Taking Stock / Instead of Donating Money

People who donated millions to the poor, to hospitals and to education have denied the state hundreds of millions of shekels in taxes due. If the government had more money from tax revenue, we wouldn't be seeing so many welfare services being privatized.

Meir Shamir was the first, then Nochi Dankner did it, followed in seconds by Sammy Ofer.

The media ploy worked, too. The day the companies from which the above three extract towering salaries - The Israel Corporation, IDB group and Mivtach Shamir Holdings - published their financial statements, was the day they announced their generous donations for higher purposes: education, culture, medications for sick people who can't afford them.

The commentators, including Haaretz's, bit. Money is money, a donation is a donation, and when the rich and powerful push their paws into their deep pockets and come out with millions for the needy, you have to salute.

Their timing was sublime: what got the headlines was their generosity, not their paychecks.

Opinions vary when it comes to donations and how they're done. Cynics complain that it's pure PR, cocktail parties, cuddling up to the powerful, or as somebody once said, a way for the rich to prove their superiority over the poor.

Some contribute in secret, some volunteer precious time to the holy work of aid, and some write out fat checks only if accompanied by press releases and engraved plaques designed to last down the ages.

There is no need whatsoever to classify donors by their motives, be it to clean up the world or their names. The recipients are people and causes that need the money and they couldn't care less about the motive.

But we would like to suggest rather more effective ways for the 500 names appearing in TheMarker's list of Israel's richest people to contribute to the community, to the state and to the economy.

1. Stop dodging taxes. If you pay the taxes you really owe and don't spend your time dreaming up aggressive dodges, including fictitious losses and expenses, the government would have more resources to allocate to social causes.

All too many people donate millions with one hand and evade taxes on the other. They want the say on how their money is shared; after all, who is the government to decide on social priorities?

Aggressive tax planning has become legitimized in Israeli eyes: people who donated millions to the poor, to hospitals and to education have denied the state hundreds of millions of shekels in taxes due. If the government had more money from tax revenue, we wouldn't be seeing so many welfare services being privatized.

2. Don't bribe, coerce or threaten politicians, bureaucrats or officials trying to reform the economy for the greater good. You are entitled to maximize your profits, but have some respect for the public interest, even if you don't quite see or understand it when it conflicts with your own.

If you donate, if you want a healthier, more equitable economy, acknowledge the legitimacy of the people trying to make change. You can't fight to the death for your narrow economic interests with one hand, while using the other to scatter crumbs from the millions you make at the expense of consumers and taxpayers.

3. Stay in Israel. Bring up your kids here. Pay taxes here. By all means, invest your money wherever you please, including overseas; your investments don't have to be patriotic. But be patriotic in the manner you manage your economic affairs, when you do invest here.

4. If you have power over the public's money, remember that most of the people who gave it to you lack your savvy and wealth. Some gave you the money unknowingly, or without choosing to do so. Remember you owe a duty to your customers, depositors and investors. Treat other people's money as though it were your own. That alone would constitute a considerable contribution to the greater good.

5. Don't cheat, lie or mislead investors with partial information. The list of the greatest donors in the last 20 years contains people who were also involved in some of the smelliest scandals. Some conquered by using the best lawyers in the land to beat the legal system; some were convicted; and some bought their way out of their trouble.

The donation these people give to charity pales compared with the horrendous scars their corruption engraves on the economy. They cannot clear their consciences with money tossed around at fundraisers `n' cocktails. Better they obey the law and never donate a cent.

6. Don't grovel before corrupt politicians who want your friendship or money. Don't legitimize their behavior. Instead of complaining about their greed and corruption in the privacy of your home, or in closed conversations with other politicians, remember that the tolerance you evince for the rot allows them to progress onward and upward despite their sins.

Most of you have the clout and the money to state your opinions loud and clear without fear for your livelihood. Look beyond your short-term narrow interests: Think of the bigger picture before signing checks for donations.

7. Don't brandish your charitable largesse just as public criticism against your conduct is mounting. Donations and acting against the public good are unrelated, after all. You can donate millions to build a hospital wing or school, which doesn't relieve you of the duty to obey the law.

In a free, competitive, advanced and clean economy, we wouldn't even need your donations to finance fundamental social needs.