Israeli Philanthropists: Afraid of Transparency

The American based Jewish Funders Network came to town this past week, but you’d never know it.

You see, the community of Israeli philanthropists participating in the Conference put a noose around the JFN’s neck and held them hostage.

They told the JNF they “suffer at the hands of Israeli gossip columnists” and pushed the JNF team against the wall. The sessions were closed to the media; a 180 degree turn from the JFN’s normal practice.

The official program stated the sessions were closed not to “undermine the participants’ feelings of privacy and security”.

I was told by more than one participant of the JNF’s need to have this, their first ever Conference in Israel, succeed; pretty much regardless of cost.

As it turned out, three American media representatives were permitted to attend and “even that was controversial, and has caused discord”. Unfortunately, pretty much anything you read about the Conference itself, regardless of source, is being prepared or edited by the JFN. For even the privlidged three were only permitted access “provided they work together with the organization to ensure that their reports were accurate and factual.”

This was not the only Conference in the world of philanthropy happening in Israel this past week. Under the auspices of Tel Aviv University’s Harold Hartog School of Government, over 100 representatives of Diaspora and Israeli groups participated in a Workshop on Faith and International Development several days earlier. You can read more about this Conference / Workshop here. What was amazing as we gathered at Neve Ilan: the complete absence of Israeli philanthropists. Not one was in attendance; a fact brought forth quite emphatically from the speaker’s podium during the closing session, titled, “Galvanizing the Jewish World.”

Israel’s philanthropists may be worried about the gossip columnists, but they certainly follow some local established business norms as it relates to transparency. In a profile last Fall focusing on the coffee culture here in Israel and franchising, one local chain admitted their most serious obstacle was enforcing transparency relative to the business practices of the franchisee. The complete article is here. (As an aside to you coffee drinkers, Tel Aviv has per capita twice the number of coffee cafes as Manhattan!)

Back to The Jewish Funders Network; they announced last week a plan to open an office in Israel this year. Kol ha-kavod and welcome to them. They do great work and I am certain they will make a strong, and immediate, contribution to the local scene. But I would offer two suggestions: they need to personally know the local community of American / Israeli communal professionals. This group can provide a wealth of information and introductions into a world, I know for sure, they are not familiar with.

Second, talk to Cafe Hillel. They have apparently made progress vis a vie teaching transparency to Israeli business people.