Misused Diaspora dollars undermine Israel’s democracy

Ha’aretz 6/20/13

Being a member of the Jewish community I have come to expect charitable requests when they come knocking, and, as a member of a global community that highly values charity, I have never minded the dinners, young professional committees and email appeals that come across my desk. It is part of being a member of the Jewish people who lives in the West. My wife and I normally sort through the different groups, picking out whom we want to support each year.

The amount of solicitations that I received dramatically increased when I moved from the United Kingdom to the United States. This was understandable – now that I belonged to a bigger and generally richer community, I was expected to support more global Jewish causes.

Now, I have written in the past about the need to change the donor-based dependency of all the different groups in Israel and the Diaspora. I, of course, do see the Zionist value in supporting Israel through one’s wallet, but I also feel strongly that Israeli millionaires should pay for their own poor.

In terms of Zionist bang for your buck, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces can be seen as the charity to get American Jews to open their wallets for. No group is more perfectly situated to make U.S. Jews feel the obligation to give. Here is a group that basically says, “We fight for the Jewish State, your job is to support us in this mission.”

For many U.S. Jews who feel guilty at the fact that it’s other people’s kids who have to fight, this charity is a perfect vehicle by which they can feel a part of the war effort.

It is odd in general that charity funds support another country’s military. The IDF is very well funded, both through general taxation in Israel and through the aid that the U.S. government gives it every year.

The money raised by FIDF is supposed to go toward recreational rooms and other creature comforts that make compulsory conscription just a little bit less awful. In the words of the FIDF, it seeks to provide conscripts with “love, support, and care in an effort to ease the burden they carry on behalf of the Jewish community worldwide.”

I was surprised then to find out that money raised by FIDF had gone toward paying for a NIS 8 million ($2.2 million) gym for the Mossad. The Mossad is a professional intelligence outfit, not a conscripted army. For the FIDF to provide the Mossad, the Israeli equivalent of the CIA, with a gym seems outside their mission statement. How does a NIS 8 million gym for the Mossad provide “love, support and care” to compulsory conscripts? The people who will enjoy this gym are well-paid  employees who choose to work for the country’s national intelligence agency; they are not compulsory conscripts.

What could possibly justify why FIDF decided to fund this project? Is the Mossad’s funding so strained that they cannot train their legendary spies without charitable funds? Is the economic situation in Israel so desperate that the state cannot afford to run its own intelligence service? Or was it that the Israeli government decided such funds were better spent elsewhere?

As Israeli ministries continue to tackle for their share of limited budget funds, those who miss out on the big bucks may lay their eyes on the Jewish Diaspora. There they hope to find Diaspora dollars that will fill the gaps. If the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry wants to do job training but can’t find the shekels, why not find a Diaspora program to fund it? If the Defense Ministry is going to find its budget shaven, why not ask the FIDF to make up the shortfall?

The danger in using charitable funds for programs that should be run by the state lies in the risk of skewing the democratic process. Budget cuts are, sadly, part of democratic governance; if elected officials decide that the Defense Ministry budget is bloated, the Diaspora community should not re-inflate it. If the government wants to cut subsidies to the ultra-Orthodox to encourage them back into the workforce, Diaspora groups should not make up the difference with donations. (Nor should Diaspora groups be expected to pay the full cost of job training necessary for adding the ultra-Orthodox to the workforce.)

The status quo is dangerous. We risk falling into the trap where charitable money replaces the role of the state. This has the potential to both absolve the state from its responsibilities and prevent it from carrying out it’s polices. As a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Israel is not the charity case it once was. To continue to treat it as such is a disservice to all involved.

 

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