Hillsborough Votes to OK Buying Israel Bonds

TAMPA -- Hillsborough County Commissioners have passed an ordinance allowing the county to invest surplus funds in Israel bonds.

The vote followed a contentious public hearing with plenty of comment on both sides of the issue. Supporters say Israeli securities are a safe, conservative investment, as the nation has never defaulted. The state of Florida and several counties are currently Israel bondholders. Opponents pointed to the war with Hamas in Gaza to reject the move on political and economic grounds. Others objected to investments in any foreign country when the county has outstanding needs with infrastructure, water and housing. Several speakers called Israel an "apartheid state". One claimed that Hillsborough deputies had cross-rained with the Israel Defense Forces and complained about demonstrators at USF being tear-gassed to clear out an encampment on campus.

Commissioners then debated the measure among themselves. Michael Owen, who introduced the ordinance, said there are safeguards in place, including a two-percent cap on Israel bonds and an investment committee and a consultant who will advise on any purchases. Fellow commissioner Joshua Wostal says the county invests in ways his disagrees with, including its position in Apple. "I've heard members from (one side) of the community consistently bash another part of the community... none of the rhetoric addressed... January of 2006, when (Palestinians in Gaza) voluntarily voted in Hamas, a terrorist organization."

Speakers interrupted Owen and Wostal and shouted after the Israel bonds vote, and were ushered out by deputies on the orders of commission chair Ken Hagan.

The vote was 6-1 with Pat Kemp voting no. "I'm concerned that this board has created a controversy about county bonds and finances, that we shouldn't have," Kemp said.

Photo: Hillsborough County Government

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