Open thread: the significance and insignificance of Diaspora funding

Diaspora philanthropy to Israel is part of my profession. Here are some little known facts about this element of the Israel-Diaspora relationship:

  • Israel’s state budget is $62 billion. The country’s per capita GDP in 2010 was $29,500.
  • The federation system contributes around $300 million to government services in Israel. (That’s roughly .005% of its state budget.)
  • Yet philanthropic experts anecdotally estimate that 90% of Israel’s nonprofit sector is funded from the Diaspora, including its social change and human rights sector.
  • Israeli politicians receive roughly half of their campaign war chests from American donors, and a disproportionate amount to right-wing parties.
  • Approximately $250 million in Diaspora funds has gone to the settlement enterprise alone.

It seems clear that Israel doesn’t need our money for day-to-day services. And that the overwhelming majority of our contributions to it go towards influencing its politics — right or left.
Open thread: Does Israel really need our money? Discuss.

9 thoughts on “Open thread: the significance and insignificance of Diaspora funding

  1. 1/ Can I assume from point 3 that virtually no one in Israel contibutes to Israel’s ‘social change and human rights sector’.
    Is this true, and if so why?
    2/ Are groups like JStreet doing anything about point 4? If not, why not?
    I wonder to what extent at least some older wealthy Jews give to Israel because their own children have left the Jewish fold and this is their way of at least leaving some of their fortunes to MOT’s.
    Much in the way that many non-Orthodox Jews give to Chabad.

  2. A few points.
    Israel used to be a fairly comprehensive welfare state. The American notion that nonprofits need to hold bake sales so that schools are funded or the homeless get social services just hasn’t been part of the DNA of that society. That’s changed; in many ways there is more room for a third sector because the state has not grown to meet evolving standards and greater needs.
    Secondly, political party patronage used to actually work; sectors that needed help figured out how to bargain for it as a sector. It didn’t work well for everyone, but look what it did for large families and yeshiva buchers.
    Third, one disturbing aspect of the US and foreign funding of Israelis ngo sector is the ngo-ization of political life. Fewer Israelis join parties. When they do, fewer of them are ‘routinely’ active beyond primary voting or dues paying. Back in the day, far more citizens were deeply involved in social issues through union activities, apt. coop boards, kibbutz committees, party activities, sports leagues, etc.
    Fourth, I’m all in favor of American money getting involved in Israeli politics. I for one, would be happy to have American Jews fund my political projects. It’s kind of a dream of mine to do a kickstarter thing where folks in NYC pay for me to travel to Israel and help Dov Khenin during the next elections. Fun!

  3. JG, funny you should mention Israeli civic participation. I just saw a presentation today that noted only 300,000 Israelis participated in primaries, and only three parties offered primaries — Likud, Labor, Kadima. (We were discussing how easy it would be to strengthen Israeli commitment to democracy if progressives organized better within the existing party system. Notably, we asked at the end of the presentation if there was a way American Jews could help other than giving money. The answer: “No. Give us money.” Par for course, even with Israeli progressives.)
    And I met Dov Hanin last August. A very smart man. Worth reporting here, he seemed uninterested in seeking funding from the Diaspora, even though his opponents are obviously dependent upon it. This is more evidence to me that there is a mutual lack by progressives — there and here — to support each other. I wonder if that’s an ideological thing, a cultural shortcoming or poor planning?

  4. Dov’s opponents are other members of Hadash who more strongly support another ‘top four’ candidate on the list. And since there is no Hadash primary, you can’t really support him in that.
    But…. funding for nonprofits that Khenin is strongly connected to would enable him to hire ‘friends’ who in their part time can be supportive within Hadash structures. In other words, help him (or some other person) create a stronger patronage network with nonprofit money.
    For example, the cultural entity in Tel-Aviv called The Left Bank is pretty much tied to Hadash. Let’s raise money for that place, enabling them to hire more staff at comfortable salaries with the expectation that at least some of the time they support electoral endeavors.
    FYI, it works pretty similarly with Meretz/Labor and entities like Peace Now. Janet Aviad, a leader with Peace Now was running the CRB foundation and handing out grants for peace making activities in the late 90s. Trust me when I say that the CRB folks knew exactly what she was using her position to strengthen the Labor/Meretz camp via c3 funding. I witnessed the politicized decision making on grants up close.
    (Can you tell I’ve put thought into this?)

  5. Right-wing American Jews say that you shouldn’t tell Israel what to do. “Support whatever Israel wants to do,” that sort of thing.
    Yet, of the money that American Jews spend on Israel political campaigns, the majority of it comes from right-wing Americans.
    Anyone else see a disconnect here?

  6. @JG
    Thirteenth Knesset (results: June 23 1992)
    Labor 44 seats
    Meretz 12 seats
    Eighteenth Knesset (results: Feb 10 2009)
    Labor 13 seats
    New Movement-Meretz 3 seats
    Looks like Charles Bronfman is as big a failure with his inherited money as is his nephew Edgar Jr., the boy genius.
    Will Labor and Meretz wind up like the Montreal Expos, another CRB crash and burn?
    Maybe you get get Edgar Jr’s daughter-in-law M.I.A. to help fund your activities. That is if the money isn’t being used already to bail out Warner Music Group.
    What a disaster the descendants of ‘Mister Sam’ have turned out to be. No wonder they associated themselves with the Israeli left.

  7. The irony in all this is that the ones who want to cut Israel off from U.S. funding the most are the extreme right-wing RZ settlers who believe American money is too much of a leash.

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