With More Than 10,000 Millionaires, Why Is Israel Still a Charity Case?

At what point should the Diaspora communities say to Israelis that enough is enough- we will give, but we will not allow those in your own society to shirk their responsibilities?

The past few years have seen a whole new generation of wealth being created within Israel. The collective worth of Israeli’s 16 billionaires stands at just over 45 billion dollars and Israel now hosts 10,153 millionaires, a 20-percent increase from the previous fiscal year.

With all this money sloshing around at the top of the system, it’s more than a little disappointing that Israeli soup kitchens still feel the need to come around to the global Jewish diaspora, cap in hand, looking for vital donations to help those on the bread line in Israel.


Jewish communities worldwide are happy to put their hands in their pockets to help out in crisis scenarios. For example, when the Galilee needed rebuilding after the second Lebanon war, living bridges were developed to link communities abroad to communities in Israel.

Every Jewish community wants to see their name on the side of a Magen David Adom ambulance and there is an intrinsic Zionist value in giving to essential Israeli services. However, there is a difference between giving to feel bonded to the country and society, and giving out of necessity because funds could not be secured at home.

A renewed focus on Israel-Diaspora relations is examining the connection of young Jews to Israel across the world. This relationship has, for far too long, been defined by wire transfers. As a British Jew I would be embarrassed if Jewish Care, one of the major welfare charities in the U.K., needed to go abroad to ensure its survival. Yet it seems this shame is not felt by the Israeli wealthy elite who have no issue with their own society’s poor looking elsewhere for desperately needed charity.

Israeli philanthropy is its nascent phase, standing at only 0.7% of GDP compared to 0.73% in the U.K. and 2.1% in the US. Foreign donations account for a whopping 62% of all given money in Israel.

The inability to raise funds locally has many culprits and comes on the back of a history of dependence. With homegrown philanthropy being a relatively new phenomenon in Israel, it is easier for charities to go abroad to raise cash than to turn to the new wealthy class.

No one wants welfare charities to go without, but there needs to be some motivation for Israelis to fund their own society. At what point should the communities in the Diaspora say to Israelis that enough is enough- we will give, but we will not allow those in your own society to shirk their responsibilities?

It is not only the newly minted wealthy in Israel who are to blame. International donors like being feted, and if the Diaspora begins giving less, it will diminish their role in Israeli society. This would not necessarily be a bad thing, with Diaspora Jews often toting different political agendas than Israeli voters.

Israel might also not be ready for the demands that big philanthropy brings – the $20 million Ofer donation to Tel Aviv Museum of the Arts being a case in point.

However, the current relationship is unhealthy for both Israel and Diaspora communities. If, as the Hartmann Institute has intimated, a new relationship between Israel and the Diaspora is to be founded beyond that of crisis, then foreign vs. local giving needs to be part of this conversation.

An Israel that is a member of the OECD should no longer be a charity case. I want to give to Israel because I need to, not because it needs me to.

Joel Braunold is a Bnei Akiva alumnus and a former staff member of OneVoice Europe who is currently studying at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.