WANTED: An Israel Future Pledge

By Shimon Arbel

This year, Mike Leven & Amy Holtz launched the “Jewish Future Pledge” aimed to inspire American Jewish philanthropists and families to pledge 50% or more of the charitable giving in their estate plan to Jewish and Israel-related causes.

This new initiative draws inspiration from the Giving Pledge, launched exactly ten years ago, and which has succeeded to enlist over 200 of the world’s wealthiest individuals, couples, and families from 23 countries. A large proportion of those who have committed to the Giving Pledge and to bequeath the majority of their wealth to philanthropy are American Jews.

The Jewish Future Pledge cites Forbes 2016 list of America’s 400 wealthiest individuals and which includes 33 Jews who direct only 11% of their philanthropy to Jewish/Israeli causes. This low level of Jewish community-directed giving is expected to be further weakened as a result of declining levels of Jewish identification and involvement among the community’s next generation.

Philanthropic support of Jewish communal organizations is of course now being further eroded as the Jewish world struggles to cope with the dire economic consequences of COVID-19. In terms of giving to Israel, as many Jewish donors witness the erosion and even collapse of many core organizations and institutions in their respective communities, one can understand an urgency to give first priority to their respective community’s infrastructure, often at the expense of Israel-directed contributions.

Enter the compelling need for, and challenge to enlist Israeli donors. This month’s edition of Israel’s “The Marker” magazine highlighted the country’s growing number of billionaires and millionaires. “The Marker” listed no less than 121 billionaires residing in Israel today, and over 500 multi-millionaires. While there is real concern by social gaps within Israel’s society, the rise in this group testifies to the growth and strength of the Israeli economy, and the benefits brought by globalization over the past decade. Notwithstanding the corona crisis and consequent economic impact, the wealth of most of these individuals remains solid and even continues to grow.

Anyone who today visits an Israeli university, museum, or medical center, and takes notice of the donor names on these institutions’ walls of recognition, can witness the welcome rise in Israeli philanthropy over the past ten years. While a growing number of Israel’s most wealthy are giving back to the community, the level of philanthropy as part of Israel’s GDP is less than half of the rate in the U.S. and falls behind other OECD countries including the UK, Germany, Switzerland, and Holland (though to give credit where credit is due, Israel remains ahead of France, Austria, Belgium, and Spain in philanthropy as a proportion of GDP).

In anticipation of the future and growing needs of both Israel’s third sector and the world Jewish community; the social responsibility of Israel’s most privileged citizens; and the health of the Israel-Diaspora relationship; the time is now for Israel’s wealthy to commit to an Israel Future Pledge. A small number of Israeli associations are already actively encouraging Israeli philanthropy including the Jewish Funders Network-Israel; “Committed to Give”; “Sheatufim”; The Israeli Civic Leadership Association; and others. The Israeli government and world Jewish community must provide every incentive and encouragement to promote such giving.

The Talmudic phrase, “All Israel is responsible one for the other” is the basis of communal responsibility in Jewish law and belief. As Israel and the Jewish world look and plan toward the future, it is time for Israel’s wealthy to emulate Mike Leven & Amy Holtz‘s welcome initiative.

Shimon Arbel serves as the Associate Vice-President for Development at the Israel Democracy Institute, Jerusalem. This article reflects his own views.