Recently, family and friends in the United States have asked me what they can do to support Israel during this period of unrest. This is not a new phenomenon. Jews in the Diaspora who feel a strong bond with Israel often find themselves feeling helpless in times of crisis, wondering how they can lend a hand. Having grown up in Jerusalem in the midst of the Second Intifada, I am no stranger to frantic calls from overseas relatives after every tragic attack. Threats to Israel’s security, and the related controversies, strike a raw nerve in the global Jewish community, leaving many feeling powerless and frustrated.
Naturally, public attention and discourse turn first and foremost to the victims of the attacks. Nor should this be any other way. However, these attacks affect Israeli society in many far-reaching ways, including the Israeli economy.
The Israeli stock market has yet to respond to recent political turbulence. Still, the ongoing terrorist attacks threaten to take a toll on the Israeli economy. As any Israeli will tell you, citizens are avoiding crowded areas such as shopping centers and pedestrian malls. Who is in the mood to go shopping after hearing about yet another stabbing? Restaurants and other entertainment venues are particularly vulnerable to people avoiding unnecessary outings. Preliminary numbers show that the volume of credit card purchases is down 11% in comparison with the equivalent period last year. Small business owners across the country, and especially in Jerusalem, have been calling for immediate government aid — the same type of aid usually reserved for wartime.
A decrease in private consumption is especially bad news for Israel given the current state of the economy. The latest financial crises in Europe and the United States, Israel’s main export destinations, turned private consumption into a critical engine of economic growth. The Israeli high-tech industry, which continues to boom, still makes up only a small part of the GDP. Although Israel rode out the recent crisis with little-to-no know ill effects, the tide might be turning. In the second quarter of 2015, before the recent violent attacks began, the Israeli economy displayed zero growth. A recent report by Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank, attributes the stagnation to a decrease in private consumption. A further decrease could compound the effect on the GDP and, if prolonged, lead Israel towards an economic depression.
So, how can Jews in the Diaspora make a difference to the state of the Israeli economy?
- Consume in Israel. Show your support by purchasing goods from Israeli businesses. Plenty of Israeli small and medium enterprises now have an online presence, and if asked, some of those will ship to overseas addresses. Can’t get overseas shipping? Why not send your old colleague who just moved to Ra’anana a housewarming gift?
- Feeling especially brave? Book a plane ticket to Israel and support the tourism industry, always the first sector of the economy to suffer from acts of aggression. (Winter packages from the East Coast including air fares, hotels and tours are now being offered for under $1000 per person.)
- Buy imported Israeli products. While this avenue of support may be less immediate in its impact on the Israeli economy, it ultimately has a similar effect to direct consumption. Common Israeli-made products available around the word include SodaStream, Keter (plastics), Osem (food), Dead-Sea products such as AHAVA, Teva (pharmaceuticals), Delta (clothing), Jaffe Oranges, Israeli wines, and more.
- Invest in Israel. Foreign direct investments have a positive impact on economic growth, stimulating the economy by creating jobs and increasing demand for capital goods. Investments also have long-term positive effects on the economy such as raising its manufacturing capacity and efficiency. If in the past investing in Israel was limited to purchasing Israel Bonds, today there are many ways for investors to access the Israeli private sector. Investment opportunities include private equity and venture capital funds, direct investments, crowdfunding, and more.
While the Israeli economy may seem a secondary concern at a time when Israeli citizens are suffering brutal attacks daily, it provides a tangible way the global community can support Israel. True to their name, acts of terror are effective not only because of the direct damages they inflict, but more so because of the fear they instill. Private consumption, and through it the economy as a whole, are particularly susceptible to these effects. The strength of the Israeli economy has long been a key factor in Israel’s social resiliency and ability to maintain military supremacy. While Jews in the diaspora can do little to stop the deadly attacks or the fear they inject, we can each play a small, yet important role by supporting the Israeli economy and livelihoods of those bearing the brunt of the attacks.