A June 8 article in The Times on a study that ranked countries based on international giving may leave readers with the misleading impression that Israelis are not generous with their charity dollars. Unfortunately, as is too often the case when it comes to Israel, this has served as a springboard for those seeking to malign Israel and the Jewish people. The figures in the article must be taken in context.
Israel has a heavy defense burden and has absorbed millions of immigrants over a short period of time. It spends roughly 7% of its gross domestic product on defense, almost four times the average of 1.8% of other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. As a consequence, Israel is left with fewer resources to allocate for civilian purposes. Nevertheless, having joined the OECD only in 2010, Israel is working hard to achieve the philanthropic spending levels set by some of the other member states. For example, just last year a group of 20 leading Israeli investors established Committed to Give, with the express goal of significantly increasing the level of private philanthropy in Israel.
Since declaring independence in 1948, Israel has absorbed more than 3 million immigrants; its overall population has increased tenfold, from roughly 800,000 in 1948 to just more than 8 million today. In contrast, the U.S. population has doubled over that same period, and other developed nations have seen even lower rates of growth. Israel’s steep population gains have posed tremendous social and economic challenges. In particular, the Jewish state’s rapid transformation from a primarily agricultural economy into one of the world’s leading hubs of high-tech industries and research speaks volumes about Israeli society’s resilience and social awareness. Israel’s National Council on Volunteering lists no fewer than 34 separate organizations for immigration absorption. Israel is as much a “sign-up nation” as it is a “start-up nation.”
Volunteerism in Israel runs deep; it is rooted in the pre-state voluntary institutions established by the Zionist movement in all walks of life, including education, healthcare, labor relations and representative government. Consider the “Kibbutz,” a unique innovation centered on a communal arrangement that shows how deeply ingrained volunteerism is in Israeli society.
Examples of how this spirit expresses in Israeli life abound. In education, Israel’s PERACH (an acronym in Hebrew for “tutoring project”) engages nearly 60,000 disadvantaged children a year and involves nearly 15% of Israel’s university student body. On a per-capita basis, this is more than 30 times the size of the largest comparable mentoring organization in the United States. Inspired by this powerful expression of social solidarity, more than 20 countries around the world have adopted the PERACH model.
In healthcare, groups such as Yad Sarah provide free medical and rehabilitative equipment to anyone in need. Run by more than 6,000 volunteers, Yad Sarah’s annual budget is financed almost entirely by donations, 70% of which come from Israelis. By comparison, an effort on the same scale in Britain would need more than 48,000 volunteers, roughly three times …read more