Struggling to Green Israel in the Shadow of Financial Crisis

Israel’s environmental organizations are largely dependent on foreign donations, mainly from the U.S.; maybe it’s time to change that.

The global financial crisis has illustrated the fragility of Israel’s environmental movement, which has grown significantly over the past few years. Recent weeks have been marked by increased fear on the part of local green organizations and their supporters that the crisis will have a negative effect on environmental activity in Israel, which greatly relies on funds from abroad.

“We have yet to receive any news about cuts, but my gut feeling does not bode well,” says Sigal Yaniv of the Green Environment Fund.

Beach clean up
Nir Kafri

Contrary to environmental organizations in many other countries, those in Israel do not charge membership fees or solicit local contributions. They primarily rely on the support of American foundations, which transfer their funds to investment channels such as shares, hedge funds or bonds − all of which are likely to be affected by the current crisis.

At present, Israel receives donations to the tune of more than NIS 10 million per year, most of which comes from the Bracha Fund, the Goldman Fund and the Green Environment Fund, an umbrella organization of several organizations that rely on U.S. donations.

“These types of funds tend to invest in a conservative and cautious fashion, so the financial crisis may not affect them too much,” says Martin Weyl, chairman of the Bracha Fund. “We estimate a 10-percent cutback in assistance to environmental projects and organizations.”

The Green Environment Fund, says Yaniv, grants some $1.2 million annually to local environmental bodies like the Israel Union for Environmental Defense and Green Course. She notes that even organizations like the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which relies on income generated by educational activities and guided tours, depends a lot on donations to fund its environmental activities.

“A lot of funds have already set aside money for 2009,” she says. “But we expect the effect [of the current crisis] to be felt in the future. The few donations we receive from private individuals in Israel are likely to dry up.” In addition to providing financial support for green organizations the funds also help the groups in their public and legal advocacy work, says Yaniv.

The Israel Union for Environmental Defense ‏(known in Hebrew as Adam Teva V’Din‏) is one of Israel’s largest environmental groups. More that 90 percent of its annual budget, estimated at $1.5 million, comes from funds that operate in the United States. The group does not get any funding from the government.

“In a few months, we will know how much the foundations can allocate to us,” says the group’s director, Tzipi Isser-Itzik. “I believe the crisis will have an effect.”

“During my recent meetings with U.S. donors, they told me that I had not come at a good time,” she says.

The environmental group, which employs salaried workers, is preparing a contingency plan for continued activities on a lower budget. It is also considering asking philanthropic organizations in Israel, which have traditionally limited their assistance to areas such as health and welfare, for their help. The time has come, says Isser-Itzik, for local donors to recognize the importance of contributing to Israel’s environment.