Nearly Two-Thirds of Charity and Philanthropy in Israel Comes from Abroad

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May 9, 2011; Source: | Israeli charity and philanthropy make up only 0.7 percent of the country’s GDP, compared to 0.73 percent in the U.K., and 2.1 percent in the U.S., but when overseas giving to Israeli charities are added in, the charity/philanthropy proportion is a relatively more robust 1.5 percent, exceeded only by the U.S., according to new data set to be published by Hebrew University of Jerusalem and director of the Center for the Study of Philanthropy

Nonetheless, that means that charitable giving in Israel from local donors was only 38 percent in 2009 (up from 33 percent in 2006), while giving from non-Israeli sources declined from 67 percent to 62 percent. Nonetheless, if it weren’t for the charitable spigots in the U.S. and other western countries, Israeli charities would be hard-pressed to rely only on Israelis. Although 66.5 percent of Israeli taxpayers made charitable contributions in 2009, according to the Israeli Tax Authority, their donations tended to be on average smaller than the average donations of other western countries.

Similarly the volunteerism instincts of Israelis seem to be a bit sparse. Only 15 percent of Israelis report volunteering as opposed to half of the adult populations of the U.S., Australia, and the U.K., according to the Center for the Study of Philanthropy.

Why the lower per capita giving levels and the lower propensity for volunteering? Israel is a relatively wealthy country, much like others in the west, with elements of U.S. and Western European tax and social welfare policies. It may be that the difference is the mandatory multi-year military service required of all Israelis, putting them on the front lines of the nation’s ongoing struggle with its Palestinian and Arab neighbors. Perhaps Israelis feel that they volunteer – or are volunteered by the their national government – as part of their citizenship obligations and that should be enough.—Rick Cohen

  • Les Lenkowsky

    Rick Cohen may be on to something important when he associates the low rate of Israeli volunteering with its compulsory national service program. Advocates of national service in the US might keep that in mind.

    But he misses the most obvious explanation for the low-rate of domestic giving in Israel. Despite efforts at liberalization in recent years, Israeli government still provides social welfare services that look like those of the European welfare states. So, domestic donors may have little incentive to give on top of what the government is spending. Indeed, compared to countries like Germany or France, the Israeli giving rate is actually high.

    It’s also worth noting that much of the giving from abroad may be coming from Israelis whose residence is outside the country. This is what is known as diaspora giving may be particularly strong among Israeli emigres, who have often been very successful in their adopted countries.

  • rick cohen

    Thanks for the note, Les. Rare that I’m on to something, but I would have also mentioned the gov’t’s provision of services as another factor, except that I would have wanted an answer that explains Israel’s giving compared to Germany’s or France’s. I would have expected that the U.S. giving to Israel is ascribable to Jewish donors who give because of a commitment to Israel, but do you have any empirical evidence about the giving of Israeli emigres? Thanks again for the comment.