First to blow its own trumpet, last to give money to those in need: which country?

November 21, 2013
Sarah Benton

Israel’s best known and most publicised contribution to disaster relief was the despatch of the IDF, medical staff and equipment to Haiti after its shattering earthquake in 2010. Photo by Joe Shalmoni shows Dr. Ofer Merin in Haiti. The headline to the article with this photo was Israel’s Haitian Tent Hospital Boosts IDF Image

The Zionization of Disaster Relief

By Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam
January 19, 2010

Didn’t know there was anything particularly Zionist about providing disaster relief?  You learn something new every day.  This is a story of exploiting the suffering of poor, defenseless Haitians on behalf of Israeli triumphalism.

Sol Salbe translated an eye-opening column from Yediot by an Israeli doctor who was an integral member of all Israeli international disaster response teams until recently.  Then he made the mistake of writing a mildly critical statement about Israeli disaster relief efforts.  As a result, he was relieved of his obligation for further IDF service and further participation in the disaster relief program.  The op ed is so revealing (and not yet available online in English) I’m going to quote large sections.  An explanatory note–at Israel’s Haiti field hospital, they delivered what the Israeli PR flacks called “the first baby since the earthquake.”  The medical staff urged the woman to name her baby “Israel” and she was only to eager to oblige.  Another Israeli PR coup!

Public Relations instead of saving lives

Sending portable toilets to Haiti would have been a better option, but this does not provide good photo opportunities. Israeli missions to disaster areas in the past have shown that such activity was in vain.

By Yoel Donchin, Yediot

I received my final exemption from the army after I published an article which said that the State of Israel acts like the proverbial Boy Scout, who insists on doing a good deed daily and helping an old lady cross the road even against her will. How ungrateful of me to publish such a column when I had participated in almost all the rescue missions to overseas disaster areas! Suddenly I am no longer suitable to take part in such heroic endeavours. But in light of the experience I gained in such missions…we have wasted our effort.

Generally speaking, we start preparing for such a mission within hours of the announcement of a natural disaster. Most often the Israeli mission team is the first one to land in the area. Like those who climb Mount Everest, it plants its flag on the highest peak available, announcing  to all and sundry that the site has been conquered. And in order to ensure that the public is aware of this sporting achievement, the mission is accompanied by media representatives, photographers, an IDF spokesman’s office squad and others.

I understood the purpose perfectly when the head of one of the delegations to a disaster zone was asked whether oxygen tanks and a number of doctors could be removed to make room for another TV network’s representatives with their equipment. (With unusual courage, the delegation head refused!)

The lesson learnt from the activities of those missions is that when there is a natural disaster, or when thousands of people are expelled from their homes by force, as happened in Kosovo, survivors may benefit from international assistance only if it responds to the region’s specific needs. Also assistance must be coordinated among the various aid agencies.

The competitive race to a disaster zone imposes a huge strain on the local health and administration authorities. Airports are clogged by transport planes unloading a lot of unnecessary but bulky equipment. Doctors and rescue organisations seek ways to utilise single carriageway roads and in fact they are a burden.   The correct way to help is to send a small advance force to gauge the dimensions of the disaster…

Would they still call that child Israel?

Three components are crucial:  shelter, water and food — these things are crucial in order to save the largest number of people. Water purification equipment, tents, basic food rations are needed. But they do lack the desired dramatic effect. If we went down that track we would miss out on seeing that child who was born with the assistance of our physicians. Most certainly, the excited mother wouldn’t give her child (who knows if he will ever reach a ripe old age?) the name Israel or that of the obstetrician or nurse. (Would he get citizenship because he was born in Israeli territory? There would be many opposed to that.) The drama is indeed classy, but its necessity is doubtful.

It being Israel, our current force contains a Kashrut supervisor, security personnel and more.

In the present disaster, which is of a more massive scale than anything we have encountered to date, the need is not so much for a field hospital but field, ie portable, toilets. There is more of a need for digging equipment to dig graves and sewage pipes.

A country which wants to provide humanitarian aid without concern for its media image should send whatever is required by the victims, and not whatever it wants to deliver. But would the evening news show the commander of the Israeli mission at the compound with 500 chemical toilets? Unlikely. It is much more media savvy to show an Israeli hospital, replete with stars of David and of course the dedicated doctors and nurses, dressed in their snazzy uniforms with an Israeli flag on the lapel.

…It is quite likely that financial assistance commensurate with Israel’s resources would be preferable to the enormous expense and complicated logistics involved in the maintenance of a medical unit in the field…

But apparently a minute of TV coverage is much more important…and in fact Israel is using disasters as [military] field training in rescue and medical care. After a fortnight, the mission will reportedly return to Israel. To be truly effective a field hospital needs to remain for two or three months, but that’s a condition that Israel cannot meet.

…It is only in the Israeli aid compound in Haiti that large signs carrying the donor country’s name hang for all to see.

Prof. Yoel Donchin is the director of the Patient Safety Unit at the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem. 
Translated by Sol Salbe, who directs the Middle East News Service for the Australian Jewish Democratic Society.

If after reading this you’re feeling either slightly soiled or angry, I urge you to perform a truly constructive, selfless act in reply to Israel’s self-promotional puffery. Make a gift to American Jewish World Service or Doctors Without Borders, who are each doing acts of mercy without thought of benefit to themselves or any narrow political movement.  In fact, DWB’s flights of precious, desperately needed medical supplies have been repeatedly turned away by American forces controlling incoming air traffic, in favor of military equipment deemed needed for the occupation which seems to be taking shape there.

Somehow Israeli field hospitals and all their support equipment manage to get through this bottleneck.  Could it be?  Nah, I didn’t think so.

Israel ranks low in international giving

A philanthropy expert says citizens could actually legitimize the state of Israel as a part of the world family by giving more to support other people.

By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times
June 08, 2013

JERUSALEM — Israeli doctors were among the first to set up emergency hospitals in Haiti after its devastating 2010 earthquake. Israel also swiftly dispatched water-purification experts to Japan following the 2011 tsunami and trauma experts to Boston after the recent marathon bombings.

Yet despite such high-profile disaster assistance, Israel ranks near the bottom among leading free-market economies in providing foreign aid to developing nations.

Along with Mexico and Chile, Israel gives the least as a percentage of gross national income among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Israel gives one-tenth of the U.N.’s target rate, lagging behind Turkey, Poland, Slovakia and even Greece during its debt crisis, according to OECD data.

On an individual basis, Israelis are also less likely to send donations abroad compared with citizens of most European countries and the U.S., according to a study by Hebrew University’s Center for the Study of Philanthropy in Israel. Over the last decade, 0.1% of individual charitable funds raised in Israel went to international relief, compared with 48% in Belgium, 13% in Italy and 5% in the U.S.

In an interview Wednesday in Jerusalem, Hillel Schmid, head of the center, told The [LA] Times that Israelis can and should give more if they want to be accepted as global citizens.

Q: Why don’t Israelis give more internationally?

A: Israelis in general are not so generous in giving, internationally and even inside Israel. People are suspicious about giving money. There’s an anti-philanthropist feeling. Even though Israel was built by philanthropists, today surveys show that Israelis think philanthropies are self-interested, political and wasteful.

And though Israelis see themselves as part of the larger world, they see themselves as beneficiaries, not contributors. Israelis are a little bit selfish in this way. We’ve been educated through the years to expect that money will be imported from the Jewry in the rest of the world, like New York and Los Angeles.

Is it surprising that Israelis don’t give more considering the emphasis on charity in Judaism and Israel’s roots as a socialist state?

There’s a proverb, “The poor come first.” It means you should take care of your own people first before giving money to others and running overseas. It would be strange for an Israeli to send money to Africa when they feel there are still so many projects here.

So do Israelis give a lot of money domestically?

No. Individual philanthropy inside Israel — for things like social programs, education, art, culture — is less than 0.7% of the GDP. In the U.S., it’s about 2.5%. Though Israel is not socialist anymore, people still think it’s the role of the government to provide these things, not philanthropy. They feel, “We pay taxes. We serve in the army. Why should we give more?”

Total philanthropy in Israel is $5.5 billion a year, but much of that money originates from (foreign sources). We are the biggest importer of philanthropy money in the world. Ten years ago, 72% of Israel’s philanthropy came from overseas. Today it’s about 62%.

Is the problem that Israelis simply can’t afford it?

No. For several years the government has been declaring almost every day how strong the economy is. But the wealth of Israel is not reflected in the giving. They can afford to give much more. There was a recent report that there are 500 multimillionaires in Israel and several billionaires. Look at people like [American billionaires Bill] Gates and [Warren] Buffett and others who are giving their assets to generous foundations. You don’t find an Israeli who is giving away his capital like that to help a hospital in South Africa.

Yet internationally, the Israeli government was more much aggressive about giving in past decades. When it was still a developing nation itself in the 1950s and 1960s, Israel’s track record for providing technical assistance and sending doctors or agriculture experts to Africa rivaled larger developed nations. What changed?

First, we don’t have political relations anymore with most of the countries in Africa.

True. And it was their decision to take part in the Arab boycott, so you can’t blame Israel for that.

Right. But back then, aid was seen as a government interest. Not anymore. The government today has no policy about philanthropy. But I think it should because Israel is not in good shape in terms of legitimacy, the Palestinian territories and all this stuff. You’ve seen the polls that rank Israel fourth as the most-hated country after Iran, Pakistan and North Korea. Philanthropy abroad is not only for ideological and humanitarian reasons, but there is some self-interest as well.

Does that really work? Israel showered Africa with assistance in the hopes that it could forge diplomatic relationships, yet those countries still boycotted Israel.

I think it does. We are isolated in the world. We can actually legitimize the state of Israel as a part of the world family by giving more to support other people. But we need to develop a culture of giving. Education should start in elementary school. The Israeli rate for volunteerism is not very high, except in wars and disasters. And the government needs to do more to encourage philanthropy, such as providing better tax benefits.

Is there any sense of national shame that Israel ranks so low in this area?

A: We don’t want to be last in terms of poverty or education, or to rank lower than Turkey or Greece in those areas. But I don’t think if you ask someone on the street, that they would say it bothers them that we don’t give more.

Aid from OECD countries

2010 figures: the first number is the amount given in overseas development aid in US $million; the second is the percentage that figure represents of gross national income.  Lowest first.

Below average
Israel    140.55, 0.07%
Poland    377.89, 0.08%
Slovakia  73.71, 0.09%
Hungary 112.62, 0.09%
Estonia   18.29, 0.10%
Czech Rep 223.61, 0.12%
Korea,S   1,167.74, 0.12%
Turkey     966.82, 0.13%
Slovenia    63.09, 0.13%
Italy       3,110.87,  0.15%
Greece    500.03, 0.17%
Japan     11,045.22, 0.20%
USA       30,154.29, 0.21%
NZ         352.83, 0.26%
G7 countries 88,843.96 0.28%
Iceland    28.62, 0.28%
Portugal  648.10,  0.29%

Above average
Austria   1,198.94, 0.32%
Australia 3,848.91, 0.32%
Canada    5,131.84, 0.33%
Germany    12,723.05, 0.38%
Switzerland 2,295.22, 0.41%
Spain     5,916.5, 0.43%

Non-G7 countries 39,884.38 0.49%

France     12,915.62, 0.50%
Ireland    895.15, 0.53%
UK        13,763.07, 0.56%
Belgium   3,000.23, 0.64%
Netherland 6,350.60, 0.81%
Denmark    2,866.63, 0.90%
Sweden    4,526.62,, 0.97%
Luxembourg 399.20, 1.09%
Norway    4,582.23, 1.10%

Average TOTAL 128,728.34 0.32%

‘Quietly, with no fanfare,’ Israeli army delivers Philippine baby alongside NBC’s Dr. Snyderman
Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, November 16, 2013

The IDF contribution to the typhoon disaster in the Philippines is receiving coverage almost identical to that which Israeli media gave to Haiti, including the proud naming of a baby boy ‘Israel’. The only difference is that it’s first propagated by tweets.

Commands to help the needy
There are innumerable commands in the Jewish tradition, in the Torah and in the larger Hebrew bible to help the needy, for example this from Job:

16 If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail;

17 Or have eaten my morsel myself alone, and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof;

19 If I have seen any perish for want of clothing, or any poor without covering;

20 If his loins have not blessed me, and if he were not warmed with the fleece of my sheep;

21 If I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless, when I saw my help in the gate:

22 Then let mine arm fall from my shoulder blade, and mine arm be broken from the bone.

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