Jewish Not-for-Profits Use Gaza War To Drum Up Donations

Wanna Help Israel's Fight? Write a Check to Us!

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By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published July 24, 2014, issue of August 01, 2014.

Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza.

So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza. Other Jewish groups are asking for money to pay for shelters, or fire engines, or therapists.

It’s all part of a wartime feeding frenzy among Jewish fundraisers that has raised uncounted millions from American donors in July.

Nearly every major American Jewish not-for-profit has a fundraising campaign pegged to the conflict: The Jewish Federations of North America, the Orthodox Union, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and the Jewish National Fund. Even the left-wing New Israel Fund is raising money off the war.

And those are just the big institutional efforts. A Facebook group called Stronger Together posted a list of dozens of smaller, no-name efforts: six groups gathering money to send care packages of underwear and towels to Israeli soldiers, three groups sending pizza, one group sending falafel, one group sending backpacks.

“There are a lot of organizations, and they’re all seeking to show their relevance,” said Eric Fleisch, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University. “I don’t think any establishment organization is licking its chops thinking about how much money they’re going to be able to bring in. I think they really think they can help — and when they help, it will help their brand and their own budget, while doing good work.”

The asks, piling up in email inboxes and littering the web, often feature violent wartime imagery. JNF’s donation page has a spent rocket and a crushed Israeli house. On the donation page of the group United With Israel there are rushing fire engines and bright flames.

Some Jewish groups don’t seem eager to discuss these fund drives. Neither JNF nor the O.U. would comment about their efforts.

During wars in 1967 and 1973, American Jewish funds for Israel flowed through the federation system to the Jewish Agency for Israel. According to Fleisch, those bulk payments indirectly funded the IDF by allowing the Jewish Agency to temporarily cover some civilian costs, freeing Israeli government dollars for the war effort.

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