Jerusalem, Israel — June 5, 2015 … President Barack Obama recently accused Israel of failing to live up to the high standards of Jewish moral responsibility. So for his benefit, here is a list of Israel’s contributions around the world that show its incredible moral responsibility.
“They believed the story of their people gave them a unique perspective among the nations of the world, a unique moral authority and responsibility that comes from having once been a stranger yourself.
“To a young man like me, grappling with his own identity, recognizing the scars of race here in this nation, inspired by the civil rights struggle, the idea that you could be grounded in your history, as Israel was, but not be trapped by it, to be able to repair the world — that idea was liberating.
“Israel must be the type of nation that it was intended to be in its earliest founding.”
And then came the sucker punch: “The rights of the Jewish people then compel me to think about a Palestinian child in Ramallah that feels trapped without opportunity. That’s what Jewish values teach me. That’s what the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches me. These things are connected.”
In the same spirit, Obama told his journalist friend Jeffrey Goldberg: “We [Jews] are going to make sure that the lessons we’ve learned from our hardships and our persecutions are applied to how we govern and how we treat others.”
The American president may not have used the explicit words, but it was obvious what he meant: By “mistreating” the Palestinians, Israel is not living up to the standards of traditional Jewish values.
On the one hand, there is something very wrong with an American president accusing Israel of failing to meet its moral obligations. Not only is this a false accusation, but it provides our worst foes with ammunition to use against us.
On the other hand, this is a positive shift from the diplomatic-legal-political arena to the moral arena. Obama apparently doesn’t know it, but in the moral arena, Israel has a lot to say. Obama may not know about Israel’s many contributions to poor and developing countries so for his benefit, here is a concise list:
In both its official and non-official capacities, Israel invests enormous, albeit discreet, efforts into assisting the developing world, namely Asia and Africa. Every year, the Foreign Ministry’s international aid agency, the Israeli Agency for International Development Cooperation, brings some 2,200 farmers from developing countries to Israel to teach them modern agriculture. No fewer than 270,000 people from 132 different countries have already received this training. Some of these people even came from countries that have no official relations with Israel, such as Indonesia.
Additionally, some 2,000 professionals come to Israel from Asia and Africa each year to receive advanced professional training in fields such as community management, women’s empowerment, efficient water usage, education and much more.
In addition to importing students, Israel also exports teachers and know-how. At any given moment, around a thousand farms in the developing world rely on Israeli training and/or equipment. Dozens of consultants travel to dozens of countries every year to teach, oversee, assist and train these farmers. If Obama took the trouble to check, he would find that every African country has gotten some kind of Israeli assistance in recent years. Angola, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Senegal, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, and even South Africa, which is hostile toward Israel. These countries and many others have enjoyed Israeli assistance.
Over the last few years, African leaders have flocked to Jerusalem for official visits. Many of them say that they view Israel — a developing country that became a developed country and knows the objective challenges of the region — as a role model.
The list of Asian countries that have received help from Israel is no shorter: the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Mongolia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Samoa, Thailand, and even superpowers China and India send their trainees to Israel, or rejoice in the lecturers and technological agricultural equipment that Israel sends to them.
Similar projects are currently underway in many eastern European countries as well. Albania, Belarus, Armenia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and others host Israeli farms and send their farmers to Israel. Likewise in Latin America.
It is true that Israel’s financial assistance does not come close to that of other Western countries, but this is what Israel, a country with limited resources but with a leading agricultural industry, can give. Israel has confronted the same issues that many of these countries face, such as water shortage and desertification, so it is a prime candidate to offer farms and training.
Israel rebuilds Gaza and gets rockets in return
The above is just Israel’s routine contribution.
Perhaps Obama hasn’t heard, but Israel has earned global fame as a country that offers extensive assistance in times of emergency. Starting with the earthquake in Turkey in the 1990s and through to the most recent earthquake in Nepal, with the 2004 tsunami and the nuclear disaster in Fukushima and the impressive rescue efforts in the Philippines, Haiti and elsewhere in between, Israel has always been there.
Israel’s aid delegation always arrives quickly, equipped with a field hospital, goes to the most difficult places, never backs down from a challenge, and is never afraid of the risks. In most of these cases, and the proof is filed away at the Foreign Ministry offices, the countries that provide monetary aid get a polite thank you, but the heartfelt gratitude is reserved for Israel.
Incidentally, even the great U.S. has taken advantage of Israel’s expertise in times of emergency. The unfortunate experience we have amassed in the many terrorist attacks we have endured has turned Israeli doctors into global experts on mass casualty incidents, drawing dozens of American medical teams to our hospitals to learn how best to manage such events. This, too, is “the type of nation that Israel was intended to be,” as Obama said.
Government initiatives are only one part of the Jewish-Israeli sense of moral commitment toward the global village.
ISRAID, Tevel, Art-Joy-Love, Doctors Without Borders, Tel Aviv University’s Pears Program, and Brit Olam are only a few of the countless Israeli assistance programs seeking to help the weakest populations in the world.
Helping children afflicted with AIDS in Africa, providing economic-community assistance in Nepal, battling Ebola, rehabilitating communities after disasters, performing surgeries on a volunteer basis, establishing schools, combating violence against women, developing specific high-tech solutions for Third World problems — all these things are being done every day, away from the spotlight, by countless Israelis all around the globe. The motive, just as Obama described, is that “the story of their people gave them a unique perspective among the nations of the world, a unique moral authority and responsibility that comes from having once been a stranger yourself.”
High-tech is arguably something that doesn’t fall under “unique moral authority and responsibility” so I won’t even begin to list the contribution made by the start-up nation to the world.
So without mentioning disk-on-keys, HP processors or Waze, it is important to say that Israel’s caring doesn’t extend only to Africa or Asia — it exists right here in the region as well, even when it comes at great personal risk. Israelis volunteer in the massive refugee camps in Jordan, knowing that should their identity be exposed it could cost them their lives. Israeli organizations and individuals send supplies and food to struggling Syrians.
The State of Israel has treated hundreds of wounded Syrians who fled into Israel, at times at the expense of Israeli residents of northern Israel, who were faced with unusually crowded hospitals.
And as long as we are talking about the region, we can’t overlook the Palestinians. After all, it is because of our alleged “mistreatment” of the Palestinians that we are accused of having lost our morality. Well, there are just a few details that Obama probably does not know: These days, Israel is just about the only state rehabilitating the Gaza Strip — the same Gaza Strip that fired rockets into Israel just this week.
Is there such a precedent in the history of the world? A country rehabilitating its enemy while the war between them is ongoing?
And no, Israel does not have a hidden agenda. The former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, revealed several days ago how his mother, a Holocaust survivor, asked him to continue sending food to Gaza even after a Grad rocket exploded just outside her house. She made this request precisely because she remembers what it is like to be on the other side, under attack.
Not only that, but in the midst of Operation Protective Edge last summer, the IDF set up a field hospital to treat the Gaza wounded (who did not take advantage of the service because Hamas forbade it). Gazans with chronic illnesses continued to seek help at Israeli hospitals throughout the fighting. I am not even talking about the fact that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s own daughter was treated at Sheba Medical Center in central Israel. Is that how America treated the bin Laden family?
Israel maintains its “unique moral authority and responsibility” to such a degree that at times it even costs us the lives of our soldiers. Both Gantz and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon recounted at a conference a month ago how the extra care they took to avoid harming innocent civilians in Gaza ended up costing lives of Israeli soldiers. Is this cost not enough for the American president?
Obama preaches about the moral character of Israel because of the absence of Palestinian autonomy in Judea and Samaria. Well, first off, it must be said that the establishment of a state is a political, not a moral, issue. Secondly, if he’s being honest, is Obama really sure that the establishment of a Palestinian state will improve the moral standing of that “Palestinian child in Ramallah”?
Anyone with half a brain knows that if a Palestinian state arose tomorrow, it would be very likely to rapidly disintegrate like Syria, Iraq or Yemen. After all, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ governing ability today is far weaker than that of Syrian President Bashar Assad during better times, and Assad never had Hamas lurking in the corner.
If a Palestinian state were established, it would quickly fall into the hands of Hamas, Islamic State or Boko Haram. When that happens, the life of the “Palestinian child in Ramallah” will not only not improve, it will get worse. Anyone who disagrees that this is the likely eventuality is welcome to recall what happened in Gaza nine years ago. The American President has shown a very poor understanding of the developments in our region over the last seven years, so it is safe to assume that on this, too, he is wrong.
That which many call the “occupation” — though it is not technically an occupation because the majority of the “occupied” Palestinians actually enjoy self-rule — may not be the most aesthetically pleasing, but morally speaking it is a superior option to any version of a Palestinian state.
Indeed, it is an annoying truth, a violation of political correctness, but Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria is the best guarantee for the safety of the Arab population living in that controversial stretch of land. If the IDF and the settlers were to leave tomorrow, the Arabs of the region would most likely find themselves fighting a blood-drenched internal war, or under the rule of Hamas, which is unequivocally far less moral than the complex reality of today.
Obama can’t possibly know all this — neither Israel’s enormous contribution to the world nor the actual reality in Judea and Samaria — because there is no one around to tell him about it. Israel doesn’t broadcast it. The media, both local and foreign, don’t cover these things. And so, as long as we don’t pat ourselves on the shoulder, Obama won’t either.
But, Mr. President, this is the true picture. Tiny Israel, under constant attack, under unparalleled military threat, does its best to uphold its moral character both in its immediate vicinity and in the global arena. It is always true that more could be done.
But hey, Mr. President, if you are looking for “a light unto the nations” you will find it right here, under your nose.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in Hebrew on May 27 in Makor Rishon
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