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Palm Beach Residents Sue County Over Its Israel Investments

A group of Palm Beach residents are suing the Florida county over its $700 million investment in Israeli bonds.

“The people here are the grittiest, most powerful organizers I’ve had the privilege of seeing,” a local activist told Mondoweiss.

In the first legal action of its kind, a group of Palm Beach residents are suing the Florida county over its massive investment in Israeli bonds.

Palm Beach has invested $700 million in the bonds, 22 times more than any other county in the United States.

On May 15, dozens of local organizers and human rights advocates gathered outside the county’s courthouse for a press conference announcing the move.

David Piña, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, told the crowd that Comptroller and Clerk of the Circuit Court Joseph Abruzzo had put 15% of the county’s investments in Israeli bonds.

“[Abruzzo] has has not only failed us morally, he’s also violated two state statutes in the process,” Piña explained.

Residents point out that Palm Beach is sinking money into a genocide while the local community suffers. The county is currently in the midst of a housing crisis, and homelessness has increased in the region. A December 2023 story in the Palm Beach Post revealed that Palm Beach was running a $732 million budget deficit. At that point Abruzzo had already invested $160 million into Israeli bonds, after the deficit was announced he invested another $540 million.

“The reality is very frustrating because we see a lack of public transportation and infrastructure,” Alice, a local resident and organizer with the group Break the Bonds, told Mondoweiss. “We’re not taking care of our health and well-being of people in the community. We’re not feeding our community. There are so many other ways to invest these dollars.”

“As a result of the deficit they are now canceling critical infrastructure projects such as community centers, animal shelters, bridges, and repairing roads because they don’t have any liquid funds available to cover it,” said Lydia, another local resident and member of Break the Bonds. “The deficit amount is suspiciously close to what the comptroller invested. And these Israel bonds and now is no longer you know available to the community. All of South Florida currently has a horrible housing problem. I believe there’s roughly 21 evictions every week because developers are constantly gouging prices.”

In recent months, Israeli bonds have emerged as a target of activists. Last year, the human rights group Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) called on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the Development Corporation for Israel (DCI), the New York-based underwriter of debt securities issued by the country, for being an unregistered foreign agent.

“Israel Bonds is a sophisticated operation to enlist American public support for Israel’s political projects while dodging the minimal transparency and scrutiny our laws require,” said DAWN’s Director of Advocacy for Israel/Palestine, Adam Shapiro, in a statement at the time. “Americans need to know that foreign government agents are lobbying to change U.S. laws and to solicit their political and financial support for Israel’s occupation, apartheid policies and human rights abuses.”

Earlier this month, the bondholders voted to divest from the bonds, and there’s currently a rank-and-file movement within the United Auto Workers (UAW) pushing the union to do the same.

In Florida, activists find themselves up against a daunting political landscape.

Governor Ron DeSantis refers to himself as “the most pro-Israel governor” in the United States. He visited the country multiple times as a Congress member, brought a delegation to Jerusalem for a Florida Cabinet meeting in 2019, and passed a bill designed to censor criticism of Israel in public schools. He’s embraced the state’s anti-BDS law and slapped sanctions on companies that stopped doing business in the occupied West Bank. Last October, Governor Ron DeSantis coordinated with the State University System of Florida to call for campus Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters to be deactivated in the state.

In March, the state’s legislature codified the controversial IHRA working definition of antisemitism, which classifies some criticisms of Israel as antisemitic.

“I feel very grateful to be organizing alongside such smart, amazing, and curious people, but it can also be very scary and challenging,” said Alice. “It can be really discouraging, but I hope that the more we work, the more we will be able to facilitate dialogue and have conversations.”

“I think this is the most important thing for me…working on this effort and seeing how we can all work together to uplift our community, because this type of investment is just not sustainable,” she added. “Whether it’s Palestine or anywhere else, we need to take care of each other.”

“I think the people here are the grittiest, most powerful organizers I’ve had the privilege of seeing anywhere in this country,” said Lydia. “They just have so many cards stacked against them in terms of this really fascist government, but because of that, we are forced to organize in a certain context, and I think that helps us get to the root of political problems. We’re really asking fundamental questions like, ‘How do we combat fascism? How do we combat authoritarianism?’”

Activists say that Abruzzo has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit. In a statement, the comptroller called the lawsuit “frivolous” and said he expects it to be dismissed.

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