Meet 7 U.S. Philanthropists Who've Given Big for the Israel Defense Forces

The U.S. government gives Israel $3 billion in foreign military assistance annually, so you might not think that private Americans would see much need to chip in funds on top of that to help Israel's armed forces. 

Of course, a huge amount of American philanthropy of various kinds flows to Israel, and many of these funders are gravely concerned about the security threats facing that nation. So it's no surprise that among the many well-funded U.S. nonprofits that pull in big money for Israel is an outfit called Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF).

FIDF hasn't released any recent fundraising numbers, but one can only assume that the Gaza War has led to a surge of donations. Even in peacetime, this organization tends to do remarkably well, thanks to support from very deep pocketed donors. 

In 2012, the last year for which data is available, FIDF pulled in $67.7 million in grants and contributions, much of it from Americans donors. Those funds went to run a wide range of programs, mainly to enhance the quality of life of Israeli soldiers and support the wounded, as well as surviving families members. In that sense, it's similar to the large nonprofits that support U.S. military veterans. 

Here are some of FIDF's biggest backers:

1. Haim Saban

This media mogul, who scored his first big hit with Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, is worth $3.3 billion. He grew up in Israel and now lives both there and in Beverly Hills. Between 2007 and 2012, the Saban Family Foundation gave FIDF just under $7.5 million. 

2. Bernard Marcus

Marcus is one of the cofounders of Home Depot and is currently worth an estimated $4.1 billion. His ties to Israel run deep, and he cofounded the Israel Democracy Institute in 1991, putting millions into building it up over the years. The Marcus Foundation gave $3 million to FIDF in 2011 and 2012. 

3. Leroy Schecter

Schecter is a steel magnate, more known for his lavish homes than for his Jewish philanthropy. But he made a large gift to FIDF in 2011 of $2.7 million. 

4. Victoria Mann Simms & Family

Simms is one of the daughters of the late theater chain magnate, Ted Mann. The Simms/Mann Family Foundation hasn't given money to FIDF lately that we can see, but gifts in 2007 and 2010 totalled $1.6 million.

5. Leonard Feinstein

One of the co-founders of Bed, Bath & Beyond, Feinstein is no billionaire, but he's done well enough to stash $80 million in a foundation named after him and his wife, Susan, that gives heavily to Jewish causes. It gave FIDF over $1 million between 2007 and 2013. 

6. Sheldon Adelson

Adelson and his wife Miriam give large amounts of money to all sorts of organizations that operate in Israel, so it's no wonder that FIDF would get fundng as well, although the Adelsons only given $200,000 over the past few years, as far as we can see. 

7. John Paulson

Paulson has been one of the biggest winners on Wall Street in recent years, so there's no shortage of cash on hand. His foundation gave $285,000 to FIDF in 2012. 


Beyond these heavy hitters, FIDF rakes in cash from a huge number of smaller donors. Its fundraiser last this spring at the Waldorf-Astoria pulled in $20 million. The year before that it pulled in $27 million. I'd bet that next year will be its best ever.