Into the Fray: Failed philanthropy

The present abysmal political realities reflect failure of "Right"-wing philanthropists to identify organizations and activities that can effectively advance their world view.

blind man asking for charity 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
blind man asking for charity 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Philanthropy is not working as well as it should, and almost everyone knows it. The causes that receive the most donations are not necessarily the ones that make the greatest impact. Personal whims and preferences of donors determine where dollars flow more than proven effectiveness.Eric Friedman, “Why Philanthropy Needs Reinventing,” Philanthropy Journal, August 26, 2013
Yom Kippur is the time for inner reflection. So here is something to reflect on.
The coalition today is, allegedly, one of the most hawkish in many years. Yet it has not only declared its willingness to engage in negotiations on what is, arguably, one of the most dovish policy proposals ever considered by an Israeli government, but has agreed to unprecedented concessionary gestures to facilitate the commencement of these negotiations.
Hawkish politicians, dovish policies?
Readers will recall that the current government not only consented to the release of scores of brutal convicted murderers, in return for nothing beyond the Palestinians’ agreement to resume negotiations, in which one would expect them to have a greater interest than Israel. It also agreed – at least tacitly – that the basis for these negotiations would be Israeli withdrawal to the indefensible pre-1967 lines. Moreover, until recently, it had reportedly imposed an undeclared freeze – or at least, a severe slowdown – on Jewish construction in Judea-Samaria.
Consider the composition of the coalition that has embraced – or at least, acceded to – these policy precepts.
Apart from Binyamin Netanyahu, who repeatedly excoriated his opponents on the Left for adopting a policy far less compliant than the one he has acquiesced to, its ranks comprise an array of prominent, purported hardliners, whose political careers were built on staunch opposition to precisely the policy which the government they dominate now embraces.
Both the defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, and the minister of intelligence, international relations and strategic affairs, Yuval Steinitz, are on record, articulating a strong and detailed rationale against the establishment of a Palestinian state, warning of the grave perils such a development would entail. Steinitz, for example, warned that “a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria would bring about Israel’s demise.”
Ya’alon cautioned that acceding to a Palestinian state would be “irresponsible in security terms” and risk “snipers in Jerusalem” and “rockets hitting Ben-Gurion Airport.”
Other Likud ministers including Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan and Transportation Minister Israel Katz, have all recently expressed opposition to Palestinian statehood. Influential younger members, with strong party backing, have been even more forthright in their rejection of the idea – such as the hawkish Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely, coalition chairman Yariv Levin, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and of course, his outspoken deputy, Moshe Feiglin.
Even more hawks
Ministers from other coalition factions have been no less emphatic in their rejection of Palestinian statehood and/or in their skepticism as to its prospects.
The head of the Yisrael Beytenu party and foreign minister-in-waiting, Avigdor Liberman, brusquely dismissed the chances of achieving lasting peace with the Palestinians, dubbing it “impossible.”
Veteran minister Uzi Landau has vehemently rejected a Palestinian state for years, and his new Yisrael Beytenu colleague, Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, wrote earlier this year: “... we must remove the idea of a Palestinian state in our area from the Israeli agenda immediately.”
Then of course there are the 12 Knesset members of the Bayit Yehudi faction who all vigorously oppose any idea of Palestinian statehood in Judea and Samaria. Party leader Naftali Bennett recently declared, “The idea that a Palestinian state will be formed in the Land of Israel has come to a dead end,” adding acerbically, “Never in the annals of Israel have so many people expended so much energy on something so futile.”
There is little doubt that this reflects the view of the other two Bayit Yehudi ministers, Uri Ariel and Ori Orbach, and the two deputy ministers, Eli Ben-Dahan and Avi Wortzman.
Public pessimism in polls
Recent polls strongly suggest that the sentiments of skepticism and suspicion reflected in the public proclamations of many of the coalition Knesset members, reflect the majority view in the Israeli public.
For example, in two monthly surveys conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University (neither – to put it mildly – an organization with strong ties to the Right) showed: (a) Almost three-quarters of the public (and over three-quarters of the Jewish respondents) do not believe that even if Israel signed a peace agreement with Mahmoud Abbas, this would bring about the end of the conflict with the Palestinians (August 2013); and (b) Even if Israel and the Palestinians reach an understanding and a permanent peace agreement that includes security arrangements for Israel, a demilitarized Palestinian state, international guarantees, and declaration of the end of the conflict by the Palestinians, over 55 percent of the public (and over 62% of the Jewish respondents) would reject such deal; only 38.4% (and 32.4% of the Jewish respondents) would support it.
Astonishing political situation
Clearly then, we have an astonishing political situation unfolding before our eyes: A ruling coalition embarking on a policy that most of its members have warned against – and doing so not only in the total absence of any public pressure on them to do so, but despite the fact much of the public has grave misgivings as to the feasibility and desirability of such policy.
Regardless of an impressive preponderance of ministers, deputy ministers and influential Knesset members in key parliamentary positions, Israel’s hawks have found themselves compelled to adopt increasingly dovish positions – without being coerced to do so by the clamor of their constituency and despite the dovish doctrine being dramatically discredited.
These realities totally contradict the prevailing urban legend that Israeli politics has veered sharply to the Right in recent years.
After all, in Israel the Left vs Right identity of a political party is determined largely in terms of the Dove-Hawk divide with regard to territorial concessions, mainly on the Palestinian front, rather than in terms of socioeconomic issues. (For example the ultra-religious Shas party is more welfareoriented than the secular dovish bourgeoisie Meretz faction).
In this context, the right wing has been obliterated as a political force. For although it may be true that in terms of formal organization labels, parties designated as left-wing have had their parliamentary representation sharply reduced, while that of those labeled Right has risen, this is certainly not so in terms of ideological substance or political action.
Thus, despite the “Right’s” strong showing at the polls, it has been the Left that has been victorious in the implementation of its ideology.
After all, beyond issues of style, nuance and emphasis there is very little difference between the declared platform of the Likud, and the policy advanced until recently by the far-left Meretz faction, at least as far as the defining Palestinian issue is concerned.
It was the Likud, not the Left, that introduced the theory and practice of unrequited unilateral concessions into Israeli politics – first with the disengagement from Gaza, and more recently with the prisoner releases.
The discourse determines the decisions
This seems to indicate that neither electoral success nor public support play a dominant role in determining political realities in Israel.
Rather, as I have pointed out in previous columns, these realities are, to a large degree, generated by a small but highly influential group of civil society elites, and are the result of the pursuit of the personal and professional interests of these groups, which, in turn, are to a large degree a product of the personal and professional ties they maintain with peer groups abroad.
From their unelected positions of power and privilege – in the mainstream media, legal establishment and academia – these elites are able to control much of political discourse in the country. It is this discourse that impacts the perception of the elected politicians and creates the perceived constraints that the policy-makers feel, and the perceived possibilities they feel are available to them.
It is in this manner that Israel’s unelected civil society elites are able to determine the defining strictures for the agenda which the elected politicians feel obliged to follow, and the conceptual framework to which their policy parameters must adhere.
It is in this sense that the political discourse determines the political decisions that determine the political realities. Whoever is able to control that discourse – whatever their electoral success – will be able to control the political decision-making process and the political realities that result from it.
Comprehending cause and consequence
Without a firm grasp of this causal relationship and the internal mechanisms through which it works, it is impossible to understand the process of cause and effect in Israeli politics. Without such comprehension, no political action can be successful – at least in terms of its practical strategic impact.
It is precisely here that “right-wing” donors have been gravely amiss. Overall, they have channeled their generous contributions to endeavors/causes, which, for all their undisputed merit, have very little strategic value in determining political realities – even if these were wildly successful in achieving their goals.
After all, the socioeconomic success of prosperous and thriving Jewish communities in Gaza could not ensure their survival without ideo-intellectual underpinnings to generate the political will to sustain them – even under a Likud-led government.
Similarly, neither will efforts to prevent the shameful desecration of the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, to secure the religious rights of Jews on the Temple Mount or to continue the archeological restoration of the City of David prevent the division of Jerusalem, unless the political will to secure its unity under Jewish sovereignty prevails. If such will fails, Jewish rights on the Mount of Olives, on the Temple Mount or in City of David will be academic.
New strategy of giving needed
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that present abysmal political realities reflect a failure of right-wing philanthropists to identify organizations/activities that can effectively advance their worldview.
In this regard, one can, as a broad generalization, identify a schism in the strategy of giving that differentiates the Left from the Right.
Left-wing donors have directed their funding more towards frameworks that articulate/ propagate political agendas, such as the New Israel Fund, J Street and Peace Now.
Right-wing donors by contrast have focused funding on the far-more tangible: purchasing buildings from Arab owners, acquiring land, preserving and protecting sites of significance for Jewish heritage and so on. These of course are all worthy causes, but they will have little lasting value if the Left continues to control the discourse.
While I do not want to be understood as denigrating these efforts, if they come at the expense of, or drain away resources from, initiatives aimed at winning the strategic ideo-intellectual battle with the Left, and wresting away its control of the political discourse, they may, in the long run, be found to have caused more harm than good. A plausible case can be made that disproportionate emphasis on enterprises such has these has allowed the Left to hijack the agenda and control the discourse, while leaving the major strategic front unattended – or at least, under-attended.
Crucial crossroads for Zionism
While I mean no offense in raising these issues – and hope none is taken – I expect some will take umbrage.
Nevertheless, I believe a vigorous debate on the topic is imperative.
After all, few will disagree that Zionism is at a crucial crossroad today – arguably one of the most fateful in its tumultuous history.
How the Jewish people – in Israel and the Diaspora – should make optimal use of the resources available to it to ensure the survival of their nation-state in a viscerally hostile environment is a question of immense importance.
I have merely sketched the framework for more comprehensive discussion. It is a discussion I will pursue in a coming column – in a more detailed and action-oriented manner – soon.
Until then, Gmar hatima tova!
Martin Sherman ( is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (