Charles Keidan of the Pears Foundation on Giving to Israel
A Pears Scholar hard at work at the Hebrew University’s Food and Agricultural Sciences campus in Rehovot, Israel
Tell us a little about how you personally choose to support Israel.
The Pears Foundation’s thinking around Israel has two tracks: promotion and support of Israel’s contribution to the wider world, and support within the State for a just and equitable society, along the lines of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
We help promote Israel’s academic expertise to address the challenges of the developing world. For example, 12 Pears Scholars come annually from developing countries to study Public Health or Plant Sciences at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. On their return to their home countries, the Scholars apply what they have learnt. Scholar alumni networks support and monitor the extent of their future contributions, all of which are partly a result of their experience of living and working in Israel. This is good for the developing world and for Israel. We have also partnered with the British and Israeli Governments on a major academic exchange program between British and Israeli universities run by the British Council in Israel.
Our second area of focus is supporting work aimed at increasing equality between Jews and Arabs in Israel. We took our lead here from Israeli Supreme Court Judge Theodore Or and the ‘Or Commission Report’, which highlighted Jewish-Arab relations within Israel as one of the most important strategic issues facing the country. I am delighted that the UK Task Force on Arab Citizens of Israel was announced this fall.
What sparked your interest in supporting Israel? How has your interest evolved over time?
Our foundation has Jewish roots. This identity has led to a strong attachment to Israel and a desire to contribute to its welfare and prosperity. Our interest in Israel is increasingly shaped by an awareness of how events in the Middle East region directly affect the identity and well-being of Jewish and non-Jewish communities around the world.
How does your giving to Israel affect or relate to your understanding of your Jewish identity?
I think I have to some extent already answered this above. I would add that we are very driven by what we perceive as Jewish values, and this is reflected in the kinds of work we do in support of Israel.
Are there aspects of supporting Israel that you find challenging? If so, which and why?
The relationship between the Jewish world and Israel is changing and Jewish philanthropy directed towards Israel needs to keep pace with these changes. My ideal Jewish philanthropy in Israel would be to build respectful partnerships and make efforts aimed at supporting structural solutions to pressing social, economic and political issues.
There is a difficult balance in playing a part in supporting aspects of Israel’s development, and yet not using Diaspora support for Israel as a substitute for the Israeli State’s responsibilities, or those of its citizens. Creating mutual respect rather than dependency on external Jewish donors is a big challenge, especially given the extent to which many Israeli NGO’s continue to be disproportionately funded from overseas. Separately, the absence of a strong philanthropic elite in Israel is surprising given the wealth that has been generated there in recent years.
More practical questions include deciding whether to invest through intermediary organizations. Do you want to be a good communal citizen and fund through your local Jewish Federation – in the UK case that would mean funding through an organization like the United Jewish Israel Appeal – or do you want to fund work directly, particularly if you have locally engaged staff who can work quickly and directly with grantees? There are advantages to both approaches.
How does our generation donate to Israel in new and different ways from our parents’ generation?
First, our generation donates less and represents a declining share of Israel’s GDP.
Second, our generation takes a more demanding and analytical approach to philanthropy rather than just attending fundraising events and writing out cheques. However this trend is perhaps less marked in relation to Israel where emotional appeals are still a strong feature of philanthropic engagement.
I think there is also a difference between Foundations with professional staff and individual giving, the latter tending to be less strategic.
Finally, I think our generation is also increasingly grappling with the question of whether to provide qualified or unqualified support to Israel. The emergence of the U.S.PAC ‘J Street reflects the presence of some of these dilemmas.
What impact do you feel the state of Israel’s economy should have on a decision whether or not to donate to Israel?
Arguably, the state of Israel’s policy is as important as the state of its economy when deciding whether to invest charitable resources in Israel. That’s because the environment in which one tries to create philanthropic impact is shaped to a large extent by the political as well as the economic context in which one operates. I am not referring here to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, though that conflict does shape the decisions of many donors. More fundamentally it is a question of how a country governs itself. For example, any investment our Foundation makes in education in Israel will need to be informed by an understanding of the Israeli education system – how it is resourced and structured, and where the opportunities to add value lie. The same is true for our investments in education in the UK and many other areas.
How do you believe supporting Israel impacts the relationship between Israelis and those in the Diaspora?
I think there needs to be a fundamental re-shaping and re-thinking of Israel-Diaspora relations.
I would start by dropping the term ‘Diaspora’, something I believe Rabbi Michael Melchior suggested when he was Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs. I regard myself as a British Jew, rather than a potential Israeli citizen. That does not mean reducing our attachment to Israel – far from it – but it is does lead to a change in the terms of the engagement. This change has been underway for some time, but the forms and language of the relationship have failed to keep pace with the new dispensation. Dr. David Schneer wrote about this in his book The New Jews.
Conversely, I am not sure whether Israelis generally appreciate, or frankly even think about, the involvement of Jews from outside Israel. I suspect that large numbers outside the NGO world are either indifferent or unaware of it. I indicated above in answer four how I would prefer things to be.
On a positive note, I believe there is enormous potential for the Jewish world and Israel to come together to work in partnership as ‘The Jewish People’ and play a significant role in global efforts to tackle extreme poverty and collaborate on international development.
How do you see the Israel-Diaspora relationship evolving in the future, and what role can or should philanthropy play in this development?
There are approximately 500,000 Israelis living outside of Israel. There are currently more Israelis coming to London than Jewish Londoners leaving for Israel. The question of the Israeli diaspora’s social, economic and political relationship with their homeland is an issue requiring more analysis.
As for Israel-world Jewry relations, there are huge opportunities to re-define this relationship but also huge challenges. Philanthropy is likely to have an important role as a funder, convener and thinker on all the above.
Personally, I would like to see a renewed Jewish-Israeli engagement with international development efforts – a collective effort of the Jewish people to fight extreme poverty. Our Foundation is still working towards – and dreaming of – the creation of a global ‘Jewish Service Corps’ as one manifestation of this effort.