Monday, January 25, 2010

Israel's Best Kept Secret

Hypocrisy is the homage which vice renders to virtue - La Rochefoucauld: Maxims

The British medical journal The Lancet has accused aid organizations, governments and the UN of "putting self-interest, a scramble for photo opportunities and rivalry before the organization of the [Haiti] relief effort." "Some agencies," the journal observed, "even claim they are 'spearheading' the relief effort. In fact, as we know only too clearly, the situation in Haiti is chaotic, devastating, and anything but co-ordinated. The journal did not name the offenders..." (Aid groups accused of putting publicity first,, 24/1/10)

Hm... no names, eh? Could The Lancet perhaps have had a certain Middle Eastern country in mind, one with an image in dire need of burnishing after perpetrating its very own Made-in-Israel earthquake on another tiny island of Made-in-Israel poverty and deprivation?

Just take a look at the self-referential headlines in last Friday's Australian Jewish News: Israel answers the call; Israeli relief agencies & the IDF are at the forefront of the global aid mission in Haiti; Australian Jews rally for Haiti; Israel leads rescue efforts; Why we must give more; Dealing with disaster; Tikkun olam - a duty to help. And that was just the front page!

Inside we find Israel spearheads Haiti effort; Global Jewish relief effort for Haiti; Racing the clock, IDF rescues survivors; ZAKA 'proudly desecrating Shabbat'; and IDF rises to the occasion. Then there's the kitschy Kron cartoon, modelled on the iconic David Rubinger shot (for Life magazine) of the 3 Israeli soldiers gazing, seemingly awestruck, at the Wailing Wall following the 1967 Israeli conquest of East Jerusalem, the West Bank etc. Against a backdrop of collapsed buildings, the iconic 3, sans helmets, guns and uniforms, are garbed as doctors with stethoscopes around their necks and pens protruding from their front pockets, and the soldier - sorry, doctor - in the middle is holding a box of medical goodies emblazoned with a Star of David. Underneath, in upper case bold, is the caption "HEROES."

But it's the self-reverential editorial, Why we must follow Israel in helping Haiti, which is the piece de resistance of the AJN's 'Haiti' coverage: "It's one of the world's best-kept secrets. Like the concealed work of a great artist, hidden away under layers of paint under a canvas that has been reused, so too has Israel's true nature been obscured from the public gaze in recent years by layer upon layer of vindictive political propaganda and ill-informed or even malicious media bias. But, every so often, a glimpse of reality shines through. For those of us aware of the Jewish State's unbounded capacity for compassion and humanity, the country's swift and substantial response to the earthquake in Haiti has come as no surprise. A nation born out of tragedy, a people plagued by disaster, albeit manmade, Israel has long been equipped to deal with catastrophe and willing to share its experience and expertise. Moreover, as Binyamin Netanyahu noted, that sense of global responsibility - tikkun olam - is a central tenet of Judaism. 'Despite being a small country, we have responded with a big heart', the Israeli Prime Minister said. 'The fact is, I know, that this was an expression of our Jewish heritage and the Jewish ethic of helping one's fellow'... The efforts of the Jewish State to alleviate the suffering in Haiti are, of course, made without any thought of reward or recognition. The government, the Israel Defence Forces, as well as medical and aid agencies such as Magen David Adom and Zaka, do not ask for praise. But it is a gratifying side effect that for once the world's media has chosen to focus its cameras on the force for good that Israel not only aspires to be but so often succeeds in being, rather than its preferred proclivity towards highlighting the seemingly negative aspects of the country's ongoing war against terror."

There's more, of course, but I'm sure you've got the idea.

As Netanyahu says, tikkun olam (literally, 'repairing the world') may well be a central tenet of Judaism, but, contrary to the hype of the editorial, it can hardly be considered a central tenet of the Jewish State and its amen chorus in the West, as an anonymous draft document in my possession reveals: "The prevailing attitude towards international development in both Israel and the Jewish world is reflected by the Hebrew maxim, aniye ircha kodmim - translated as 'the poor of your town come first'. The Government of Israel spends approximately 0.06% of the state's Gross National Income on official development assistance, less than 10% of the internationally accepted target for developed countries. [The footnoted comment to this reads: "Half of this relates to the absorption of Jewish immigration into Israel." IOW, boosting the Jewish demographic in Israel. In which case, Israeli spending on overseas aid is more like 0.03% of GNI.] On this matter there is little perceivable political divide in Israel, making it one of the few issues where the Israeli establishment is in almost complete consensus. In relation to Jewish philanthropy outside Israel, the vast bulk of giving focuses locally with an additional portion directed towards Israel." (Towards a Tikkun Olam Policy for World Jewry & Israel)

Now if Netanyahu could persuade the US Congress to pay off Haiti's crippling $641 million foreign debt by subtracting it from the US's annual $3 billion odd - extremely odd - subsidy to Israel, we might be talking some serious tikkun olam. Until then...

As for Israel's backyard Haiti, aka the Gaza Strip, Israel's alleged "unbounded capacity for compassion and humanity" has been conspicuous by its absence:

1) "Physicians for Human Rights - Israel (PHR-I) said the Israeli authorities at Erez checkpoint this week prevented the exit of 17 sight-impaired patients, suffering from various eye diseases, from the Gaza Strip in order to undergo cornea transplants, a treatment not available in the Gaza health system." (Israel prevents 17 sight-impaired from leaving Gaza for treatment, WAFA, 11/1/10)

2) "The Israeli Navy kidnapped on Sunday at dawn 6 Palestinian fishermen in Palestinian territorial waters in the Rafah area, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. The Navy also opened fire at the fishermen and boarded 2 boats." (Israeli Navy kidnaps 6 Palestinian fishermen in southern Gaza, Said Bannoura, IMEMC News, 17/1/10)

3) "Israel has opened the floodgates of one of its dams in the eastern part of the Gaza Strip, flooding Palestinian houses and causing severe damage." (Gaza flooded after Israel opens dam gates,, 18/1/10)/ "On Monday Israel's National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau told a meeting of German Ministers that Israel gives the Palestinians more water than they are required to by treaties." (Israeli minister claims Israel provides Palestinians 'more than enough water', Saed Bannoura, IMEMC News, 19/1/10)

4) "Israel tanks opened fire on Tuesday midday at residents' homes located in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah." (Israeli tanks open fire at residential areas in southern Gaza Strip, Ghassan Bannoura, IMEMC News, 19/1/10)

None of that made it into the Australian ms media, of course, although some in the Israeli media, to their credit, could see through the PR hoopla: "[T]he remarkable identification with the victims of the terrible tragedy in distant Haiti only underscores the indifference to the ongoing suffering of the people of Gaza. Only a little more than an hour's drive from the offices of Israel's major newspapers, 1.5 million people have been besieged on a desert island for two and a half years. Who cares that 80% of the men, women and children living in such proximity to us have fallen under the poverty line? How many Israelis know that half of all Gazans are dependent on charity, that operation Cast Lead created hundreds of amputees, that raw sewage flows from the streets into the sea?" (Israel's compassion in Haiti can't hide our ugly face in Gaza, Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, 18/1/10)


Anonymous said...

The Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable describes Tiberius Ceasar as the "Prince of hypocrites, so called because he affected a great regard for decency, but indulged in the most detestable lust and cruelty".Sounds like the Tikkun Olam crowd to me.The examples of "detestable lust and cruelty" given in this post are just a few of many for this month alone,no doubt space and time prevents a more detailed catalogue.

Anonymous said...

oh, man. This reads like pure satire:

"For those of us aware of the Jewish State's unbounded (sic) capacity for compassion and humanity, the country's swift and substantial response to the earthquake in Haiti has come as no surprise."