“Globes”, May 22, 2016

Inspiring. This is the best way to describe the speech made last week (at the end of Yom Ha’atzmaut) by Major Gen. (Res.) Doron Almog, Israel Prize 5776 laureate for lifetime achievement. Almog, the living spirit behind “ALEH Negev Eran” – a rehabilitative village in the Negev for a population with severe intellectual developmental handicaps, has since 2003 devoted his energy to developing the facility, named after his son, Eran, of blessed memory.

Almog’s speech gave voice to the yearning present in the DNA of the Zionist project and inherent in Israeli society: for a model society to exist here. According to him, a model society is one that knows how to concern itself with and look after its weakest links – “to give hope to families whose world has imploded, to the disabled, the wounded, the needy, and the destitute”.

According to Almog, the best way to build a society that knows how to give the weakest among us the understanding they deserve, is through a love of humanity, unconditional giving, volunteering. In other words: a model society is to be built on the principles of charity. Such principles gave rise to the third sector, or, to use its more appropriate name, the social sector, which accounts for about 20,000 active associations (not including non-profit organizations).

History teaches us that there is a direct correlation between the weakening of the welfare state, and the strengthening of the social sector: the weaker the position of social rights enshrined in law becomes, the stronger is the trend in civil society to promote them. The philanthropic mechanism in Israel, which is based entirely on the principles of charity, has a turnover of around 16 billion shekels each year. But the question is – does this practice really bring us any closer to a model society?

The principles of charity are powerful, but they are also where their weaknesses lie: as long as we talk about spontaneous organization to express compassion and goodwill relating to a specific social problem, charity should be welcomed. However, in a situation incorporating basic freedoms where a plethora of basic social rights become dependent on philanthropy, things become problematic, to say the least. For charity is not sustainable, and it perpetuates the dependency of social organizations on the goodwill of people of means and volunteers. In this situation, civil society leaders and CEOs of associations are required to keep up an endless Sisyphean chase to raise funds.

Relying endlessly and eternally on charity promotes subjugation – it does not promote independence. Social-democratic logic is based on this insight, which makes a profound difference between promoting social rights through the state, through legislation, and between promoting social rights through a town’s well-to-do. An example of the difference lies in the “tent city” set up at that time by Arcadi Gaydamak for the benefit of residents of the north wishing to escape from the terror of Katyusha rockets: a welcome initiative of the well-to-do, but it would have been preferable if the state had been behind such an initiative to protect its citizens and remove them from danger.

A model society is not measured by the strength of its charity mechanisms, but by the strength of its rights mechanisms – by building a social architecture that reduces charity to the bare minimum. Since even the bare minimum is significantly larger than the existing philanthropic capital, there is nothing in these words to call for a reduction in philanthropic capital, on the contrary: social needs show that it must continue and evolve on a regular basis. But, in parallel, civil society leaders must tirelessly work to entrench the mechanisms based on rights – both through legislation and through the economy.

In other words – to work for the weakest in society by working with social organizations “to teach” business thinking; by enhancing the fourth sector (businesses in service of social organizations); by impact funds (investments that blend economic gain and contribution to society); by commitment to a double profit line – business and social; and by “attentive corporations” (where the social purpose is not in conflict with the business purpose).

Only by building a new economy – one that serves society, and does not make use of it for its own needs; one that liberates social organizations insofar as possible from reliance and dependency on people of means – will we be able to make progress towards the lofty ideal of a model society, on which Almog shone such an important spotlight. It is hoped that this most inspiring aspiration of an Israel Prize Laureate will be realized in full.