How a strong economy could save the Middle East

"The first question is, how do you get more American Jews to just visit Israel? 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."

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 said, sitting in his Manhattan office in Midtown East, replete with pictures of his family and the various world leaders he’s met. “The first question is, how do you get more American Jews to just visit Israel? 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 actually visited Israel is “shockingly low”– 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.”
Bronfman, 54, one of the single largest American Jewish investors in Israel, grew up in a family that was not only passionate about the Jewish people, but was always politically, socially and economically engaged with Israel and the Jewish community in America. His father, Edgar Bronfman, Sr., was a philanthropist and the president of the World Jewish Congress, who heavily advocated for the Russian Jewish community during the breakup of the Soviet Union. Charles Bronfman, Matthew’s uncle, was one of the founders of Taglit- Birthright.
Bronfman, for his part, feels so connected to Israel that he even speaks of it as “where we live,” and “our neighbors in the region,” even though he does not hold Israeli citizenship.
He is now a major shareholder in the Israel Discount Bank, the Shufersal supermarket chain and Ikea Israel, all of which he says are expanding. In fact, Ikea Israel will be opening its third store in the country in Kiryat Ata in March 2014, alongside a large new shopping center that will open the following summer.
“We’re very excited about this,” Bronfman said. “We’re really looking forward to bringing our brand, Ikea, to the North.”
In the meantime, he said, the first two Ikea stores have been doing very well. “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 is “grounded in Jewish ethics and Jewish morals.”
Similarly, his investment in Israel began as a “macro-bet” on the country’s future.
Even though he is staunchly Zionist and considers himself a “proud Jew,” as a consummate businessman, Bronfman is also supportive of the idea of economics and jobs and the ultimate peacemaker between nations. He said he is “100%” supportive of the new deal signed by International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz and Palestinian Finance Minster Shukri Bishara during the UN General Assembly on September 26, in which Steinitz committed Israel to helping grow the Palestinian economy.
“At the end of the day, people with jobs are less likely to be aggressive,” Bronfman said. “The internal turmoil going on in Egypt, it’s about jobs, it’s about economic security. 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 said he hopes eventually Israel and all her neighbors will be able to enjoy economic security. “When you look at all our neighbors, it shows that economic stability is really the bedrock of political stability,” he said.
“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."