Make your link with Israel personal, not financial

Israel needs greater self-sufficiency — not hand-outs

By Barry Frankfurt, May 28, 2009

Since 1900, UK Jewry has supported first the idea and then the reality of the Jewish state. We have donated hundreds of millions of pounds for everything from schools to opera houses, and pretty much everything in between.

In the aftermath of Israel’s independence in 1948, the needs grew and with them our financial contribution. During the 1967 Six-Day War the young Zionists of that era forged the inextricable links that saw them become the formidable communal leaders and Israel fundraisers of the last 40 years. They saw Israel under attack and responded with their time and money.

But Israel has not been attacked by another state since Iraqi Scuds fell on Tel Aviv in 1991. The spectre of Iran looms large but Ahmadinejad has not yet galvanised global Zionists as Saddam did before him. For the first time in Israel’s history we have an entire generation who do not know an Israel that fears genuine existential threat.

Those under 25 recognise Israel only as a regional superpower, the country of mobile phones, high-tech and companies floated on the world’s major stock exchanges. A knock-on effect of this perceived economic success (away from the holiday resorts, Israel still has significant poverty) is that Israel is losing the pioneer-inspired grip it had once had on Jewish teens.

This is evident through a fall in the number of youth movement participants taking Israel gap years and the number of younger donors supporting Israel charities ahead of local and global aid organisations.

There is a further angle to this debate: the extent to which the people of Israel should look after themselves. Israelis giving to Israeli causes is a new phenomenon, with philanthropy accounting for just 0.3 per cent of GDP (compared with 0.9 per cent in the UK and 2.2 per cent in the US), and that figure was dramatically boosted by the recent oligarch invasion.

At some level the population has become complacent, growing up with much of its social and welfare infrastructure funded by Jews from around the world rather than within Israel.

We are partially responsible for the lack of a charitable mindset. World Jewry fulfilled its emotional and financial obligation to Israel by providing endless supplies of fish without ever instructing how to use a rod. Until Israeli society takes responsibility for its own fundraising it will need the diaspora to maintain services.

In the future, the greatest gift we can give the people of Israel is that of effective giving. Israel has the resources and capability to become self-sufficient in this respect, and will no doubt one day be in a position to support others in need. It is our responsibility, as a key benefactor, to teach the Israelis how to fish.

In turn, we will need to look at new ways to create a bond with Israel. For years, the names of British philanthropists have been etched on museum walls and ambulance doors. Our bonds must become personal, not financial. UJIA is already pioneering this through promoting interaction between young Israelis and their British counterparts. This “Living Bridge” may just provide the blueprint to our future relationship with the Jewish state.

Barry Frankfurt is managing director of Creative & Commercial

Last updated: 4:33pm, June 2 2009