Monday, June 29, 2009

American Philanthropy in Israel

There's a fellow who has been writing me recently to convince me, I suppose, of his opinion. His thesis is that American Jews should be donating to worthy causes near home and in their own communities, while Israel should wean itself of its dependence on them.

It's a compelling argument, and I can see his point. Except he's missing most of the picture.

The national budget weaving its way through the Knesset these days is for almost $64billion. I've spent the past half hour or so Googling to find how much American Jews give annually to Israeli philanthropic causes (investing, supporting one's children who are in Israel, maintaining an apartment here and so on, don't count as philanthropy). Or for that matter, all Jews outside Israel. I'm somewhat out of my depth, and short of spare time, so I haven't found the number. But by all accounts I have found, it lies somewhere between 1-5% of the total. Probably closer to the lower sum.

Which means at least 95% of the financial cost of having a Jewish State is covered by the people who live in it. (Not to mention other types of cost, such as defending it). This is as it should be: states and their citizens are meant to cover their costs. But it does raise a different question: if the entire effort of having a Jewish State and 95% of its cost is borne by the 45% of the Jews who live in it, in what way do the others participate? Not by coming here often, alas: something like 80% of America's Jews have never been here, not even once.

I agree with my correspondent that philanthropy, or what used to be called "check-book Zionism", is not the best way for America's Jews to participate in the most important Jewish effort of the past 2,000 years. Investing here, coming often, owning an apartment and spending time here most years, sending each child to study one year at one of our fine universities or yeshivas – all these and many other options are preferable to the check-book variant of Zionism. But they're also all more time consuming, more of an effort, and probably costlier in an immediate way, though eventually they give far better returns.

Philanthropy is a time honored tradition in Judaism. If a majority of America's Jews have decided to marginalize themselves from the Zionist project, I wouldn't try to break one of the most important bonds they still do have (if they do). They need the connection.


Shalom, Cherry Hill said...

You're absolutely right.

My kids go to public school in NJ, and many of the Jewish kids there do not seem very connected to Israel. Part of the problem may be the liberal mindset of many teachers, so even if they don't speak about the Mid East, the general environment is not conducive to that strong identity. After all, they're very busy worrying about global warming and how to be politically correct.

My boys have been there twice already, my daughter once. This summer the older two will be on a four week NCSY tour before I pick them up for another couple of weeks with my third son. They've stayed in the homes of relatives--some of whom had to temporarily relocate because of the rockets out of Gaza. They know that my wife and I lived in Israel and met and married there. They know that I served in the army, and at least 2 are thinking about it as well.
Whether one likes Netanyahu or not, they know that he was absolutely right in saying that Israel did not come about because of the Holocaust, but if there had been an Israel there may not have been a Holocaust.

I wish that it worked out and that we had stayed--but the next generation will be as strongly connected as we are, G-d willing.

LB said...

Another point to consider is the amount of money invested by Israel in order to raise these funds from Jewish communities around the world.

I do not know if this is still accurate, but about 15 years ago Matti Golan said that Israel actually spends more money on trying to secure donations than it actually receives, making American Jewish philantropy to Israel a net negative figure.

ironi burgani said...

Aren't you forgetting donations from the US government?

Yaacov said...

No, Ironi. Those are a different issue. You're talking about the more than 2 billion $ of military support. That's probably more than America's Jews give Israel; it's still only some 3% of Israel's budget; and most of it has to be spent on buying American kit - which means, it's a roundabout subsidy by the Federal government for American military industries.

Anonymous said...

it may be a subsidy but the hardware is in Irael and hopefully usable -
but that raises the question how secure is the supply of spare parts
if Obama gets stubborn in his pedagogy can he kind of imperceptibly make supply of maintenance stuff more difficult?
so it is not only a roundabout business but it is also a compliance insurance for the Americans
sorry, I just do not trust sure-about-the-solution-guys like Rahm Emanuel and as to settlements this applies to Jeffrey Goldberg probably also