“And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Genesis 12:3 (The Israel Bible™)
Last week, John Hagee Ministries distributed over $2 million to 21 Israel-based charities and organizations at his 35th annual “Night to Honor Israel” event. While the event represented a high point for pro-Israel Christian spiritual support, it marked a rather low one in financial support, pointing to a trend in Christian fundraising for Israel which many experts think signals a much more significant shift – but not necessarily for the worse.
This year’s $2.2 million marks a 30 percent decrease from last year’s event, when $3.2 million was distributed, but the downward progression goes much further back, Sondra Oster Baras, Director of the Israel branch of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities (CFOIC), told Breaking Israel News.
Several years ago, she pointed out, annual funds given at the event averaged between $8 and $10 million. In 2010, Pastor Hagee, who founded and chairs Christians United for Israel (CUFI), gave out $8.25 million to 40 different Israeli organizations. However, in recent years, the number has dropped dramatically. By the 2013 event, only $2.7 million was given, followed by $2.8 million in 2014.
Though 2015 saw a 12.5 percent increase, this year the number was at a record low, representing a drastic 73 percent drop within six years.
Avi Morgenstern, CUFI’s director of press relations, told Breaking Israel News that the reason behind the drop is “rather mundane: fundraising ebbs and flows.”
An attendee at the event agreed. “I didn’t notice any changes in the event itself, the attendance was similar, and there’s no indication that there was any less support for this,” the attendee told Breaking Israel News via email. “The discussion among other recipients was that their overall fundraising may have been down.”
But Oster Baras, along with other figures involved in the world of Christian-Jewish relations and fundraising, thinks the drop represents meaningful changes.
A serious trend she pointed to was Israel’s lack of appeal, as a cause, to younger generations. Her own organization, CFOIC, receives the bulk of their donations from older generations, people between the ages of 55 and 60+. Oster Baras suggested that younger people are more influenced by a media biased against Israel and, as a result, are less likely to support Israel, financially or otherwise.
It’s possible that more of CUFI’s funds are going to projects aimed at stopping this trend but which don’t see financial returns, she said, like its campus initiatives to fight the growing number of anti-Israel voices on college campuses.
However, she pointed out, for many Israeli organizations CUFI’s support has remained steady throughout the years. CFOIC’s project “Heart of Benjamin”, which supports special needs children in Israel, has received a fairly consistent $75,000 from Hagee every year, enabling the program to continue and grow.
David Ha’Ivri, a leader in the movement to settle Judea and Samaria and political activist for promoting Jewish life in the Biblical heartland, also believes that the change is ideological but thinks the Christian leaders themselves are to blame for not staying true to the Christian Zionist movement’s values.
Ha’Ivri pointed out that the downward trend in Hagee’s donations occurred at parallel with another change: Over the past ten years, Hagee’s organization has visibly “distanced itself from supporting Israel’s interests east of the Green Line”, which he says alienated many Christian supporters.
“I believe that Christian Zionist leadership, who decided to adopt the path of the liberal American Jews of being politically correct on dealing with the ‘West Bank’, forfeited the natural tendencies and loyalties of their own supporters and cause[d] their excitement to fizzle away,” he told Breaking Israel News.
He echoed Oster Baras’ concerns about the generational gap, saying, “They don’t seem to be succeeding in retaining their youth.”
Shlomo Shreibman, vice president of the Israel Media Network (IMN), had a drastically different take on the apparent trend, explaining to Breaking Israel News that donors are increasingly going straight to organizations rather than donating to an umbrella organization like CUFI.
IMN runs campaigns for Israeli nonprofit organizations, helping to craft their messages for a Christian Zionist audience. “Many of our clients are now focusing on grassroots and micro-donations,” Shreibman said, instead of relying on larger organizations.
Micro-donations – small, personal donations from individuals – are on the rise, as mega-donations of millions from larger foundations decrease. “With some of our bigger clients, like the LIBI Fund of the IDF, we have seen a growth in micro-donation from year to year since 2012,” said Shreibman.
Thus, charities and nonprofits still benefit from Christian funding, but on a smaller scale.
“This gives the donors an opportunity to have a direct relationship with the organizations they support, cutting out the ‘middleman’ and allowing the organizations to be less dependent on the mega-donors as in the past.”