philanthropy trends

Delusive Philanthropy

Jun 2012

Charity has been always a corrective commandment, which the Jewish people have always fulfilled in an honorable manner. Regrettably, as was observed in the Diaspora, it does not fit well within the Israeli national sovereignty, and sometimes it has pernicious secondary consequences. The state of Israel is still impregnated, to a certain degree, by the Halukka (Hebrew: החלוקה‎), the organized distribution and collection of funds for the residents of the Yishuv haYashan in the Holy Land, under which residents of Jerusalem have lived for many generations. Actually the Halukka regime was replaced by the generosity of the Baron De Rothschild, The Famous Benefactor, Father of the new Yishuv. Thereafter we demanded and received reparations from Germany, and later attached our independence to American generosity, to the tune of a few billion dollars a year. Recently, more and more donors, less and less anonymous, neglect the poor in order to bribe – legally and ingeniously – a wide range of politicians, institutes and NGOs. They partially finance our election campaigns and fill the empty coffers of our political parties.. Some of these foundations are receiving from the government more than they give, in order to distribute scholarships, mostly without proper supervision and control, among the eternal schnorrers of the Israeli academic world and the various institutes, flourishing like a tree planted by streams of money. One cannot underestimate the true repercussions of that private money on public morality. Most foundations were started modestly, in humble environments, but soon moved to ostentatious offices, mostly to satisfy the ambitions of their representatives in the country. Some of these are truly upstarts, adorning themselves in the riches of their benefactors, and refer to themselves, more than their employers, as the new lords of the state of Israel.
Theoretically, the proceedings of these foundations should have been none of our interests – since everyone may dispense with his money as he wishes – were it not for the fact that they reestablish the atmosphere if not the reality of the Halukka. It is not for me to deny the right of Jews around the world to distribute their money in Israel, even assuming that it exempts them from settling in the land and carry some of the burden of its defense; I honor their right to take any stand regarding Israel as the Jewish state, even denying its right to fancy itself as such. However, I cannot accept their involvement, to the tune of several hundred million dollars a year, in Israel’s sovereignty. This involvement corrupts public morality, and absolves the government from its duties to confront social, educational and cultural problems; it enriches a tiny stratum of activists who control the flow of that money, and tend to behave as unbearable colonialists. The inflation of the Third Sector is a byproduct of a ferocious Liberalism, abandoning the weak and disadvantaged of society, combined with the collapse of the government’s social functions. It is a byproduct of both phenomena as well as white collar parasitism, sponsored by universities, research institutes and a variety of questionable NGOs.
Many of the donors are motivated by a true love for the state of Israel. They truly believe that they contribute to the development of the country, helping the needy and advancing Tikun Olam i.e. the Reparation of the World which requires justice and charity. However they are mostly unaware of the negative implications of their philanthropy. Thin boundaries separate philanthropy from colonialism, especially in a small country like Israel where philanthropists are highly regarded. Hannah Arendt underlined the risk of mutual hatred between donors and beneficiaries which philanthropy may generate. On the one hand the donors enjoy the honors bestowed on them, the power, real or imaginary, which their money buys for them, simultaneously hating the beneficiaries who are unable to extricate themselves from their backwardness. On the other hand the beneficiaries flatter the donors while hating them proportionally to their dependence on them. Thus, philanthropy may cross the boundaries of good taste and deteriorates into colonialism, accompanied by arbitrariness if not domineering, and a taste of patronage, mostly cultural.
Colonialism plagues in particular the efforts of the American Jewish community to “convert” by all means Israeli students and youth to Judaism. American foundations pour millions of dollars to a variety of so called “Jewish Renewal” projects, exporting here Jewish patterns and modes inappropriate neither to the theological-civic reality of the country nor to the wishes of its inhabitants. Having failed in bequeathing their dogmas to the public – which is the general rule – they try selling their wares to the elites. We have just buried the Shenhar report on enhancing Jewish education in state schools, and the foundations go on pouring money into various NGOs, which are unable to compete with the charm that India exerts on a multitude of young secular Israeli travelers. And among the orthodox public, NGOs keep applying artificial respiration to Torah and charitable organizations, perpetuating the dependency of honest people on an obsolete way of life. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested during the last decades in multiple projects, from welfare to education, and all we see in those spheres is deterioration and malfunctioning of the state.
I am afraid that Philanthropy, as it is expressed in Israel, among other places, is mostly driving away philanthropists, instead of bringing them near. They are disliked, them as well as their representatives, and this rejection is un-concealable. As a general rule, beneficiaries do not like their benefactors. They are strangers, alienated from each other, especially when the benefactors are suspicious of the use of their resources. In such cases they tend to augment their involvement, directly or otherwise, augmenting as well the frustration of their beneficiaries. “The rich,” wrote Ernest Bloch, “like to gamble, using the poor as stakes” (E. Bloch, Traces, Gallimard, Paris, 1968, p. 37). And the poet Heinrich Heine raged against the honors bestowed on the Rothschilds: “For Mammon,” he cried, “is our God and Rothschild is his prophet” (H. Heine, Lutèce, Ressources, Genève, 1979, p.183). Achad ha’Am did not spare the first settlers of Rishon Le Zion, living, frightened and humiliated, under the yoke of the Baron’s bureaucracy, praising them in his legendary sarcasm, for raising vines at the price of depressing their stature.
We must investigate the foundations of Israel’s economy. If we are so dependent on charity from abroad, political or philanthropic, perhaps it’s time to develop a new economic theory or a new model of a state.


Ami Bouganim est né en 1951 à Essaouira (Mogador) au Maroc. Écrivain et philosophe, il écrit parallèlement en hébreu et en français. Il a publié une trentaine de recueils de nouvelles, de romans et d’essais dans les deux langues, dont Asher le Devin (Albin Michel, 2010), Vers la disparition d’Israël ? (Le Seuil, 2012) et Es-Saouira de Mogador (Avant-Propos, 2013), Tarédant à bout d’exil (Avant-Propos, 2014).