In Fundraising, Israel Is a Hard Sell

Political disagreements are increasingly influencing people’s choices on where to direct their money.

It is getting increasingly difficult to persuade donors, especially younger ones, to give money for Israel – this was the main conclusion one could draw from a series of “round tables” held this morning at the GA in Denver.

“If you’re over 50 you talk about the Six Day War, the creation of Israel and the saving of Ethiopian Jews, but if you’re under 50 – you have no idea what we’re talking about,” said a representative of a Midwest community federation.

JFNA Conference in Denver - Robert A. Cumins/Jewish Federations of North America - 07112011
Robert A. Cumins/Jewish Federations of North America

The round tables were held during a discussion of the JFNA’s “Global Planning Table”, a new JFNA blueprint for consultation about the allocation of contributions to the Federations, but as I’m not convinced that the participants were aware that a journalist was listening in, I will refrain from naming them. But their description of the growing distance between the younger generation of Jewish donors – and we’re talking here of people that are connected to the Federation, not disaffected Jews who have no connection to the community – was almost unanimous.

There is a general unease about giving to Israel, because it’s hard to tell what its needs are these days, said one. The younger donors don’t understand why we need to be giving to Israel, which has its own rich people and which is described, after all, as having one of the healthiest economies in the world, said another. Political disagreements, said yet a third, are increasingly influencing people’s choices on where to direct their money.

Two more interesting points that were raised: one representative of a West Coast Federation said that many of the heavy donors in the community were more interested in participating in the political arena, and are therefore directing their contributions towards the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, than in safeguarding Jewish identity, and thus giving their money to the Federations.

Another Federation representative said that there is increased pressure to provide money for the needy in the local community, even if these are not Jewish, especially in these tough economic times.