It is not the first time that Israel has offered or aided populations of the world after a disaster. Israel has a consistent track record of sending medical teams, carrying out rescue missions and providing aid to victims of natural disasters and victims of genocide across the globe including to Kenya (2006, 1998), to earthquake victims in India (2001), aid to victims of the earthquake in Greece (1999), aid to victims of the earthquake in Turkey (1999), aid to Albanian refugees from Kosovo (1999), rescued of earthquake victims in Mexico (1985) assisted victims of the bombing of the American Embassy in Nairobi, aided Rwandan refugees following the genocide (1994), rescued earthquake victims in Mexico (1985), aided in a refugee camp in Cambodia (1979), sent aid to the earthquake victims in Greece (1953) and of course it sent aid to victims of the Tsunami (2004).1
It is something that Israelis should be extremely proud of. Since its latest mission to aid the victims of the Haiti earthquake Israels critics have attacked it as an attempt to improve its negative public image. It is true, that on the teams return they were welcomed home at Ben Gurion airport for an official ceremony headed by Prime Minister Netanyahu, Minister of Defence Barak and Chief of Staff Ashkenazi:
“You have raised human spirits and elevated the name of the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces,” Netanyahu told the returning team. “As many plot against us, distort and muddy our names, you have shown the real IDF.”2 (Harel, A. 2010)
Some of Israel’s critics have used the Haiti mission as yet another means to bash Israel for trying to deter attention away from its issues with the Palestinian leadership. Whilst its advocates have used it as a publicity campaign and utilized the slogan “Disproportionate response” playing on the criticism the IDF received after its activities in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last year by the International community.
Israel too is vulnerable to natural disasters such as earthquakes and has had minor ones in recent years and fears that it too may have to deal with an earthquake as big as the one in Haiti. One could put forward an argument that Israel is using these events to better prepare itself for such an event as well as help the victims of other countries and improve its image. But this is no reason to criticize Israel for doing a good thing.
Criticizing Israel for carrying out a humanitarian mission is one of the prime examples of such activity which leads many Israelis and Jews into thinking that it does not matter what they do they will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t. For such humanitarian missions, which Israel has undertaken to be met with criticism does not do anything to help the peace process.
The demonization of Israel to this level does not seem to be disappearing, when it reaches the point where both good deeds and bad deeds are challenged. As a critic of Israel I find this an outrage and although I have much to criticize about some of the Israeli governments policies and sometimes even certain branches of Zionism, its humanitarian activities are of one of the things that makes me proud of Israel and the Jewish people.
I am not trying to deter attention away from the conflict in the Middle East that Israel finds itself in, but Israel is not as bad as many are portraying her to be. Israel does have many issues, not only with her neighbours but also within Israeli society and they need to be addressed and I will continue to be critical of them.
Its humanitarian activities do not support the image of a colonialist, oppressive power with evil intentions, which many like to view her as. It proves such claims as unjust, distorted and simply not true. I have issues with blind support for defending Israel whenever she is challenged, but this is nothing other than a cheap shot, condemning people for trying to help other people where many other nations failed to help. It is not a publicity stunt; it is something Israel has done for years now. And I hope it continues to do so.
Whether being anti-Israel means being anti-Semitic has been an ongoing debate and I do not believe it is always true, the distinction comes at times like these where Israel seems to be criticized no matter what she does and the intention of those who are criticizing.
For people who have legitimate criticism of the Israeli governments policies, to prove they do not to fall into the category of anti-Semites hiding behind being anti-Israel, must take opportunities such as these to applaud such gestures of good will and not to drag other issues into the equation. Israel did a good thing and it should be recognized. Israel should be challenged or criticized for things that warrant being challenged or criticized. The same goes for the other side; one should sympathize with Palestinian suffering but note when their leadership at times have let them down.
1 The Israel forum for International Humanitarian Aid, http://www.israaid.org.il/
2 Harel, A (28/01/2010) http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArtVty.jhtml?sw=haiti&itemNo=1145793