Disclaimer: This article does not serve to criticize the spending habits and decisions of Benjamin Netanyahu as much as it does to illuminate people’s materialistic spending habits. The fact of the matter is, a price tag has effectively been put on poverty, and with $35 billion, global poverty can be ended. Here is one example of how money could be better spent to work towards the eradication of poverty.

The culprit: Scented candles. Some people love them, others can’t stand them. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apparently can’t get enough of them. His residence in Jerusalem burned through $1,700 of scented candles in the last year, according to Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv. Netanyahu is often accused of excess as Israel’s middle class struggles financially.

A couple of Israeli non-profits may have spent that $1,700 better elsewhere.  Café Galeria is a small-scale Israeli business employing people coping with psychological and emotional issues. Says one long-time employee, “It is fun to get up in the morning with a purpose, to see friends, to go to work, and to learn new things.” This routine might seem ordinary, but for people coping with psychological and emotional disabilities, there are times when a routine can be straining and challenging.

Café Galeria enables people to overcome these difficulties, to develop the self-confidence for employment, and to acquire the skills that will help them to build a foundation for future employment, to earn a living, and to contribute to community life. The café also serves as a gallery, displaying wall paintings and sculptures created by artists who are coping with psychological and emotional illnesses and possess talents in the arts.

Another growing and effective Israeli non-profit is Supportive Community: Women’s Development Center. The center serves thousands of women across Israel — new immigrants from the FSU and Ethiopia, native born Israelis (Jews and Arabs) from low income neighborhoods, women from agricultural settlements, Orthodox Jewish women, and multicultural groups.

A staff of seven professionals and more than 20 counselors and moderators help recently migrated women in Israel establish micro-businesses. This is often the only way for women in Israel with limited job prospects to achieve economic independence and mobilize themselves socially and personally.

For thousands of women who recently immigrated or come from less advantaged backgrounds, owning and operating a business opens the door to fuller integration into the Israeli society. The benefits of their newfound competence extends also to their families and their communities. To date, the organization has helped over 1,600 women. A donation of $1,700 to Supportive Community would enable multitudes of Israeli women to gain their own businesses and power.

As people make purchasing decisions this holiday season, consumers might keep in mind that they have purchasing power. Instead of ordering that two pack of cookie-scented candles for $35.99, try donating to an impactful poverty-addressing organization. Check out Crowdrise or Kickstarter to find the change-makers that speak to you.

– Paige Veidenheimer

Sources: World Time, Israel Non-Profit News, Kickstarter, Crowdrise
Photo: CP24

With global economic hegemony, many believe it is the inherent responsibility of the United States to project its wealth out unto those who are less fortunate. As the purported “City upon the Hill”, the United States has employed various forms of foreign aid aimed at bringing up less fortunate global actors. As we will see, foreign aid takes on many forms and is directed towards not only the poorer nations. More often than not, foreign aid is funneled to promote American interests, rather than humanitarian ones. The earliest incantation of foreign aid, the 1948 Marshall Plan, is largely responsible for bringing Europe out of the destruction of World War II, yet its inspiration was to stem the spread of communism throughout Europe. Today, foreign aid has proven to be a valuable arrow in our diplomatic quiver in both humanitarian and geopolitical senses. The following list represents the top three recipients of U.S. foreign aid in 2012, and, perhaps, provides some insight into the varying purposive goals of U.S. foreign aid.

1. Israel ($3.075 Billion)

If you pay any attention whatsoever to American politics, it is no secret that the subject of Israel is a weighty one when it comes to U.S. international and domestic political considerations. Moreover, Israel’s yearly position as the top recipient of U.S foreign aid sheds light on the nature of foreign aid. Israel is by no means a developing nation. In fact, the private Israeli sector is spearheading a new age of scientific and technological advancements. Without any doubt, the lion’s share of this aid goes towards beefing up defense and military resources. For example, Israel’s Iron Dome technology, aimed at intercepting incoming missiles, comes with an exceedingly high price tag. The position of Israel on this list sheds light on the subject and nature of USAID. It is clear that the abundance of aid towards Israel serves as a means of protecting US interests in the Middle East and against increasingly aggressive posturing from Russia and Iran.

2. Afghanistan ($2.327 Billion)

Not surprisingly, Afghanistan has come in second on this list. After years of war attempting to stem the tide of terrorism in the region, the U.S. has directed foreign aid to the region to fund both the Afghan military as well as for the purposes of General Chrystal’s Counterinsurgency (COIN) ideology. After funding the Afghan military and police, the remaining aid is funneled towards aspects of soft power. Through building schools and hospitals, the United States hopes to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, which in turn, is hoped to be effective in preventing further insurgency.

3. Pakistan ($2.102 Billion)

Aid channeled towards Pakistan represents a unique form of Foreign Aid. It is no secret that Pakistan is one of the most potentially volatile regions on the planet. With a seemingly never ending dispute with India and rising Islamic extremism, the prospect of instability is one that must be avoided at all costs. Unlike Afghanistan, Pakistan has nuclear weapons; the prospect of these falling into the hands of the wrong people is something the global community cannot allow. With this understanding the brunt of USAID to Pakistan has gone towards building up a governmental infrastructure suited to international cooperation. With the ever-present possibility of corruption, foreign aid is the proverbial “carrot”, as opposed to the “stick” levied against Afghanistan. After sustained efforts to battle extremism, it is entirely against US foreign interests for the Taliban to gain a political foothold in Pakistan. Through creating an infrastructure not suitable to their political ideology, foreign aid dollars can go much further than they would battling symptoms of terrorism and extremism.

– Thomas van der List

Sources: Washington Post, USAID, ABC News
Photo: The National

Israel Has the Highest Poverty Rate in the Developed World
A study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported that out of 34 developed countries, Israel has the highest poverty rate. The newspaper disclosed that 20.9% of Israeli citizens are currently living in poverty. In addition to staggeringly high numbers of impoverished people, Israel also has one of the largest inequality gaps in the developed world.

The OECD speculates that these struggling economic times have greatly contributed an increase in poverty rates as well as a greater gap between the rich and poor. The organization notes that the inequality gap grew more in the past three years than in the twelve years before then.

As expressed in OECD’s report, “With higher unemployment and lower returns from capital, the crisis not only weighted heavily on incomes from work and capital but also made their distribution more unequal.” There are only a few other countries that are rated higher than Israel in income inequality: Chile, Mexico, Turkey, and the United States.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently been under scrutiny over his prodigal spending habits with taxpayer money. Among his expenses have been an 80% pay raise for himself and a $127,000 cabin for a trip to London. The struggling Israeli population heavily criticized his actions. The Prime Minister also plans to cut funding for benefits and child allowance, which is likely to put even more families below the poverty line.

Israel is among those developed countries that are particularly struggling with a massive inequality gap. The Israeli government must step in and create policies that will bring these people out poverty and shorten the gap between the rich and poor.

– Mary Penn

Source: Huffington Post
Photo: Christoin

Israel's Early Childhood Development Education Program
Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation (MASHAV) recently completed training forty Ghanaian teachers in an early childhood development course. Thanks to the Embassy of Israel, Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) and the Ghana Education Service (GES), over a hundred teachers have now been trained to teach preschool and kindergarten in Ghana.

The extensive program lasted for two weeks and focused on early childhood education. Teachers left the program with a higher knowledge of children’s learning principles, the needs of young children, what curriculum to teach, and appropriate games. By giving special attention to young students, Ghana hopes to build a better foundation for its future workforce and overall societal well being.

This partnership between Israel and Ghana will likely produce hundreds more early education teachers, something for which Ghana is desperate. Not only will more teachers be trained in Israel, but those who completed the program will go on to spread their new knowledge to other teachers in Ghana, thus creating a web of well-educated preschool and kindergarten teachers throughout the country.

The Early Childhood Development Education program is now in its fourth year in Kumasi and its second year in Accra. Both countries expect to have a long relationship as they continue to see positive results in Ghana’s early education system.

– Mary Penn

Source: GBN
Photo: Flickr

Heartbeat, a non-profit organization which unites Palestinian and Israeli youth musicians, will visit the State Department this week for a musical performance and discussion. Aaron Shneyer leads the group and is a former Fulbright-mtvU Scholar, and has continued to lead Heartbeat since his grant ended in 2008.

The group, based in Jerusalem, is meant to “build trust among Israeli and Palestinian youth through the power of music in what they call a sustained music-based dialogue.” The group practices and plays songs in French, Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The group has an EP available for download, and they blend both modern and classic instruments in their music which features jazz, hip hop, folk, and rock.

The Fulbright-mtvU program provides U.S. scholars with a year grant to spend going abroad and working with music as a way of encouraging a global understanding and respect. Although the partnership between the Fulbright program and mtvU is a public-private one, these collaborations provide U.S. students with unique opportunities around the world.

Since its inception, the Fulbright Program has provided funding for over 318,000 scholars to “study, teach, conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.”

Christina Kindlon

Source: U.S. State Department
Photo: Art Fuse