Why American Jewish Giving to Israel Is Losing Ground

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.

More recently, Israel’s increasingly conservative policies on social and religious issues, which are often at odds with what most American Jews support, might also be playing a role.

A tradition of support

American Jews proved a major source of philanthropic support for the Israeli state and Israeli societythroughout the 20th century. A network of Jewish fundraising and advocacy groups have long organized collective donations and lobbying efforts.

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 increase from $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.

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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.

These upswings coincided with major events including the Second Intifada, the Second Lebanon Warand the conflict in Gaza in 2008 and 2009.

Giving fell, however, following the Great Recession. The single point of divergence in this time followed the devastating 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire near the Israeli city of Haifa.