For First Time in Its History, Israel Forced to Seek Donors to Fund Anniversary Celebrations

Ministers back plan for 70th-birthday events in 2018, but not before complaining that treasury failed to allocated state funds.

A rehearsal for an event celebrating Israel's 60th anniversary in 2008. That year's events cost 150 million shekels and were funded by the state.
Sebastian Scheiner/AP

The cabinet backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal Sunday to raise tens of millions of dollars from private donors to fund Israel’s 70th anniversary celebrations in 2018, after ministers traded barbs over who was to blame for the state’s failure to fund it.

This will be the first time in Israel’s history that it has relied on gifts from abroad, even as Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev said the celebrations would “express Israel’s strength and amazing achievements – from a society of refugees when the state was founded to a high-tech space power like we are today.”

The proposal elicited sharp criticism both because the government failed to budget for it and because of the blow to national pride in having to seek donations from abroad.

No goal was set for how much money they want to raise. However, the cost for the country’s 60th anniversary in 2008 came to 150 million shekels ($39 million) and the 50th-year celebrations to 110 million shekels – all paid for by the government. The total to be spent in 2018 will almost certainly exceed those sums.

Regev, whose ministry will head the fundraising drive, blamed the Finance Ministry for failing to allocate funds for the celebrations, leaving the cabinet with no choice but to seek donations. “The cabinet’s decision to raise money for these events was done by default, in the absence of a government budget for them,” she said.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon fired back that Regev and her advisers were to blame. “Several months ago, we discussed the Culture Ministry’s budget for the coming two years. We were supposed to include the celebrations in your budget, but you didn’t do it,” he said.

But other ministers, including Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, also cast blame on the treasury. Akunis urged minsters to delay voting on the plan and ended up abstaining himself, although he backed the second half of the proposal to create an office to oversee the celebrations.

“I don’t understand why we need to raise a not-so-small amount from donations. What happens if time passes and we haven’t succeeded in raising all the money?” asked National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz.

The proposal approved by the cabinet calls for the establishment of a committee in the Culture and Sports Ministry to oversee the fundraising drive. The four-member panel will only approve approaching donors and accepting gifts if their decision is unanimous.

The proposal also calls for a variety of safeguards to prevent conflicts of interest that might emerge, such as barring donations given for a specific purpose. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked even suggested raising money from Diaspora Jews via a government website – an idea ministers agreed should be explored further.

However, the prime minister’s key role as a fundraiser was also made clear. “No approach to potential donors will be made before the prime minister has consulted with the fundraising committee,” the proposal reads. Moreover, in some cases, donors will be able to make their gifts without their names being released to the public.