This year continued a trend begun with last year’s election in Israel of domestic economic and social concerns playing an unaccustomed leading role in public discourse. The combination of slowing growth, in part a result of the continuing sluggish European return to economic health but also of structural issues in Israel’s economy, and increasing focus on emerging disparities in income and opportunity, kept such issues in the public focus. The question remains whether Israel will be able to regain the aggressive growth path of the past decade or will it shift to a rate more typical of the OECD average. Periods of slower growth usually see disparities between earning power and wealth growth.9
From the Jewish people perspective, such developments in Israel are important by virtue of Israel’s position in the global Jewish community. They also carry implications for the extent to which Israel grows into a more leading role in supporting specifically Jewish interests and initiatives both at home and abroad. Economics certainly play a significant (but not the sole) role in the ongoing debates about greater integration of the Haredi sector into Israel’s society and labor force.
In the other global Jewish communities, particularly in the U.S., the trend JPPI has previously pointed to regarding the allocation of Jewish funding – the increasingly explicit discussion about sources and uses – has grown. Although the recent economic crisis has largely passed, the quiet debate about resource sufficiency and allocation grows. It was brought most forcefully to the attention of the wider public in a series of articles appearing in the Forward in early 2014, as is discussed in the main section of the annual assessment.
JPPI’s own research reported in this annual assessment shows that once social welfare needs are met, the biggest tradeoff in use of federation funds is between what goes to Israel and what is necessary to bolster Jewish identity and continuity within the U.S. This transition in both the U.S. and Israel found expression in June 2014 when the Government of Israel-World Jewry Joint Initiative was announced. Drawing on a conceptual framework designed by JPPI in 2009, the government decision is based on a planning process that began in 2012. Designed to strengthen Jewish identity among the young and enhance connections to Israel, the fact that an initiative of this scale (a projected 570 million shekels) is being proposed makes clear the connection between the issues of Diaspora identity and community bonds and the need, therefore, for comprehensive decision-making. In any event the JPPI’s research made clear that resources available to Diaspora communities are becoming constrained.
When asked to assess the changes over the year in this dimension of Jewish people material resources and uses, most respondents indicated a situation of little or no net change (55%). Of the others, the preponderance felt the situation was either somewhat or significantly improved. The reason most often cited was the discovery and exploitation of Israel’s fossil fuel resources followed closely by Israel’s standing as an emerging technology hub. The economic condition of Israel’s citizens was cited as both a positive and a negative (with the former dominating.) The results were more equivocal on the non-Israel part of the Jewish people resource equation. Those citing factors such as the willingness to support Jewish institutions by private donations, the level of private donations, the changes in the nature of philanthropy itself and the relations between the U.S. and Israel were fairly evenly split on whether these were trends moving in a positive or negative direction. Changes in the nature or perception of Jewish community institutions were cited as negatives by those who highlighted this factor; no respondent viewed this as positive.
We register a slight negative change this year on this dimension’s gauge.