By Avi Naor, January 15, 2017
Who decided that we need extravagant 70th anniversary celebrations paid for by our rich uncle?
We have recently been informed of the Israeli government’s decision that because of a lack of funds, the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Declaration of Independence, costing around NIS 70-100 million, will be funded by donations from wealthy people in Israel and abroad. Our government even outdid itself by deciding that the prime minister himself would be responsible for obtaining the donations.
This is one of the most shameful decisions an Israeli government has ever made. I was taught, and I have taught my children, that one should live modestly and within one’s means. Who decided that we need ostentatious celebrations, and that if we don’t have enough money to fund them by ourselves, the solution is to solicit contributions from our rich uncle? How humiliating, how lacking in self-respect, and how degrading for the Israeli public and for our brethren abroad.
When Israel was established, the young country needed donations from world Jewry to build and protect it. The state raised money to buy weapons, absorb immigrants, build physical infrastructures, establish educational and health systems, make the desert bloom, and more. Most citizens of the new country did not have the resources to contribute; the culture, too, was very different, and it was thus natural to raise funds abroad.
Since then, however, not a few Israelis have amassed large fortunes, and have come to understand that together with their economic capacity comes an obligation to the society in which they live—to the society in which they acquired an education, experience, money, and property—and an obligation to the values that shaped their character and their lives.
Recognizing this obligation has led many Israeli philanthropists to make significant investments of resources and time in huge enterprises for strengthening Israel’s social fabric, furthering social justice, and constantly striving to turn Israel into a model society. In these cynical times, it would seem that countless NGOs working for the benefit of Israeli society—organizations such as Natal, Lamerhav, Sheatufim, Or Yarok, the Youth Villages and Boarding Schools venture, the Shahaf Foundation, and many other worthy causes—are somewhat naïve. The spirit of the age is better demonstrated by the poor personal example and lack of values showed by the country’s leaders, who request donations not to solve important social problems but to throw a party.
Many of us in the Israeli philanthropic community invest considerable effort in mobilizing the younger generation of Diaspora Jews to join us and to contribute together to Israeli society. Now and again, we manage to overcome their suspicion—to prove that font-family: Israeli society is committed to investing in itself, and that the partnership with Diaspora Jewry is genuine—and together we are building a reliable philanthropic ecosystem with criteria and transparency, for the benefit of the Jewish world as a whole.
But then our prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, gets up and brazenly makes a decision that negates the whole basis of this relationship with world Jewry. When the prime minister of my country knocks on the doors of Diaspora mansions and eyes the bank accounts of rich capitalists, he humiliates me and offends me as a citizen. When Netanyahu seeks overseas donations for a celebration of our independence, he makes a mockery out of that independence. And when the one cause that moves the Prime Minister to play fundraiser is funding a public display in which he will personally play a starring role, even as many Israelis in need are suffering, he undermines the country’s basic values.
Mr. Prime Minister, you are cordially invited to lend a hand in helping to find partners for assisting people with disabilities, people suffering from trauma, children and youth at risk, and Holocaust survivors, and to help get elderly people out of hospital corridors, to strengthen the periphery, and to improve relationships and cooperation between the different sectors and tribes in Israel. If you have the time to raise funds for celebrations, then you have time to raise funds for the many far more urgent needs facing Israeli society.
The writer is a recipient of the Israel Prize and founder of the Or Yarok Organization for Safer Driving