It would seem as if it should be a straightforward exercise to track the amount of Diaspora philanthropic funding to Israel since 1948 and determine its importance to the economy over time.7
It is not.
Such philanthropy can take many different forms only some of which are routinely tracked. Focusing primarily on the United States, while there are some federal reporting requirements to qualify for tax deductions and to protect the status of not-for-profits that may be involved in such transfers, much giving goes unreported, especially if it derives from individuals. Further, neither in the U.S. nor Israel do the authorities characterize international transfers coming from Jewish donors separately from those coming from all sources. To determine what the scale of philanthropy from North American or other Diaspora sources might have been over the years, to say nothing of determining the destination and use of such funds when reaching Israel, would require detective work on a heroic scale.
Another complicating factor is the at-first-surprising reticence of individuals and organizations on both sides of the transactions to discuss sources and amounts received. Private discussion by JPPI staff with both Diaspora donors and Israeli recipients make clear the sources of this unwillingness. On the donor side, there is reluctance to find themselves in a contest of comparison over the size of donations. This is true to some degree even with donor-directed gifts but in the case of third-party organizations that aggregate donations from many individuals there is also fear of alienating potential giving. As stated by the director of a large source of Jewish philanthropy to Israel, “I don’t need to have my donors on the left know how much we send across the Green Line [to settlements on the West Bank] nor my donors on the right the amount of our support to Hand in Hand [the operator of joint Jewish-Arab primary schools within Israel proper.]”
A similar and at times matching set of concerns make Israeli recipient organizations equally taciturn. Once again, there is reluctance to open oneself to comparison with other recipient organizations within the same sector: who receives more? There may also be at times a desire to protect the (real or imagined) exclusivity an Israeli organization might seem to enjoy with specific donors by not fully identifying those providing them with philanthropy. Of course, there are many instances in which it benefits both parties to publicize particular gifts or connections between foundations and Israeli institutions. But the prevailing ethic appears to be to take a low-key approach to both transparency and publicity beyond what is required by law.
This brings up a further complication. In recent years, foreign support to Israeli institutions, particularly those in the so-called “third sector” (NGOs), has become a matter of political debate. The passage of the NGO Law in 2016 requires non-profits that receive the bulk of their funding from abroad to disclose that fact publicly. Further efforts have been made to ban such donations outright. These efforts largely target NGOs identified as being on the left of the political spectrum and focus on donations from foreign governments.8 Nevertheless, the current environment has become even less conducive for either donors or recipients to speak openly about the flows of funds from outside to Israel.
And there is one more reason shared by all parties to the transaction to avoid specific discussion of amounts: the remarkable growth of Israel’s economy. The total of philanthropy from the Diaspora to Israel, even if growing, will pale compared to the magnitude of Israel’s GDP. There is a fear held by coordinating organizations on the donor side as well as by recipients on the other that potential donors will conclude that Israel no longer requires such support.
Such may well be the case in aggregate. But there is a case to be made that contributions to specific sectors remain significant and that the Diaspora funding provides an important link between world Jewry and that of Israel.