Sale of bonds touted as only way for Israel to grow

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NEW YORK — To attract immigrants over the next decade, Israel needs to expand its infrastructure, argues Gideon Patt, the new president of the State of Israel Bonds.

The capital provided by Israel Bonds will be vital to that endeavor, argues Patt, especially after U.S. loan guarantees come to an end.

U.S. loan guarantees of $10 billion have paid for the absorption of a huge wave of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and have left Israel with "a more or less easy situation," says Patt.

Such a "no-strings-attached" source of credit meant Israel got a better deal in borrowing money it needed from banks.

But that flow is slated to end in two years, he points out.

At the same time, in order to maintain its current economic pace and standard of living, Israel will have to mobilize more than $2.5 billion a year for the foreseeable future, says Patt.

Bonds will prove indispensable, says Patt. After the loan guarantees, they are seen as "the next most reliable source" of capital, he says.

They provide $1 billion a year for infrastructure development and help secure countless more investment dollars, and investment is the key to Israel's future.

Only by "doubling its infrastructure in the next 10 to 15 years" will Israel "be a place Jews will be attracted to," Patt says.

Only then will it be in a position to take in the 1 million Jews who remain in the former Soviet Union who could be enticed to come "if they look and see their brothers and sisters are doing well."

Patt, an economist who served in the Knesset for 26 years and has held a Cabinet post in the Begin, Shamir and Peres governments, speaks with authority and ease about the importance of bonds, more than $17 billion of which has been sold over the years, he notes.

A graduate of New York University, he is on familiar turf in his Manhattan office.

In a recent interview there, Patt draws on his pipe and digresses with evident relish to talk about the changes he has witnessed over the years in the relations between American Jews and Israelis.

He makes it clear that he will exert his influence not to let the politics of the Israeli religious pluralism debate rear its head at Bonds, as it has in other diaspora organizations.

Besides, "politics," he quips, matter far less in bonds sales "than interest rates."

He boasts of the cooperation in Bonds' rabbinic Cabinet, which represents the multiple Jewish streams, and says, "If you're mad at Shas, you can't take it out on immigrants or ports or roads."

Shas is the Orthodox Party sponsoring conversion legislation in the Knesset, which has sparked the ire among non-Orthodox diaspora Jewry.

Bonds, he adds, are "very positive cement" in the relationship between the American Jewish community and Israel.

"To detach from Israel is to detach from something which is the center of Judaism."

Israel, he adds, is now a better risk and bonds enjoy a good standing in the financial world because they furnish a reasonable rate of return, and because of Israel's strong economy.