Fund aims to empower Israeli Arabs

Fund aims to empower Israeli Arabs

Jeff Cohen, second from left, in Tel Aviv with partners in the UJC Social Venture Fund in March
Jeff Cohen, second from left, in Tel Aviv with partners in the UJC Social Venture Fund in March

A Short Hills man is helping to broker a fund that is offering subsidized loans to small businesses in Israel’s needy Druze, Arab, and Bedouin villages.

Jeffrey Cohen is providing technical assistance to the Jewish-Arab Employment Zone Loan Fund, a partnership of the national Jewish federation movement, Israel-based NGOs, and the Jewish Federation of San Francisco.

“There is a lot of documentation that what is good for the Israeli economy is good for all Israelis,” said Cohen, director of a New York asset management firm. “And if you can boost the Arab part of the economy, which is probably the lowest hanging fruit, it will benefit all Israelis, Jewish and not Jewish.”

The effort is one arm of a broader philanthropic effort by UJC/The Federations of North America called the Social Venture Fund for Jewish-Arab Equality and Shared Society. Cohen is a member of the fund.

The SVF, through the zone loan fund, intends to invest $150,000 in three areas it calls economic development zones — Mevo Carmel, Rahat, and Bar Lev.

The Social Venture Fund’s other 14 projects give direct grants to Arab areas.

“We are looking to boost the prosperity of these regions and create employment opportunities,” said Cohen, a board member of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ. Currently no New Jersey federations are members of the fund.

Equal treatment

No zone loans have been made as yet, but Cohen said a typical recipient “would either be a business that operates in the region and is looking to expand or a business which is not currently within one of the zones but would like to relocate to the zone.”

The fund will subsidize 25 percent of the loans.

For Cohen, the project is more than an exercise in finance.

“The social relevance is extraordinarily high,” he said. “It is about social justice, and people who deserve loans will be getting loans. It’s about development, which not only helps the individual recipients but the overall economy.

“In Israel, all residents are supposed to be treated equally, and it is now well known that it hasn’t been the case historically. This isn’t about whether the Arabs will become more peaceful if we do this; it’s about right and wrong. The Arabs haven’t been treated equally. That’s wrong.”

He believes the program will prove to be an asset to Jews as well, in and outside Israel.

“There is a Jewish Diaspora issue with the next generation of philanthropists losing their connection with Israel. Part of what the UJC is trying to do is find new ways for interested Jewish people, particularly younger Jewish people, to get involved.”

Cohen said he has heard a bit of criticism that Jewish philanthropy ought to be restricted to helping Jews.

“But the answer to that is, unless you disagree with the basis on which Israel was founded, we have to treat all people equally. That is a fundamental issue.”

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