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