Olympic medals — Israel’s top priority?

As the Olympics in London come to a close, Israelis are understandably disappointed that none of our athletes are coming home with a medal. In past Olympics, the national excitement was palpable when Arik Zeevi won a bronze medal in Judo, or Gal Fridman brought home the only Israeli gold medal in men’s sailboard.  The whole country cried together with Arik when he lost to the German judoist in such a short match.

When we see the numbers of medals that the US has won- 104, and even countries like Trinidad with 4 medals, there has been a call in Israel for an inquiry into why not one Israeli athlete won a medal. According to the Israel Olympic Committee (IOC), Israel spent about $197,000 to prepare each of our sportsmen/women for the Olympics. (Hats off to the IOC- none of the US Olympics offices responded when this writer asked for the similar figure for the US.) Although this seems like a large investment, it is my opinion that other countries spend much more to guarantee that their athletes “bring home the gold.” The first step in moving towards bringing home Israeli medals from Rio de Janeiro in 2016 is to greatly increase the amount of money that we spend in preparing the Israeli Olympic team. But first we have to ask ourselves if this is a national priority.

Today we spend a large portion of our national budget on defense. As long as our neighbors are bent on destroying Israel, or taking a deadly swipe at our citizens at any opportunity, few would doubt the need for the expenses involved in securing our safety and existence. In addition, future generations of Israelis need a higher level of education in order to keep pace with advancements in science, medicine, hi-tech and engineering. According to the Ministry of Education, we are spending approximately $3,500 per child per year in our education system. 19.8% of Israeli families are living under the poverty line, as determined by the National Institute of Insurance survey last published in November, 2011. Yet the government relies on non-profit organizations to provide for their basic needs- food for children who have their only real meal each day at afternoon enrichment centers, a safe home for teenage girls who can no longer live at home due to physical and emotional abuse, and emotional and educational support for children with severe learning and behavioral disabilities and their families. Should we be spending more of our precious funds to help these children?

Yes, it would be very exciting to welcome back the Israeli Olympic athletes when they come home with medals. But let’s keep things in perspective. As one Israeli swimmer pointed out when he was asked if he was disappointed coming in 7th in the finals, we can be quite proud of having so many athletes that are in the top 30 in the world in their respective sports. Let’s invest our money in the next generation of Israeli citizens, so that they will become Nobel Prize winners, inventors and initiators of great ideas, instead of relying on the welfare system for their next meal.

About the Author
Yechiel Marcus, is the Senior Advisor for Planned Giving at the Jaffa Institute, which has been serving children and families in poverty since 1982