Through a new lens: The third sector and Israeli society

B Gidron, H Katz, H Bar-Mor, Y Katan, I Friedrich-Silber, M Telias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


THE TASK OF STUDYING the third sector 1 in Israel is difficult. In addition to the regular confusion and misconceptions abundant in this field of research, until recently Israel's third sector had been absent from both the research community's agenda and Israeli public discourse. Moreover, the third sector has not been recognized as a distinct entity in Israel. The delineation of sectors has been rather ambiguous; therefore, the concept of a third sector with clear-cut, distinct societal roles and functions does not exist in Israel (Gidron, 1992). Indeed, most Israelis have difficulty grasping the idea of a single sector of very diverse organizations that includes large service-provision bureaucracies—such as universities or hospitals—grassroots community-based voluntary organizations, and ultra-orthodox religious educational institutions. Each of these organizations is associated with different aspects of society that ostensibly do not "mesh" together. This is somewhat surprising given that these organizations have a very tangible and even central presence in the Israeli economy and society, and, as will be shown, have been deeply involved in practically all major events and processes throughout Israel's history. Nevertheless, as we will show, using the nonprofit organizational form as an organizing principle and investigating its components is an excellent way to examine Israeli society from anew and unexplored angle. From this perspective, the different purposes for which this organizational form is used can be explored and understood, providing a potentially important contribution to the understanding of Israeli society. Furthermore, Israeli history, which by all accounts has some very unique features—i.e. a society that developed outside of its territorial boundaries, an active Diaspora—can be an excellent case for testing the major nonprofit theories. This is even [End Page 20] more pronounced in light of the diversified nature of the Israeli third sector and its various functions, which include service provision within the welfare state system, civil society development, and community preservation among specific population groups. Which theories are applicable to Israel, if any at all? Can the Israeli case contribute to theory building in the third sector? This paper attempts to shed light on this set of institutions by presenting the research conducted in Israel within the framework of the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project (CNP) and concisely defines and measures the Israeli third sector, and analyzes its historical background and its stand on public policies. The findings and conclusions presented here are based on empirical research, both quantitative and qualitative, using the common definitions and methodologies used in the comparative framework, with only minor adaptations to fit the Israeli context. We first discuss some special features of the Israeli third sector as they relate to the structural/operational definition of the third sector developed for this project. We then present the structural economic contours of the sector and explore how the sector attained its current structure and present its historical development. On the basis of the data presented and in order to explain the findings, we then review major theories used to analyze the third sector, in general, and those used to examine Israeli society, in particular. Finally, we review and analyze the Israeli government's policy vis-à-vis the sector, its sources, and its manifestations.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)20-59
JournalIsrael Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2003


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