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Jewish Journal

Israel stingy with foreign aid, Israeli prof says

by Jonah Lowenfeld

June 11, 2013 | 5:35 pm

When it comes to sending international aid abroad, Israel and its citizens give less than most other developed free-market economies, according to a new report.

Hillel Schmid, a professor at Hebrew University’s Center for the Study of Philanthropy, told the Los Angeles Times that an “anti-philanthropist” culture in Israel could help explain why the Jewish state sent so little charity abroad.

Over the past decade, the Times reported, Israelis collectively sent 0.1 percent of all their charitable donations abroad. Belgians send 48 percent of their charity outside their country and 5 percent of Americans’ charity goes to non-American recipients.

“Even though Israel was built by philanthropists, today surveys show that Israelis think philanthropies are self-interested, political and wasteful,” Schmid told the Times on June 5.

Israel also gives less to domestic charities than other countries do – 0.7 percent of its GDP, Schmid told the Times. The U.S. gives about 2.5 percent of its GDP to social programs education, art and cultural charities.

“They feel, ‘We pay taxes, we serve in the army,’” Schmid told the Times. “‘Why should we give more?’”

The article has provoked a firestorm of nasty – and in many cases, overtly anti-Semitic – comments on the Times’ Web site.

Schmid says that Israel could improve its reputation in the world by reversing the trend, but changing the culture will take some effort and education. 

David Siegel, Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, said that the question of how – and how much – Israel should devote to foreign aid is currently a subject of intense conversation among Israelis. But he feels that the new study ignores unquantifiable contributions the Jewish state has made to international development.

“We've always specialized in sending experts, not in sending money,” Siegel told the Journal on June 12. Israel’s international aid agency, Mashav, is currently working on 30 projects in other countries and has, Siegel said, trained 300,000 people in 134 countries over the past 50 years in agricultural technology, health education and other matters related to international development.

“When you judge what Israel does on a dollar-by-dollar basis,” Siegel asked, “how do you monetize an Israeli agricultural expert who has trained people in methods over 40 years?”

Siegel, who saw Israeli experts at work when he was stationed in Eritrea, also said that the Times’ report didn't pay enough attention to the differences between Israel and countries like Belgium and the United States. Israel has a much higher defense burden, Siegel said, and it is in some ways, still a developing nation.

“Israel only joined the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2010,” Siegel said, referring to the 34-country body that aims to stimulate economic development in democratic and free market countries. “We’re being compared to countries that have been there for decades.”

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