THE CONVERSATION via AP — American Jews donate heavily to charity. One of the ways they support causes in the United States, Israel and elsewhere is collectively, often through large granting organizations.
In researching this organized philanthropy, I have observed that the proportion of Jewish institutional giving to Israeli causes has declined since 2009. I believe that several factors, including demographic and social changes, a decreasing perception of Israel as in need and concern over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has likely been driving this decline for years.
More recently, Israel’s increasingly conservative policies on social and religious issues, which are often at odds with what most American Jews support, may also play a role.
A tradition of accompaniment
American Jews proved a major source of philanthropic support for the Israeli state and Israeli society throughout the 20th century. A network of Jewish fundraising and advocacy groups has long organized collective donations and lobbying efforts.
These groups make large donations to large Israeli nonprofits, such as the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Joint Distribution Committee, which then distribute to smaller local nonprofits.
However, knowledge about the true extent of Jewish philanthropic contributions to Israel is limited. Data collected by my colleagues at Brandeis University shows a steady increase from $1.05 billion a year in 1975 to $2.05 billion in 2007 in real dollars.
And data from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics indicates that charitable donations to organizations in Israel, from sources in the United States and other foreign countries, have steadily increased – from 1.95 billion dollars in 2009 to $2.91 billion in 2015.
A smaller part
I’m leading a study with a colleague from Brandeis University, Matthew Brookner, in conjunction with the Institute of Law and Philanthropy at Tel Aviv University. Together, we explore patterns and trends in Jewish grantmaking to Israeli causes that have not been fully understood until now.
To understand Jewish donations to Israel, we extracted data using the Foundation Search database, which provided us with large amounts of digitized financial information.
Federations and foundations
To see what’s changing in these types of giving, we’ve broken down the data into large grants over $500,000 and small grants. Our initial results are based on an analysis of 21,062 major grants awarded by 1,235 Jewish funding organizations between 2000 and 2015, totaling $46.3 billion.
We found that the total scope of donations for Israel increased between 2000 and 2015. As more money is given to Israeli causes, the share of Jewish donations going to Israel from overall contributions – which also includes Jewish causes outside of Israel and non-Jewish charities – declined.
Among other things, we found that the main organizations funding Israeli causes are still the Jewish Federations, community-based fundraising institutions that operate in most metropolitan areas of North America. These federations gave Israeli causes a total of $2.3 billion between 2000 and 2015.
But donations from private foundations and intermediary organizations – intermediaries that transfer donations to other groups – now compete with this source of income. These types of donors each provided $2.2 billion in support during this period.
Two-thirds of grants supporting Israeli causes went to US-based organizations, such as Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. We also found the spikes we expected to see in major grants to Israeli causes in the years 2002 and 2003, 2006 to 2008, and 2011.
These revivals coincided with major events, including the Second Intifada, the Second Lebanon War, and the Gaza conflict in 2008 and 2009.
Giving, however, plummeted after the Great Recession. The only point of difference at this time followed the devastating Mount Carmel wildfire in 2010 near the Israeli city of Haifa.
change of pace
Although American Jews give even more to Israel in wartime emergencies, we have not seen similar spikes in donations following a major military operation in Gaza in 2012 or in 2014 when the conflict in Gaza has erupted again.
And overall, the proportion of Jewish donations going to Israeli causes as a share of donations is decreasing, as is the share of donations going to non-Jewish causes. Meanwhile, donations to Jewish causes outside of Israel are increasing.
In fact, only 9% of organized Jewish giving went to Israeli causes in 2015. In comparison, 58% supported non-Jewish causes and 32% supported Jewish causes outside of Israel.
This decline in the share of donations to Israeli causes was evident as early as 2009, excluding the sharp increase in donations in 2011 caused by the Mount Carmel wildfire.
A growing divide
To explain this decline in giving, one must acknowledge the existence of political, economic, and demographic trends impacting American Jewish philanthropy. Moreover, Israel is in many ways becoming more socially, politically and religiously conservative, exacerbating the points of contention between many American Jews, who are more likely to be liberal than conservative, and Israel.
Among the deepest disagreements is what conversion to Judaism should require to be recognized by the Israeli government – which has implications for whether foreign Jews have the right to immigrate to and live there. live as citizens.
After the question “Who is a Jew?” been hotly debated in the United States and Israel for more than three decades, the Knesset – Israel’s parliament – granted the Chief Rabbinate, an ultra-Orthodox government establishment, a monopoly on the process of converting to Judaism in summer 2017.
This decision completely excluded Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist conversions, raising objections from American Jewish leaders. Although Israel subsequently delayed enacting the bill, the criticism voiced by many American Jews has not waned.
Another source of friction between the two largest Jewish communities in the world is the continued efforts of non-Orthodox Jewish denominations to create a space for prayer shared by women and men at the Western Wall, a holy site in Israel.
Former US President Donald Trump’s policy toward Israel has deepened this divide, not least because of his decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
More erosion to come
Israel’s increasingly conservative social and religious policies could gradually erode Jewish philanthropic support for Israeli causes.
I believe this trend will only grow, following the passage of a surrogacy law that instituted state support for surrogacy pregnancies – excluding gay men seeking to become fathers.
Another contentious law may have an even deeper impact. He declared that the Jewish people have the exclusive right to self-determination in Israel. Its passage sparked massive protests in Israel and drew objections from some of the most prominent American Jewish organizations.