Israel and International Development Cooperation

The following results are abstracted from a recent survey conducted by the Hartog School of Government and Policy at Tel Aviv University and released Monday morning at the Workshop on Faith and International Development.

During the early years of the State, Israel’s policy of development cooperation (which began in the mid 1950’s), was said to be one of the most extensive technical assistance programs in the world. This slowed in the late 1960’s and came to a major about face in the early 1970’s.

There are various explanations for this change of attitude amongst the Israeli leadership, however the most commonly accepted account is that it stemmed from the actions of African countries during the Yom Kippur War. Since then, the political will in Israel for development cooperation has waned, and seemingly never recovered.

During these golden year’s of Israel’s policy of international development cooperation, policies were broadly supported by both the Israeli leadership and society at large. Then with the War came a general feeling to (as expressed in Haaretz) “…not forget who abandoned us in this, our hour of need…”.

Given the historical context, the question regarding Israeli society is whether it remains negative towards international development. Is the general public still of the view that under no circumstances tax dollars should be spent in Africa? Is the continued impassiveness of Israeli governments in line with current views of her citizens?

A public opinion survey was commissioned in January, 2008 to examine the attitudes of Israeli society towards the Governments’ international development assistance programs. The key findings follow:

  • A majority of the general public (56%) agree Israel must provide assistance to developing countries and a substantial majority (73%) agree Israel should do so at least some of the time. This is much higher among the secular public (78%) than among the Orthodox community (55%).
  • An absolute majority of the public (75%) feels proud when learning Israel has helped needy people in the world; among the secular public (82%), the Orthodox community (54%).
  • Only a minority of the general public (28%) agree Israel’s security needs or economic / social needs (29%) exempt it from behaving like an ordinary country in providing assistance to developing countries.
  • Only a small minority of the general public (19%) agree with the sentiment Israel should not assist developing countries because the world will always side against it.
  • A large majority of the general public (60%) believe there are advantages to Israel in providing development assistance and this strengthens Israel’s international position (65%).
  • A large majority of the general public (61%) believe Israel should work with the Jewish world in providing international assistance to the developing world.
  • A large majority of the general public (64%) believe that at least in some cases, Israel should serve as a “light unto the nations” with regards to assisting the world’s needs. Only a minority (27%) outrightly object to this claim.
  • A large majority of the general public (63%) agree Israel should adopt a policy of preference for its own needy over other countries. This is much higher among the Orthodox community (84%) than the secular population (63%).

In a related issue, there is strong support for international assistance being conducted in conjunction with world Jewry. It is the belief of those conducting the research that one of the keys to bolstering Israel’s soft power lies in the creation of joint projects on a global scale, in partnership with world Jewry.

You can read more about the Workshop on Faith and International Development here.