We recently heard the news that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak contributed more than 500,000 shekels ($130,000) to veterans of the elite Israel Defense Forces special-ops unit Sayeret Matkal. Barak donated 250,000 shekels 10 months ago and contributed another 350,000 shekels earlier this month.
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Some would say this is a commendable move. A man gets up one morning and donates not from public funds but his own pocket for a good cause. But while this private donation is indeed praiseworthy, its goal is puzzling. Why did the former prime minister choose to donate his money to a particularly privileged group in Israeli society? Why give scholarships to a military army unit whose vets do volunteer community work and not, for example, to a Bedouin Border Police veteran from Hura, for whom it’s a little more difficult to go to university?
The argument in favor of Sayeret Matkal says that people who contributed four or five years of their lives for us all – and were even ready to risk their lives – deserve a reward. That is perfectly valid. The Sayeret Matkal soldiers did indeed risk their lives for all of us, but they’re not the only ones – and, as always, the resources are limited.
Barak’s donation reflects an approach that prefers to strengthen privileged groups and inexplicably ignores Israeli society’s real needs.
One might expect that a person who was prime minister would be familiar with society’s needs, and know who is more in need of an opportunity granted by philanthropists. But Barak chooses to give his money to the better established groups. The claim that “they deserve it too” is correct, but there are some who need it more.
If this practice spreads and, heaven forbid, becomes a trend, we shouldn’t wonder if a former pilot decides to donate money to discharged air force pilots who want to achieve a second degree. And it will come as no surprise if another philanthropist contributes to Unit 8200 intel vets – whom the market grabs for huge salaries even before they complete their BA. After all, they defended all of us, so why shouldn’t they receive a scholarship for studying for a second degree at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya or the Technion in Haifa?
Nothing is easier than donating to the milieu you belong to – preferably to white men from good families. It’s harder to fulfill a real need. Sure, maybe it’s less sexy, but it’s one that will make the contribution really effective. In a state that was once egalitarian but today ranks highly in the inequality indices, is it too much to expect philanthropists to show a little social awareness?
In a society that has large gaps between the haves and have-nots, the generous and right thing to do is to look for the underprivileged and help them to move closer to the stronger groups, who will probably succeed without any additional help.
The Bedouin soldier, the ultra-Orthodox woman from Bnei Brak and the physically challenged young man from the periphery need much more than economic encouragement to reach the Sayeret Matkal vets’ starting point. Barak wanted to do something good, but proved he is captive to his narrow, egotistical world.