Israeli Philanthropy: Can You Guess the Donor?

Photo by Petra Patitucci
What Lies Beneath?

Can You Guess the Donor?

Let’s play a guessing game. It’s called “Can You Guess the Donor?” I’ll give you some of the foundation’s recent donations and you determine its priorities.

    • $15 million to the Jewish Agency for Israel to help with immigrant absorption
    • $6 million to help needy children in the Former Soviet Union
    • $6 million to help elderly Jews in the Former Soviet Union
    • $2 million to aid Persian Jews’ immigration and absorption into Israeli society ($10,000 per person x 200 immigrants, offer is open to all Jewish immigrants coming from Iran in the coming years)

    TOTAL: $29 million (2007– 2010 and counting)

    The Answer and The Catch

    IFCJ Logo

    Have you figured out who it is? These donations all source from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ).

    So what’s the catch? It’s a slippery one. Each major donation from this evangelical Christian organization comes with the agreement that the IFCJ will have a say in how the money is spent.

    Got that? It’s not how the organization is run, but how the money they donate will be spent. (The crux being that we’re talking about so much money.)

    We’ve been having an ongoing discussion about the ethics of these donations and whether they imply that the organization is buying its way into controlling a large portion of the Jewish philanthropic world.

    The donations to the Former Soviet Union will be channeled through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and all absorption related donations will be through the Jewish Agency.

    What would Maimonides say? Keep reading to find out.

    Rambam’s Tzedakah Ladder

    While these dealings don’t disturb me specifically, there has been something goading me since hearing about the IFCJ’s negotiations. Finally I realized– something about the relations seems counter to Maimonides’ principles of giving.

    The great rabbi Maimonides (lovingly called The Rambam) offers the following hierarchical order for valuing giving:

    Maimonides’ Ladder
    1. Giving a poor person work so that he will not have to depend on charity
    2. Giving charity anonymously to an unknown recipient
    3. Giving charity anonymously to a known recipient
    4. Giving charity publicly to an unknown recipient
    5. Giving charity before being asked
    6. Giving charity after being asked
    7. Giving willingly, but inadequately
    8. Giving unwilling

    While no one can claim that the IFCJ is not funding generously, their giving seems contrary to Maimonides’ principles. Now I’m not naive in thinking that giving doesn’t come with interest added, but such large giving and such controlling requests?

    What Are Your Thoughts?

    So what’s your opinion? Does the good these donations will create come at too high a cost in the world of Jewish philanthropy or is the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews doing the best it can at protecting vulnerable Jewish communities around the world as best it knows how?

    I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

    Recommended Reading

    Learn more about the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews Jewish philanthropy:

    Learn more about the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee:

    Learn more about the IFCJ’s campaigns to support vulnerable Jewish communities (external links):



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    12 Responses to Israeli Philanthropy: Can You Guess the Donor?

    1. Shai says:

      I don’t understand where you think they’ve run afowl of Rambam’s tenets, especially since they the beneficiaries may receive funds to help them find work and who think the money came from the Joint or from the Jewish Agency.

      I also don’t know what their “terms” are. But I do know that the New Israel Fund, the Abraham Fund, and similar funds target monies to advance their values and may come from motives some disagree with, as might others who disagree with funds for Ateret Cohanim or Gush Emunim, so what is the huge difference? Has anyone forced recipients to adopt their donor’s motives?

      There is also, I think, a similar obligation on the part of a recipient not to accept funds if they feel the strings attached compromise their values. Maya, do you have examples of strings attached that you think warrant refusing the donations?

      Lastly, seeing how money is sometimes wasted, isn’t it reasonable that the organization wants at least the same involvement in the spending of its money as the everpresent family foundation does?

    2. Maya Norton says:


      Here you are bringing up elements that I am still considering whether to add back in to the entry. My intention in how this post is written is– I admit it– slanted for the purpose of fostering discussion.

      It is certainly true that all large donations create a relationship, and yes, a relationship of obligation (potentially both positive and negative) between giver and recipient. How it plays out depends on the terms and the parties.

      In truth, I think of the IFCJ as an especially clean organization in its giving because the populations it gives to and the needs it addresses are ultimately so pure in the spectrum. Poor people, needy children, immigrants from oppressive countries, absorption into the Jewish homeland– now how can you argue with that?

      I’m also interested in learning more about Rabbi Eckstein’s leadership as he seems like such a charismatic figure at the head of an organization that is ultimately doing so much good for Jews worldwide. Take their blog (linked above) as evidence. Rarely will you find an organization so pro-Israel, especially and including amongst our own communal groups.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Shai.


    3. Dan says:

      Morning Maya,

      I’m not sure from your post where the “slippery” or “too high a cost comes from” in relation to these donations. What the Fellowship is insisting in (I believe) is mostly transparency / accountability. They are not alone in this regard. Many large organizations, including the UJC and JAFI have been forced by their donors to become more open in recent years. This is long overdue. JAFI in particular has made mega-strides in this regard (and not out of their own choice).

      At the session on Jewish Philanthropy at the recent Herzliya Conference, noted Israeli philanthropist Avi Noar stated quite clearly “…There is no justification for investment that does not have a measurable and provable return…”. This includes knowing where and how the donations are spent.

      I think they are absolutely correct in insisting on this involvement.

      On the other hand, if the question you are REALLY ASKING is how do we feel about seats on the Jewish Agency’s Board going to non-Jews (for the first time ever) that is a whole different discussion. And a valid one.

    4. Dan says:

      p.s. It is this exact same request that Sheldon Adelson insists on. He gave $60. million directly to Birthright Israel and bypassed all other organizations’ requests in this regard (and has indicated such to the large communal organizations).

    5. Lee says:

      Hi Maya!

      Nice post. It’s refreshing to see a different slant to the topic, and it does succeed in getting your readers’ attention and feedback.
      Even if the “slippery” isn’t so obvious here, similar dilemmas do exist in the philanthropic “marketplace.” In many ways, we’re lucky to have another substantial reource like the IFCJ caring for our brethren, and for their part, they did well in choosing well established Jewish foundations as their vehicle.
      As others before me have said, knowing where your money goes is THE trend in most giving nowadays.

    6. Shimon says:

      I also don’t see your argument, whether in relation to Rambam or generally. The fact is that more and more individuals, foundations and other sources of charitable donations link their largesse to specific programmes. This not only satisfies their desire to see their money used towards objectives that are important to them; it also helps to ensure transparency in the way the recipient organisation uses the money. By giving ‘unrestricted’ funds to a charity you have no way of knowing how your money was used. It may have been used to pay for a (wealthy) lay leader’s expenses to attend a meeting, to buy more paper for the office photocopier or to fund dancing lessons in the Ukraine. You just don’t know. But if you give the money with a specific goal in mind you win in several ways: the recipient organisation must focus its energy on developing a programme that meets the need that you want met. There then exist benchmarks against which you (and they) can measure their performance. If their progress reports are unsatisfactory then you know that (a) there might be a problem with the aim of the programme or (b) a problem with its implementation. If the former, then you, the donor, will have to re-evaluate your aspirations. If the latter, then you may have to consider giving your money to a different organisation in future.
      The fact is that simply giving money to a “charity” does not necessarily mean that you have fulfilled the mitzvah to give 10% of your net income in tzedakah. If you are serious about giving maiseh then you have to be scrupulous in how, and to whom, and for what purposes, you give money. Rambam says a LOT about that; his “ladder” is just the tip of the iceberg.

    7. Maya Norton says:

      Shai, Dan, and Lee~

      Thank you for your comments and correcting me: you are right.

      We shall agree to strike “slippery” from the record* then and instead say that it is good practice to be responsible and have a strong hand in your philanthropic investing.

      * I won’t remove it from the post since your comments refer to it and that might be confusing, but for the sake of what we are saying here, consider it removed.

      In repentance for this entry, I shall soon do one on philanthropic investing and how donors can manage their donations, one that I have been working to collect evidence on anyway.

      So, let me officially say: thank you for correcting me, which I always appreciate as a learning tool.


    8. Maya Norton says:

      Thanks, Shimon, good points.

      If you can’t see me now, I am standing in the corner, corrected. 🙂

      I seem to have made an unfair assumption that I took from the articles I was researching about the donation and the language they used to describe the relationship and used it to form this post because it was what I could find.

      Dan is right in pointing out that I am likely confounding the issues of their donations themselves and their seats gained on the Jewish Agency’s board. This is what I mean when I talk about a “catch,” but I spread the conflict (yes, I do consider it a bit of a conflict, positive or negative is yet to be determined) to all their donations, the Joint as well as JAFI, which I shouldn’t have done and what is being called into question here. That is where my slight taint of the organization sources from.

      This entry wasn’t meant to put a black mark on the IFCJ, more to create a discussion, but I didn’t do a good job of it. The place for that discussion was on the post about the Jewish Agency seats given to the IFCJ, which you can see linked above under the category Recommended Reading.


    9. Ron Wegsman says:

      The problem is that we Jews see JAFI not just as a philanthropic agency but as a kind of Jewish government. The WZO is supposed to be that, and most of us (including myself, even after having worked for a few years in the JAFI system) can’t tell the difference between the WZO and JAFI. Christians on the JAFI board — doesn’t that mean goyim making decisions in the Jewish government? Oy!

    10. I think the Rambam may be relevant here. The Rambam’s hierarchy of giving seems to put a premium on dignity and autonomy, two factors which are part of what *enliven* a person. Nonetheless, the fact of keeping the person alive and sustained physically is understood to be worth sacrificing some of that dignity and autonomy if need be.

      The issue we seem to be circling around in our case is that of autonomy. The question is whether in receiving money from non-Jewish interests there is any *reasonable* chance that the relationship will undermine our ability to express our will and self-interest. (i.e. Is the giver merely an extension of our own will or not?) If there is such a concern, we should consider whether if push comes to shove we will have the ability to extract ourselves from the relationship and reclaim our autonomy. If not, this may not be the best situation to put ourselves into!

      It also makes me think about Israel’s relationship with the U.S. How much of Israel’s autonomy is it willing to sacrifice? To what extent has such sacrifice undermined Israel’s self-interests — and its internal vitality? Has Israel put itself in a position where it is unable to extricate itself?


    11. Shai says:

      Whoa, David. That last comment about Israel’s relationship with the US is spot on. You know you have the problem you described when American voters have more influence on the Israeli PM regarding Israel’s foreign and defence policy than Israeli voters do.

    12. texas yid says:

      Sidney Kimmel of West palm beachgave $500 million for cancer research
      \Walter \Annenberg gave \4100 to the united nigro colege fund
      michael bloomberg has given hundreds of millions to ireland,italy etc to get them to stop smoking and he is planning on giving an additional \$7 \BILLION to gentile countries for stop smokinh nonsense
      \Michael \dell gave a fortune to gentiles
      mark cuban gave millions to gentiles
      \In fact \idiotic super rich |jews give well over a billion dollars a year to gentiles, \So dont try and wow me when goys give 27 mill to jews\!

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