CEP: For so many years, Israeli philanthropy has had a strong influence from the Jewish Diaspora. And now there seems to be a growing trend of emerging Israeli philanthropists that are setting their own agenda and investing in their own country. Could you say a little about that?
RA: When you look at the data, the number of Israeli philanthropists—defined as people who give away at least $100,000 in funding per year—is still small. And in terms of Israeli foundations, there are maybe 20. But Israeli philanthropy is growing. Four years ago, there were only five or six foundations. So you can see a trend.
In terms of how this relates to the Jewish Diaspora, philanthropists from abroad are now searching for Israeli partners for their programs. They are realizing the potential for investing in Israeli programs, and they are beginning more and more to partner with us because they know that we are active in the field, that we know the Israeli culture, and that they can lean on us when they want to invest in specific fields. So, this trend of partnerships is happening among philanthropists and foundations both from the Diaspora and in Israel.
CEP: To what do you attribute this jump in Israeli foundations over the past decades?
RA: Many new philanthropists entered the field because of the needs they saw in their country. Others entering from the private sector see the philanthropic space as a new area for work and creating change.
Another possible explanation is the promising signs of culture shift. The culture of giving in Israel has, unfortunately, not been encouraging. Israelis, historically, do not perceive wealth as a positive. They are often very suspicious about the ways in which the wealthy have made their fortunes, for example. This has functioned as a detriment to philanthropy. Additionally, many Israelis will say, “We pay high taxes, we completed (mandatory) army service — why should we give more?” In this way, given the tax structure and Israeli society more broadly, the culture of giving is not like it is in the U.S., the U.K., or other European countries. But there are initiatives underway that are promoting giving and the growth of philanthropy throughout the country. For example, the 20 Israeli foundations are now working together on an initiative called “Committed to Give,” a collaboration between funders to promote philanthropy in Israel and to encourage other wealthy Israelis to give back.
CEP: Are there any other qualities that you feel make Israeli philanthropy unique from how it exists in other countries?
RA: Israeli philanthropy is unique when it comes to partnerships with the government. Because Israel is so small and everyone is connected, government officials are far more accessible than they are elsewhere.
You can see this trend in the U.S. when you are looking locally, regionally, or even on a state level, but not so much with the federal government. In Israel, on the other hand, there is much collaboration with the central government itself, which facilitates creating important networks and leads to greater collaboration. Instead of debating over whether or not philanthropy is taking the role of government by working in fields that the government should be responsible for, this level of accessibility allows for philanthropy to have greater partnerships with and impact on policymakers.