NEW YORK – How would Matthew Bronfman convince more people to invest in Israel?
“I think that’s really the second question you need to ask,” Bronfman says,
sitting in his Manhattan office, replete with pictures of his family and the
various world leaders he has met.
“The first question is, how do you get
more American Jews to just visit Israel?” he states. “You’re not going to make
an investment in a place where you don’t feel comfortable and don’t have some
sort of passion.”
He points out that the number of American Jews who have
ever visited Israel is shockingly low, at 41 percent, according to a 2012 survey
by the American Jewish Committee, and only 35% according to the Jewish
Federations of North America.
“So the first thing I would do is let them
come to Israel and fall in love,” he says.
Bronfman, 54, one of the most
generous American Jewish investors in Israel, grew up in a family that was not
only passionate about the Jewish people, but always politically, socially and
economically engaged with the Jewish state and the Jewish community in America.
His father, Edgar Bronfman, Sr., was a philanthropist and, as president of the
World Jewish Congress, had heavily advocated on behalf of Jews in the Former
Soviet Union. Charles Bronfman, Matthew’s uncle, was one of the founders of
Matthew, on his part, feels so connected to Israel
that, when discussing it, he speaks of “where we live,” and “our neighbors in
the region,” although he does not hold Israeli citizenship.
But he is a
major shareholder in the Israel Discount Bank, the Shufersal retail chain and
Ikea Israel, all of which, he says, are expanding.
In fact, Ikea Israel
will open its third store in the country in Kiryat Ata, a Haifa suburb, in March
2014, alongside a large new shopping center scheduled to open the following
“We’re very excited about this,” Bronfman says. “We’re really
looking forward to bringing our brand, Ikea, to the North.”
meantime, he continues, Israel’s first two Ikea stores have been doing very
well, and “we’re very pleased with the results.”
In an interview with The
Jerusalem Post in 2012, Bronfman said that his motivation for his multiple
philanthropic efforts was “grounded in Jewish ethics and Jewish
Similarly, his investment in Israel began as a “macrobet” on the
When he’s not busy running some of Israel’s largest
businesses, Bronfman devotes much of his time to the American Jewish Committee,
the 92nd Street Y and Limmud FSU, which focuses on helping Russianspeaking Jews
and their descendants to reconnect with their Jewish roots. The secondary
purpose is “Jewish social networking,” he jokes.
Bronfman takes a moderate stance, saying there needs to be a way to encourage
intermarried couples to raise a more Jewish-minded family.
Israel, Bronfman advocates integrating the ultra-Orthodox sector into mainstream
society through mandatory national – although not necessarily military –
service. “I think there is so much talent in that community – so much talent,
discipline and the ability to sift through issues and problems, that to not have
them part of the overall economy is ultimately going to be a very, very
devastating thing for Israel,” he explains.
“If you look throughout
[Jewish] history, people learned, but people also worked,” Bronfman
“There was no subsidy from some greater state. Families needed to
It shouldn’t be the requirement that all of your sons
are living off the state.
That, I think, is not healthy” for
Bronfman is “100 percent” supportive of the new deal signed by
International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz and Palestinian Finance Minister
Shukri Bishara during the UN General Assembly on September 26, in which Steinitz
committed Israel to helping develop the Palestinian economy.
“At the end
of the day, people with jobs are less likely to be aggressive,” Bronfman
suggests. “The internal turmoil going on in Egypt – it’s about jobs, it’s about
People who are hungry or unemployed tend to want to
lash out. So the fact that Israel can help the Palestinians from an economic
standpoint is tremendous.”
Bronfman hopes that eventually, Israel and her
neighbors will enjoy economic security. “When you look at all our neighbors, it
shows that economic stability is really the bedrock of political stability,” he
says. “So ultimately, my dream would be that we have peace in the region, and
I’m hoping – I’m not hopeful, but I’m hoping – that we could have the type of
economic cooperation which would be good for us and good for our neighbors.”