Flowers decorated as an American flag are seen on a road leading to the US Embassy compound ahead of the official opening in Jerusalem on May 13, 2018. The United States moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the holy city at the explosive core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and claimed by both sides as a capital. The new embassy came five months after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
(The Conversation) — American Jews donate at high levels to charity. One way they support causes in the U.S., Israel and other places is collective, often through large grant-making organizations.
In researching this organized philanthropy, I’ve observed that the proportion of Jewish institutional giving to Israeli causes has fallen since 2009. I believe that several factors, including demographic and social changes, a diminishing perception of Israel as being in need and concerns over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have probably been driving this decline for years.
These groups make major donations to large Israeli nonprofits, like the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Joint Distribution Committee, which then distribute them to smaller, local nonprofits.
However, knowledge about the actual scope of Jewish philanthropic contributions to Israel is limited. Data collected by my colleagues at Brandeis University indicate a steady increasefrom $1.05 billion annually in 1975 to $2.05 billion in 2007 in real dollars.
And data from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics indicate that charitable gifts to organizations in Israel, from sources in the U.S. and other foreign countries, kept growing – rising from $1.95 billion in 2009 to $2.91 billion in 2015.
A smaller share
I am conducting a study with a colleague at Brandeis University, Matthew Brookner, in collaboration with the Institute for Law and Philanthropy at Tel Aviv University. Together, we are exploring patterns and trends in Jewish grant-making to Israeli causes that have not been completely understood until now.
To understand Jewish giving to Israel we mined data using the Foundation Search database, which provided us with large amounts of digitized financial information.
Federations and foundations
To see what’s changing in this kind of giving, we split the data into large grants over $500,000 and smaller grants. Our initial findings are based on an analysis of 21,062 large grants allocated by 1,235 Jewish funding organizations between 2000 and 2015, totaling $46.3 billion.
We found that the total scope of donations for Israel grew between 2000 and 2015. While more money is contributed to Israeli causes, the share of Jewish giving going to Israel from the overall contributions – which also includes Jewish causes outside Israel and non-Jewish charities – has declined.
Among other things, we found that the top funding organizations to Israeli causes are still Jewish Federations, communal fundraising institutions that operate in most North American metropolitan areas. These federations gave Israeli causes a total of $2.3 billion between 2000 and 2015.
But giving from private foundations and pass-through organizations – intermediaries that transfer donations to other groups – now rivals that revenue source. Those kinds of donors provided $2.2 billion in support each during this period.
Two-thirds of the grants supporting Israeli causes were allocated to U.S.-based organizations, such as Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. We also found the peaks we expected to see in large grants for Israeli causes in the years 2002 and 2003, 2006 through 2008 and 2011.
And overall, the proportion of Jewish giving going to Israeli causes as a share of donations is decreasing as is the share of giving to non-Jewish causes. Meanwhile, giving to Jewish causes outside Israel is rising.
In fact, only 9 percent of organized Jewish giving was allocated to Israeli causes in 2015. In comparison, 58 percent supported non-Jewish causes and 32 percent backed Jewish causes outside Israel.
This decrease in the share of giving for Israeli causes was evident as early as 2009, excluding the surge in donations in 2011 driven by the Mount Carmel forest fire.
After the question of “Who is a Jew?” had been hotly debated in the U.S. and Israel for more than three decades, the Knesset – Israel’s parliament – granted the Chief Rabbinate, a government ultra-Orthodox establishment, a monopoly over the conversion process to Judaism in the summer of 2017.
This move excluded Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist conversions altogether, raising objections from American Jewish leaders. Although Israel subsequently delayed the bill’s enactment, the criticism voiced by many American Jews has not abated.
Another source of friction between the world’s two largest Jewish communities is the ongoing efforts of non-Orthodox Jewish denominations to create a prayer space shared by women and men at the Western Wall, a holy site in Israel.