Gates and Buffet 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
In June, US billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet invited
America’s wealthiest citizens to join them in committing to give more than half
of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes either during their
lifetime or following their death.
Entitled, the “Giving Pledge,” the
Gates-Buffet initiative is defined both as an effort to help address society’s
most pressing problems by encouraging giving among the most capable, and to
encourage discussion as to how philanthropy can be more effective and
Six weeks following the announcement, no fewer than 40 of
America’s wealthiest individuals committed themselves to return the majority of
their wealth to charitable causes by taking the “Giving Pledge.”
mega-donors include some of American Jewry’s most respected philanthropists, who
give to both local and Israeli institutions.
ISRAELIS HAVE every reason
to be proud of the achievements of many of the country’s most prosperous
citizens, reflecting the strength and vitality of our private sector.
appearance of Israelis on the Forbes and Business Week lists is a positive and
important message to those contemplating either investing in Israel or coming to
As many local nonprofit associations (amutot) can attest,
Israelis do give and are forthcoming with both their money and time. Yet except
for a small number of isolated major donations, institutions here have yet to
benefit from the kind of mega-gifts from Israelis to which the Gates-Buffet
initiative aspires and of which many Israeli donors are indeed
When overseas Jews are today approached on behalf of Israeli
institutions, their first, very legitimate question is “Are Israelis donating to
your cause?” At a time when middle-class Israelis are traveling abroad in record
numbers and living on a standard that now exceeds most of southern Europe, one
must make a very good argument for a gift from an overseas Jew who is
simultaneously being canvassed for his/her local institutions, which are
themselves in urgent need.
Raising funds in overseas Jewish communities
remains legitimate and important, as Israel’s growth and success is the historic
responsibility of all Jews everywhere. Yet today, no Israeli institution can
convincingly raise funds overseas unless it can demonstrate that local Israelis
are also giving.
Therefore, the time is now for Israel’s wealthiest
individuals and families to step up to the “Giving Pledge” challenge. And as
Israel is home to a third sector rich in worthy causes that well serve society,
the list of possible recipients is varied and long.
At the same time,
local institutions need to invest a greater amount of effort to reach out to
The government must also provide more tax incentives for
donors, though not as a replacement for government support of public
Persons of great wealth are remembered much more for their
contributions to society than for how they made their money or the empires they
built. Most people do not know how Alfred Nobel made his fortune, but all are
familiar with the Nobel Prize. This giving imperative is the challenge before
Israel’s elite, and the Jewish world anticipates that it is yet another
milestone that Israel can meet and excel at.
The writer is associate vice
president of the Jerusalem Foundation.