked a country that was recently stunned by the very public probe of its former prime minister. And coming on top of a series of other high-profile corruption cases, it has forced many Israelis to question whether their nation has lost its moral compass.
Speculation that an Israel-Syria peace treaty could cost up to $65 billion was brushed aside by Sen. Arlen Specter following a trip to Israel, but the Pennsylvania Republican said a way would be found to come up with the necessary funding from a host of nations.
In addition to wanting to get back the Golan Heights, Syrian President Hafez Assad also is hoping that normalized relations with Israel will help improve the faltering Syrian economy —and Israeli officials already are preparing for that.
“We are mapping the Syrian economy to see what kind of trade avenues could be opened,” said Reuven Horesh, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Industry and Trade.
Noting that foreign investment in Israel doubled following peace conferences in 1991 and again in 1993, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said he is determined to double it again — “possibly in this very decade” — as a result of a new momentum generated in the peace process.
In his most revealing comments to date, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has outlined plans to his cabinet and to President Bill Clinton that pave the way for a demilitarized Palestinian state on 70 to 80 percent of the West Bank. That is about 25 percent more land than his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, was publicly willing to cede.
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