CEO of Largest Nonprofit Army Donor Friends of the IDF Makes Over $1 Million Annually

Documents reveal that a substantial percentage of payments to Meir Klifi were described as a bonus. The organization is fully funded by donations for soldiers

FILE Photo: Maj. Gen. (res.) Meir Klifi during a press conference, 2006.
Alon Ron

The salary of Maj. Gen. (res.) Meir Klifi, the CEO of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), a non-profit organization in the United States and Panama, was about $1.1 million in 2017.

The FIDF, which is considered the largest donor organization to the IDF, is fully funded by donations designated for soldiers. Documents that Haaretz obtained indicate that a substantial percentage of the payments to Klifi, who has served as CEO for the past five years, were described as a bonus. Klifi confirmed the details, and said that in the past two years he received the entire bonus promised to him, ammounting to half a million dollars annually.

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Klifi served as a military secretary to Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu during his army service, retiring in 2010. In 2014 he was appointed the head of the FIDF, which was established in 1981 by Holocaust survivors. The organization aims to offer support for soldiers, which includes stipends for academic studies, assistance to soldiers from poverty-stricken families, support for lone soldiers, disabled soldiers and bereaved families, adopting brigades and battalions and building facilities on army bases for the welfare of the soldiers.

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Last April the members of the organization announced that in 2018, they had reached a record sum in donations - $139.3 million, which they said was designated for soldiers.

The organization raises most of its donations at gala evenings throughout the United States, which are attended by wealthy members of the Jewish community, senior IDF officers, Israeli lawmakers, government ministers, lone soldiers and combat soldiers who share their personal stories - in the hopes that donors will feel compelled to contribute to the organization.

In 2015, for example, Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, then the chief of military intelligence, arrived at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City and spoke about the Iranian threat, with members of bereaved families sitting alongside him, including Miriam Peretz. That evening the organization raised about 100 million shekels ($28 million). Last month about 700 guests gathered for an event at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago - and donated over $2 million. Klifi is not the first to benefit from these profits: In 2016 Haaretz reported that his predecessor, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak “Jerry” Gershon received $2.7 million from donations in less than six years.

In spite of that, Klifi said that “nobody is enthusiastic about this job,” and that “petty people want to make headlines” of the sums he receives. He went on to say that “if there wasn’t tremendous pressure on me to stay, I would have returned to Israel a long time ago. I had a company whose activity I froze, and I lost a lot of money. My wife, [Gila Klifi-Amir, former Chief of the General Staff’s advisor on women’s issues] who was a brigadier general in the reserves, is sitting here instead of working, and has nothing to do.”

Klifi, who confirmed that he receives more than $1 million annually from the organization, claimed that “many things are included in his salary.” He said that when he replaced Gershon in 2014 he received an annual salary of $275,000, and later his salary increased to $425,00, “according to the agreement between me and the board of directors of the NPO.” This is a basic salary that is accompanied by hefty bonuses from the donations raised by the organization, and according to Klifi the maximum bonus he can receive is half a million dollars annually.

Klifi confirmed that in the past two years he received the entire bonus, and at the same time he claimed: “The tax that I pay here is about 49 percent more than in Israel. Anyone who comes here really doesn’t come back wealthy.” In 2017 his salary totaled $1,106,685.

The former major general tried to justify the salary additions with the explanation that he “manages to raise three times as much as the second largest organization,” adding that he is the only one who receives such a salary and that the expenses for running the organization in the past year are 18 percent of his budget. Klifi said that a fundraiser in the organization earns $130,000 to $180,000 a year and an annual bonus no higher than $10,000.

“I’m proud and happy about what we’re doing here,” he said. “If it were a matter of money, I wouldn’t refuse to continue. I refused five times until I agreed to come.”

Klifi even admitted that as part of his job he flies in business class only, while the other employees of the organization fly economy class. “Personally I have an agreement for business flights,” he said. “Had I not succeeded in raising more money, they would have said that I failed, so when there’s fundraising - one can also say that it’s thanks to me, after staff work that I did for the long term. I’m at peace with my salary. I didn’t suggest the contract. I received what they offered me - and maybe it’s worth checking how things were here in the past.”