Why is Giving in Israel Less than in Other First World Countries?

Hi All,
I was recently contacted by a connection on LinkedIn. He is a director at an association of parents of children with disabilities in Uganda. His questions for me were the following: 
“What is new in Israel that we can learn from as NGOs? Why is Israel quiet in global issues, especially giving? Is it a poor country?” 
These are excellent questions, and I am thrilled that he contacted me about this. First of all, I must say that I disagree with the statement that Israel is “quiet in global issues”. Anyone who follows the news knows that Israel, a tiny country the size of New Jersey, is one of the countries most reported on and followed internationally. However, my colleague is correct that Israel is not a major player in the philanthropy world. Why is this? 
I would not say that Israel is a poor country; however, there are several factors that contribute to the fact that there is less philanthropy than in other first world countries. 
Lower Salaries
The salaries in Israel are much lower than in other first world countries. The average monthly salary is 8,000 NIS a month, which is about $2,000. That means that the average annual salary in the country is 96,000 NIS, aka approximately $24,000. Also, remember that this is the average annual salary. This means that some people are doing very well, and others not so much. Minimum wage in Israel is 4,300 NIS per month (approximately $1,080), slightly over half of the average salary. That comes out to about $13,000 per year. Compare that to an average median wage of $26,700 in the US. So those making minimum wage in Israel are making over 50% less than the average income in the US. Remember that Israel is a nation of immigrants. Many Jews come to Israel from all over the world. Many of them do not speak the language, and mastering it takes several years. In the meantime, they get by with jobs like cleaning and babysitting; not the highest income. 
Culture of Receiving Rather Than Giving Donations 
Another interesting point is that the state of Israel is only 66 years old. Israel is used to getting financial support from Jews and Christian supporters worldwide (North and South America, Europe, Australia, etc.). Because of this, there is less of a culture of giving than receiving donations. Those of us in the nonprofit world are trying to change these ideas. More and more Israelis are earning high salaries due to high tech, start-ups, etc. Also, halacha (Jewish religious law) requires that Jews donate 10% of their earnings to charity. Therefore Jews who follow halacha should be donating 10% of their income.
That is my take as to why Israel is not a major player in the philanthropy world. What do you think? 
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8 Responses to Why is Giving in Israel Less than in Other First World Countries?

  1. Disposable income is the issue. I recently saw a study about how much disposable income the average Israeli family has: it’s one of the lowest in the world. So people really don’t have much extra money laying around, whether it’s for donations or extras.

  2. chavaleh1127 says:

    Great point Miriam; thank you!

  3. Jonny Cline says:

    I disagree with you on almost all counts, Chava.

    Global issues: Israel as a country gives very little to international aid and/or development. Israel as a society gives almost nothing.

    Charity in general: the issue is not one of income, or disposable income, the question is one of culture if giving.

    The Israeli culture of giving is only in embryonic stages of moving from our culture of receiving. We are nowhere near where we could or should be by now.

    Age is no more than an issue than income.

    Take a good look at South Korea for example.

  4. chavaleh1127 says:

    Thanks for your feedback Jonny! It sounds like we agree on the point that a culture of giving has not yet developed in Israel. From personal experience, I can say that as an Israeli, I choose to only give to Israeli causes. It is not at all because I don’t “care” what is going on in the rest of the world, but I know that my country needs help, and I choose to help my own country first.

  5. Michael Levitt says:

    Chava, you back up what I have heard since making aliyah 3 years ago, and never questioned, until I heard Joseph Gitler of Leket Israel disagree: http://youtu.be/T15Iatduc3Y. He seems to put this “received opinion” to bed, saying that it is an outdated notion that Israelis don’t give charity and rely solely on overseas aid, whilst also arguing that continued overseas aid is vital to Jewish continuity. He backs his assertion up (at about 6 1/2 minutes in) with statistical evidence.

  6. hi chava – where do you get this from: “However, my colleague is correct that Israel is not a major player in the philanthropy world.” i can find lots of articles which indicate that you are both correct and wrong! http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Public-philanthropy-is-on-the-rise-375157 or http://www.haaretz.com/business/.premium-1.577724 or http://www.sw.huji.ac.il/files/745c2c6bcddc49493d845ca0c562ert5/u109/Microsoft%20Word%20-%20Elite%20Philanthropy%20in%20Israel%20article%207.pdf – not to mention that if you include the concept of tzedakah recycling via the mostly orthodox gemach system (where a neighbor will donate their old table and chairs to someone in need down the street), i think israel is above the average in giving.

  7. chavaleh1127 says:

    Hi Michael,
    Thanks for your feedback! I know Joseph Gitler; he is great, and I very much respect his opinion as someone who has developed a very successful nonprofit organization in Israel.

    I absolutely agree with Joseph Gitler’s point (or rather, the opinion of diaspora Jews) that there is now wealth creation in Israel (B”H), and therefore Israelis should be giving tzedakah. It’s very inspiring to hear that Israeli giving is growing by 21%.

    I don’t mean to be negative BUT (here comes the but!), I am fearful that the giving of Israeli philanthropists (such as the ones Gitler highlighted) are skewing the numbers to make it seem like the average Israeli is giving more than s/he is. Maybe I was unclear in my original post; I am talking about the “average Israeli”; how much s/he gives. If I understand correctly, Joseph Gitler is talking about Israeli philanthropy in general. So if there is a small core of wealthy Israeli philanthropists who give, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a culture of giving has developed among the average Israeli public.

    This is similar to the figures about the average Israeli salary. There are some Israelis who are making great salaries; tens of thousands of NIS per month (or more!). Yet the minimum wage is 4,300 NIS per month, and MANY Israelis earn minimum wage (or less!). But due to the high salaries, the numbers become skewed, and the average Israeli salary becomes twice the amount of minimum wage. Just something to think about.

    Lastly, thank you for posting the Eli Talk; I hadn’t heard of this before, and am looking forward to learning more and being inspired!

  8. chavaleh1127 says:

    Hi Arnie,
    Thank you very much for the information! I must admit that I have not yet read the 60+ page research paper from Hebrew U, but I promise I will! I look forward to learning some new information.

    Also, it is very encouraging to see from the Jerusalem Post’s article that the median donation in Israel is 250 NIS. As someone who lived in Israel for 7 years, I know that that is not a small amount (especially for someone working in the non-profit field! 🙂 ) Thanks again for the info; I look forward to reading it and learning more!

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