Israel’s Wealthy and the Giving Pledge

by Shimon Arbel

All who are involved in fundraising and the third sector are familiar with the “Giving Pledge”. Led by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet, the “Pledge” invites America’s wealthiest citizens to commit more than half of their wealth to philanthropy and charitable causes either during their lifetime or following their death.

Since its announcement two years’ ago, nearly seventy of America’s wealthiest individuals have committed to the “Giving Pledge”, viewing their philanthropic leadership as key to addressing some of society’s most pressing problems as well as encouraging others to follow their example.

The list of “Giving Pledge” benefactors includes some of American Jewry’s most respected philanthropists. While one may want that a greater proportion of these philanthropists’ wealth benefits Jewish causes, one must still admire these individuals’ concrete commitment to give back to the society that enabled them to prosper.

All Jews have every reason to be proud that Israel is today a member of the OECD and has reached a level of development that it is possible to succeed and prosper in Israel. The old adage that in order to make a million dollars in Israel, you have to arrive with five million is now an old joke. The growing number of Israelis on the Forbes and Business Week listings is a positive and important message that Israel is a success story, open for business and entrepreneurship, and an attractive place to invest or live.

As many local non-profit associations can attest, Israelis do give and are forthcoming with both their money and time. Yet except for a small number of isolated major contributions, Israeli institutions have yet to benefit from the size and number of mega-gifts to which the “Giving Pledge” aspires and of which more and more Israelis … living in Israel … are capable.

The time is ripe for Israel’s wealthiest individuals and families to step up to the “Giving Pledge” challenge. One of the most compelling challenges that President Peres could pose would be to call upon the wealthiest in Israel to follow the Gates- Buffet example. Such a call would be particularly timely following last summer’s massive demonstrations for “social justice” by a large cross-section of Israel’s population.

It is of urgency too that every non-profit association in Israel encourages an Israeli “Giving Pledge” initiative. As Diaspora resources for Israeli institutions inevitably decline, local institutions will need to look at home for greater philanthropic support. While fundraising overseas for Israeli institutions remains necessary and legitimate, the future of funding for Israeli institutions will increasingly be found within a sixty kilometer radius of Tel Aviv’s Azrieli Center.

Shimon Arbel is Director of Institutional Advancement, Hadassah Academic College Jerusalem. e-mail: shimonar@hadassah.ac.il