November 18, 2019

Arab Civil Society Organizations in Israel: A Review of Trends, Growth, and Activities

News imageWhile the number of Arab-led NGOs in Israel have increased over the past two decades, they still comprise a much smaller percentage of the field than the Arab population, with the number of consistently active organizations smaller still. Researchers from the Walter-Libach Institute for Jewish-Arab Coexistence at Tel Aviv University, and the Center for the Study of Civil Society and Philanthropy in Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem recently published a report, Arab-Palestinian Organizations in Civil Society in Israel that examines Arab NGO structure and activity. Prof. Amal Jamal, Dr. Michal Almog-Bar, Victoria Koukvine and Dr. Rana Eseed identified and mapped active Arab-led NGOs in Israel to determine trends in these organizations, the scope of their activities, organizational capacities, and long-term viability prospects.

The new study suggests that fueling an increase in the number of Arab-led civil society organizations are internal factors such as the weakening of traditional structures and of the role of Arab political parties in community life, and increasing levels of education and of political, religious and social engagement in Arab society. In addition, external factors such as globalization, the rise in civil rights discourse and legislation from the 1980s that institutionalized non-profits further enhanced this trend. However, continued limited capacities in fundraising and operations have hindered fuller growth.

The researchers give context to the role of NGOs in a society, writing, “Civil society organizations are the spearhead of society…working intensively to promote the well-being of different population groups, especially the weakened ones, in areas where the state does not invest enough resources, or acts in a way incompatible with these groups’ worldview or interests. Understanding the situation of these civil society organizations, such as their number, scope of activity, and budgetary breadth allows an inside view of society as a whole as well as an outside view of the state’s policies.”

The study encompassed a historical and statistical review of the field, finding that the first Arab-led NGOs were registered in 1969 and that the rate of new organizations registering with the Ministry of Justice Registrar of Associations has been growing significantly over the years. Until 1993 an average of 40 new organizations registered per year, rising to over 50 per year afterwards. After the year 2000, over 100 registered per year and in recent years, this number grew to 200 new organizations registering annually. The researchers point to two watershed moments:

  • The peace process and the Oslo Accords of the early 1990s, which “created the perception that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is forthcoming and that Arab society will remain a part of Israel,” prompted Arab society to “take responsibility” over certain spheres of life. The parallel process of privatization in the 1980s and 90s further enhanced the growth of the nonprofit sector in Israel.
  • The Second Intifada and accompanying protests by Arab citizens in 2000, which led to a “rift between the Arab population and the state following the October 2000 events,” when security forces killed 13 Arab demonstrators. The researchers state that these events led to enhanced self-organization of Arab society, especially among Islamic organizations.

The research is based on data as of April 2018 on Guidestar, a website with information about  all 43,714 registered non-profits in Israel. The researchers defined four major groups of NGOs:

  • 39,819 “Jewish organizations” – Jewish-led and working within Jewish society.
  • 3,895 “Arab organizations” – Arab-led and working in Arab or mixed communities to benefit Arab society. Of these, 10 are defined as “mixed organizations” – having Jewish management but working within Arab society via chapters managed by local residents.
  • 29 “Joint Jewish-Arab organizations.”

According to these definitions, registered Arab organizations comprise 8.9% (3,895) of the 43,714 registered Israeli NGOs, while Arab citizens comprise 20% of Israel’s population, meaning that the number of Jewish organizations per Jewish citizen is 0.006, double that of Arab organizations per Arab citizen (0.003).

The researchers went on to examine which of the registered Arab organizations have been consistently active over the past 10 years, finding that of the overall number of registered organizations,  16,278 are active, and of the Arab-led NGOs only 1,298 are active, so that they comprise 7.8% of all registered, active NGOs.

Dynamics of activity over time

Current available data, based on the definitions of the Ministry of Justice, show the primary focus areas of Arab-led NGOs are education and higher education (24.1%), followed by welfare (14.6%), sports (13.6%), religion, (12.2%) and community (11.8%). When analyzing the development of Arab civil society over the past decades, the researchers found that the focus on these central spheres remained constant. Some of these organizations provide social services in place of or to supplement government-based services.

The researchers also identified areas where there is limited work by Arab-led NGOs. These include housing and urban development (only 2.2%), which the researchers say is “especially noteworthy in light of the severe housing crisis in Arab society,” activities related to preservation of heritage, and volunteerism and philanthropic work.

Funding sources and human capital

The financial resources of Arab-led NGOs, or lack thereof, provide insights into levels of activity, operational capabilities and budget-related challenges. As a result of financial, operational, organizational and other weaknesses, the research finds that more than half of the Arab-led organizations established in the past two decades are no longer active. Of those active, less than half have a valid ‘proper financial management’ certificate from the Justice Ministry, which is required above a certain scope of financial activity and is a prerequisite for any financial collaboration with government bodies. Only 43% of the active organizations researched had financial reports in the Guidestar database, and of those, only 43% have an annual budget above NIS 500,000 (USD 147,000).

According to the researchers, “government support is known in Israel and around the world to constitute a main source of revenue for non-governmental organizations,” and in Israel, “as a result of privatization processes that have transferred responsibility of various spheres from state institutions to civic organizations.” Such support is especially apparent in the areas of education, welfare, and sport, with organizations in these fields showing the highest growth rate. In Israel, there are two main models of government support:

  • Joint initiatives between government agencies and civil society organizations or the provision of government services by NGOs. The research shows that only 22 Arab organizations, 1.7% of the 1,298 active ones, have current contracts with government offices.  This is out of a total of 875 Israeli NGOs that reported government contracts in 2016-2017, indicating a significant gap between Arab and Jewish-led organizations in this arena. The research found that some of these organizations are educational colleges that receive state funding.
  • General government financial support for NGOs, which in 2018 came to about NIS 2 billion for all Israeli organizations. In 2018, 296 Arab-led NGOs (22.8% of active organizations) received government funding under the “general support” mechanism, compared to 3,268 (20.1%) Jewish NGOs. According to the research, although the ratio is similar, “there is a huge nominal gap, translated into significant sums invested mostly in Jewish society. This gap, which represents a non-random policy, also places the onus on the Arab organizations, which do not seem to be making the necessary effort to ensure wider governmental support.”

Foreign funding sources for Israeli NGOs typically focus on designated projects in the areas of human rights, advocacy, and community development, contingent on meeting certain basic conditions and often following a rigorous selection process. With limited fundraising capacity among Arab NGOs, only 31 (2.4%) of the 1,298 active Arab-led organizations in Israel receive grants from foreign sources, mostly organizations on the national level focusing on civil rights, feminist organizations, education, sports, art and culture, and youth.

Analysis of the 2015 financial reports of 20 Arab NGOs that receive foreign support indicates that most of them are relatively large in scope, with 80% having an annual budget of over NIS 500,000, whereas only 43% of all Arab NGOs have budgets this size. The research found relatively little support of Arab-led organizations by Jewish and Israeli philanthropy nor by Arab philanthropy (which historically was tied to religious organizations and still provides very little support to social change or service organizations).

Another aspect examined is the number of employees and volunteers in Arab-led non-governmental organizations. Only 365 active organizations had such data, according to which on average there are 38.5 employees per organization, but these range from organizations with a single employee to one with 1,385 employees. By comparison, the average for all Israeli NGOs is 82.5 employees. Regarding volunteers, 226 active Arab organizations reported having volunteers, with an average of 19.6 volunteers per organization – ranging from a minimum of a single volunteer to a maximum of 313 volunteers per organization (compared to an average of 147.6 volunteers among all Israeli NGOs).

A spotlight on women’s organizations

To deepen their understanding of the current state of Arab-led NGOs, the researchers focused on women’s organizations, finding 57 registered organizations that had this issue in their self-definition. Of these, only 23 are active. Of the 57, approximately 25% are in mixed cities, almost 58% in northern Israel, 14% in the Triangle area, and only 3.5% in the Negev. Noting a gradual increase in the number of organizations that provide services for women in Arab society, the researchers suggest a correlation with increased availability of data on the challenges faced by Arab women, especially within weaker population groups (e.g. Bedouin community, poor families), as well as the growing number of educated and employed Arab women who also devote time to help address the needs of other women in Arab society.  Of the 23 active women organizations, 54% have an annual budget of up to NIS 500,000 and only three have an annual budget greater than NIS 1 million. Available financial data on the active NGOs defined as service providers for women show none with government contracts, only five that receive government budget allocations, and two that receive funding from outside Israel.

Key insights

  • The dynamics of social, economic, and political changes have led to the growth in the number and scope of Arab-led civil society organizations. At the same time, the number and size of these organizations are still limited, showing “a lower rate of institutionalization” among Arab NGOs. Arab NGOS therefore “represent” the weakened realities of Arab society, which, according to the researchers, “has not managed so far to grow enough organizations that can provide answers to the challenges it is facing.”
  • There is relatively little government investment in Arab civil society organizations, which remain “mostly autonomous” and largely rely on their ability to secure external sources of funding. The fact that these sources “are external to Arab society itself” means the organizations and society at large “are dependent on support from external bodies with their own agendas.” There is therefore a need to enhance internal Arab philanthropy, support from Jewish philanthropy in Israel and worldwide, and to ensure greater government budgets and support.
  • Significant gaps between Jewish and Arab-led NGOs, especially in fundraising capabilities, affect the scope of activities and weaken their impact on the advancement of the Arab civil sector.
  • Against the background of an increasingly challenging political atmosphere, “strengthening the civic organizations that work to provide answers to the needs of [Arab] society becomes an important public interest, requiring significant effort and resources.”

How Can We Help?

Do you need support integrating these resources and issues into your philanthropic, communal, or Israel education work? Reach out for consultations, connections to experts, program support, training, or to plan your next event or mission. If you’ve used our resources, tell us about your experience!

How Can We Help?

Do you need support integrating these resources and issues into your philanthropic, communal, or Israel education work? Reach out for consultations, connections to experts, program support, training, or to plan your next event or mission. If you’ve used our resources, tell us about your experience!

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