In diverse US state capitals from Sacramento to Columbus, elsewhere to in between, bipartisan legislators have been voting to divest from Russian assets. Indeed, they are demonstrating what is sorely lacking in the Duma in Moscow and in oblasts across the Russian Federation multiparty parliamentary democracy.
In our state of Maryland, the State Retirement and Pension System has held as much as $28 million in Russian stocks and bonds. State officials testified before the General Assembly at the outset of the war that their intention was to divest entirely. Furthermore, the Legislature passed a bill to require at least a $7 million divestment. As the value of Russian assets are in a freefall, this is not only a smart decision as fiduciaries of state retirees, but it sends a powerful message. That is to say that Maryland does not condone the senseless, aggression, destruction and killing of a sovereign nation by a foreign dictator.
This is not the first time that Maryland has taken the policy and fiscal action to sell off its foreign assets. In fact, the Divestiture from Iran and Sudan Act (a bill which we sponsored or supported respectively) was approved by the Maryland General Assembly and immediately signed by the Governor in 2008. As its title indicates, it mandated that the state pension system divest from businesses in Iran or Sudan respectively. Furthermore, Shoshana Cardin, who among other roles, served as a presidential adviser on Soviet relations, testified in favor of the Iran divestiture legislation. If she were still with us, we are confident she would have continued to be a strong voice in using our pension investments for social policy and fiscal stability.
Now, the question is where best to invest these important pension funds? Policymaking can be both reactionary and proactive. Too often public policy is focused on the former. Yet, this change in investment gives us a chance to focus on the latter.
For over two decades, our Jewish community in and around Baltimore has long had a relationship with the Jewish community in Odesa. Our families have supported efforts to care for Holocaust survivors and building summer programs for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Before the war began, Odesa, a diverse port city just like Baltimore, was home to 40,000 Jews.
The future for Jews and non-Jews in Odesa and communities across Ukraine remains painfully uncertain. In times of crisis, we were raised to reflect on the meaning of the prayer, “Acheinu kol Beit Yisrael” (“Our brothers, the whole House of Israel”). The image of all Jews and all humanity living as siblings together is one we have thought about over sleepless nights since the war began.
What is certain is twofold: Israel will always accept Jews in trouble and that democratically elected Israeli legislators share the same values that American elected officials in our state capitals share.
One way to be proactive in our policymaking is to challenge state legislatures pension fiduciaries to invest these divested Russian assets creatively. Further investment in Israel Bonds is smart, creative and secure.
Over the years, nearly 100 US state and municipal pension and treasury funds have invested more than $3 billion in Israel bonds. This is a secure investment. Israel has never defaulted on its obligations. It is a transparent democracy grounded in free market principles. Israel bonds offer both competitive and integrated returns. They provide multiple investment instruments that have proven appealing to managers of diverse public pension funds nationwide.
Most importantly, the antithesis of investment in Russia is investment in Israel. Israel is a country smaller than many American states and smaller than Moscow. Yet, it has a diverse democratically elected legislature that has enacted public policy allowing for the absorption of diverse refugees in times of crisis.
It is our hope that Maryland will speedily invest all or part of the recently divested Russian assets in Israel Bonds. This will be a model to not just for other states, but also send a strong signal from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay to the shores of the Black Sea to the shores of the Mediterranean that we stand for freedom, democracy and smart investment.
Delegate Jon S. Cardin represents Baltimore County in the Maryland General Assembly. Ari Mittleman is the author of Paths of the Righteous by Gefen Publishing House.