We are not completely lacking in information. We will first discuss absolute scale and then take a more disaggregated view of where Jewish donations to Israel are put to use.
We can begin to gain a concept of the scale of philanthropy to Israel by examining the most recently available data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. In 2015, philanthropic donations originating outside the country amounted to 8.3 percent of the funding for all Israeli non-profit institutions with annual budgets of over 500,000 NIS.9 This represented some 11.3 billion NIS ($2.9 billion). However, this figure does not include the funding from outside Israel to the “National Institutions” (the Jewish Agency, the Jewish National Fund, United Israel Appeal, and the World Zionist Organization) amounting to an additional 961 million NIS ($247 million).10 So, the total of external funding to the National Institutions and Israel’s largest NGOs was roughly $3.15 billion (12.26 billion NIS.)11, 12
Israel’s GDP in 2015 was approximately $300 billion. So, despite lacking full information it is probably safe to assume that donations from abroad in total amounted to only a little over 1 percent of national income. This is hardly of a relative magnitude likely to instill in the hearts of potential donors a sense of mission or imperative need. It represents a tremendous reversal (and remarkable success) compared to the first decades of the state.
On the other hand, it is precisely during the period of Israel’s most dynamic growth that we witnessed considerable increase in the scale of U.S. philanthropy toward Israel. From 265 at the end of the 1980s, the number of organizations with “American Friends” in their title grew to 436 by 2000 and 667 by 2010.13 If we look in greater detail, a more nuanced story emerges.
A groundbreaking 2012 study by Fleisch and Sasson provides us with a more discriminating lens.14 By conducting keyword-driven searches of on-line U.S. tax filings they inferred amounts transferred to several named Israeli institutions in the year 2007. This provides us with an ability to compare the size of this philanthropy to the annual scale of operations of those institutions for which public records are available. JPPI collated this information and compared it with the Fleisch and Sasson data to prepare Table 2.15
There are instances in Table 2 in which apples are being compared to oranges. The data on U.S. donations come from 2007. In the instances noted, the financial data comes from 2008 because 2007 data were not available. Further, in comparing the total of U.S. donations to an institution’s annual income, we are seeking only to give a sense of scale and relative importance, not reconstruct actual budgets. For example, the Hebron Yeshiva notes that 35 percent of their annual expenses in 2008 were met by donations from abroad. And yet the philanthropy from the U.S. alone was many times the size of the entire income claimed. While we do not have precise details in any case, such anomalies (if we are to take the publicly available records and the Fleisch and Sasson findings at face value) are explained on the one hand by the institution tallying only ready cash as income while on the other donations noted by Fleisch and Sasson may include, for example, large gifts for capital construction that do not appear on the current account. This emphasizes the need to view the table only to gain a sense of scale rather than as a comparison between accounting equivalents.
Data: Fleish and Sasson (2012); web-based searches of publicly available financial data.
Table: Jewish People Policy Institute
Notes: Data availability did not allow all cells to be calculated. Institutions were selected to cover the broad categories of institutions as well as to look across ideological or religious perspectives. For 2007, we used the exchange rate: 1 US dollar = 3.9 New Israel Shekel.
- In the instances noted, the publicly available information on annual income came from 2008.
- American Friends of Hebrew University
- American Committee for Weizmann Institute of Science
- American Associates of Ben Gurion University of the Negev
- Does not include “Participation in expenses (costs)” [presumably donations in kind]
- “Diaspora Federations”
- Does not include in income or donations “Sums that were freed from restrictions for current activities and designated goals”
- Donations equals “Incomes from Israel” plus “Income from abroad”. Note that starting in 2011, the institution reported both “Income from abroad” and “Sale of food products” which had been previously combined. “Sale of food products” in 2011 were NIS 25.1 million and “Income from abroad” NIS 18 million – by comparison, exactly the total of “Income from abroad” reported in 2011.
- The merger of two organizations that were separate in 2007-2008: the Libi Fund and the Association for the Well-being of Israeli Soldiers.
- “From donations and allocations”.
- Donations from American Friends of IDF.
- Hadassah Medical Relief Association; includes large donation for new hospital wing.
It is not surprising to find that religious institutions such as the Shalom Hartman Institute or the Hebron Yeshiva in Jerusalem are major recipients of Diaspora donations. It is a bit more surprising to find such core health service organizations as Shaare Zedek hospital, also in Jerusalem, being sustained by significant philanthropy from abroad. The data for Ben Gurion University suggests the donation of large capital construction gifts in 2007 that do not appear on the ledger of current cash donations. Only in the case of the Israel Opera and WIZO among the institutions highlighted might the philanthropy from the U.S. be characterized as of only minor importance. (But in the case of the latter, the revenue received from federations, presumably mostly in the U.S. and Canada certainly enhances the total received.)
Again, we point out the problems with this approach. Data are very hard to come by. Reconciling years, categories and types of donations as well as several different approaches to accounting are beyond the scope of this analysis. The data we do possess are not comprehensive. Only some accounts will capture donations through synagogues, direct donations, bequests and charitable annuities. Fleisch and Sasson themselves point out the possibility of errors in key word searches.
But the underlying message still comes through. In addition to religious institutions and charities, there are important Israeli organizations, such as hospitals and universities, that receive donations of a scale to be significant compared to their annual incomes. The donations from Diaspora communities could be replaced only by placing severe budgetary strain on other parts of Israel’s public and private activities. From this we derive three possible findings:
- In taking some pressure off the public budget, some of the crucial investments made by Israel during recent decades in both its defense and economic development would probably have had to have been curtailed without the release of fiscal pressure provided by foreign donations. Taxes in Israel are already high. In this sense, while the relative scale of Diaspora philanthropy may have been diminished from the earliest decades, the practical and indirect effect may still have been crucial and thus disproportionate to its size.
- It would appear that replacing overseas donations with domestic resources would be difficult over the short term. Philanthropic giving within Israel has grown over the years but would need to do so many-fold to come anywhere close to replacing the foreign component of philanthropic giving.16 And it is not at all clear that all institutions currently supported by Diaspora funding could find suitable replacements even given some time. While this might be viewed as a potential market test of relative value of such institutions as perceived by Israel’s citizens, it is also likely that some value to Israeli society would inevitably be either lost or reduced to some extent.
- We end as we began. While Diaspora giving no longer represents the balance of survival that it once did, the nature and type of institutions being supported within Israel give those on both sides of the transaction reason to feel connection and a sense of bonding. This would be true on the institutional and individual level by virtue of the sense of engagement in a joint enterprise that holds meaning for these involved in its support and delivery – whether in education, Jewish learning, health or social activism. And it would also be true in the larger sense of a feeling of bonding in the larger enterprise of ensuring a strong, resilient and growing Israel