I had always thought most of the humanitarian work Israel does around the world was being intentionally ignored by an anti-Semitic international press.
I learned recently that the virtual news blackout is anti-Semitism-based, all right, but not the way I’d figured it.
During a recent lecture, an Israeli diplomat revealed to the audience that Israel must keep quiet about much of the wonderful, life-saving and life-affirming things it and its people do, if they hope to continue doing it, which they do.
For those of you not intentionally seeking out Jewish news, you may not know that Israel tends to be the first responder on the scene of most international disasters, offering search and rescue, medical and other expertise in times of crisis, even to enemy countries.
They were among the first in Haiti after the earthquake, for instance, and in Turkey after theirs and in Japan after its earthquake and tsunami and in Indonesia in the aftermath of the monster tsunami there, but this is not well known. Israelis have rushed to aid victims of various disasters in Ghana, Peru, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, India, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and even the United States. Israel has reportedly helped countless individuals in more than 140 countries from Albania to Zimbabwe, and most people don’t know it.
Israel teaches teachers and doctors, it installs drip irrigation in drought-ravaged areas to help fight famine.
The Israelis have medical organizations that travel internationally to save sight, limbs and lives, and Israeli hospitals import those in need from other countries, the diplomat said, but, also, often on the down-low because some of them are from enemy countries including Gaza, whose Hamas charter is dedicated to the extermination of the Jewish state and its people.
While the leaders of those enemy nations, which relentlessly spew hate about Israel and the Jews, know these humanitarian efforts are going on, they can’t let their populations know or risk political backlash, he said.
During a question-and-answer session, I asked the diplomat if the Israeli government didn’t realize that these efforts could go a long way toward remediating the state’s international image, so badly damaged by the relentless propaganda war being waged against it by some of the same countries whose people they’re helping. I suggested that public opinion does matter, since it motivates governments, which informs events, even in non-democratic nations.
The diplomat told me that of course Israel’s leaders know this, and the secrecy with which its humanitarian aid is often carried out is not based on some sense of false modesty, but is a conscious choice allowing them to continue performing these acts of kindness. He said the popular backlash would prevent the work from going forward, and the life-saving work is what’s important.
He pointed out that one of the first organizations founded in the reborn state of Israel was the Mashav – the Agency for International Development Cooperation. Since its establishment, just 10 years after the modern state’s founding, over 270,000 professionals from more than 132 countries have participated in its training programs.
Of course, not all the places the Israelis go to help are filled with homicidal anti-Semites.
In Japan, for instance, according to a report in The Jewish Reporter, “two years after a massive tsunami ravaged the eastern seaboard of Japan, the people of one of the hardest hit towns,… have inaugurated a statue honoring the assistance that Israel provided in their darkest hour.”
The sculpture, called “Rebirth and Resurrection,” symbolizes Israeli solidarity with the suffering of the Japanese people, the story says.
“Immediately after the tsunami hit in 2011, an Israeli medical delegation was dispatched and worked tirelessly to aid the people of the entire Tohoku region,” it notes.
The bottom line, I guess, is that Tikkun Olam – repairing the world – is not just a dusty, ancient concept in Israel. It’s what they do. It’s so integral a part of the Jewish/Israeli psyche that being prevented from doing it by the anti-Semitism of those they seek to help, is unacceptable. So, they keep their mouths shut and do it, anyway.
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