Goldberg and Burnston (and my aunt) misunderstand the criticism of Israel’s Haiti mission

by Yaniv Reich on January 21, 2010

In today’s Ha’aretz, Bradley Burnston writes an op-ed in which he fulminates against the critics of Israel’s current mission in Haiti. He starts by saying “thank you” to the IDF medical team, continues by saying “That’s it”, suggesting that’s all he wants to say, and then launches into a tirade against “Israel bashers.” Quick on his heels, Jeffrey Goldberg reprints some of the key paragraphs in the original:

The contention is that Israel sent aid to Haiti on purely cynical motives, harnessing public relations to divert attention from the Goldstone Report, to divert attention from Gaza, to divert attention from its never-ending, always expanding internal crises.

The implication is that Israel, and Israelis, are constitutionally incapable of doing good for its own sake. Or that whenever they appear to do good, people of conscience should recognize that the evil designs behind it render any good that may be done, complicit in wrongdoing.

True, it is willful blindness to contend that Israel can do no wrong. But it is nothing short of racism to maintain, in Haiti and in general, that Israelis can do no right.

Burnston and Goldberg deliberately misunderstand the main contention of the critics. Well, I can’t speak for all the critics, especially not the most extreme that believe Israel is only doing this to harvest organs from Haitian victims. Let’s just leave that disgusting question for when there might actually surface evidence of such wrongdoing before we go asserting such gibberish all around.

But I have criticized Israel’s efforts, as have a number of Israelis and American Jews, including Dr. Dochsin, Akiva Eldar, Mondoweiss, and so on.

Our arguments are the following:

It is not that Israel sent aid to Haiti on purely selfish motives. Sending aid is a valuable and, indeed, necessary thing for a country to do in the face of such a disaster. This is, of course, precisely why 43 countries have sent teams to Haiti and many more have sent money and supplies. Moreover, I am certain that for many of the medical professionals there on the ground, they are acting because of a deep commitment to human life.

But there is no other country, except the US, that has used their relief effort to bolster their own image in such a transparent and self-serving way. I challenge any reader to find quotes from any other aid team that mirror, say, this headline: “Israel’s aid effort helps Haitians—and Israel’s image.” Or a country whose Prime Minister gets on TV to talk about how the aid effort reflects the religious ethics of the country’s citizenry. Therefore, the point is that in addition to helping Haitians, Israel is consciously exploiting the tragedy to help itself. And that doesn’t sit well with people.

The whole point, as explained in this blog, and in Dochsin’s article, and in Akiva Eldar’s article, and in many, many other Israeli sources, is that Israel is trying to use the very good deed of saving lives, in part, for the purpose of boosting its shitty image. And it is sending medical teams and fancy medical machinery when there are other cheaper, much more effective aid options available. It does this precisely because medical services are photogenic and Israel treats the whole affair as a public relations exercise (the medical teams come with their own spokespeople, media representatives, and so on).

Let us not forget. Why is it that Israel’s image is in the dumps? In large part because it has done to Gaza what the earthquake did to Port-Au-Prince (with far, far fewer casualties, thankfully, despite similar destruction to infrastructure and housing). But instead of doing absolutely anything for the Gazans, it imposes a near total siege, including on Gazans seeking medical treatment for the wounds sustained when Israel attacked them.

This is the definition of chutzpah. Moreover, its the reflection of a hypocritical and therefore impoverished ethics that fails to appreciate the humanity of Palestinians.

That is what we are criticizing.

Update: Is it possible the New York Times gets it?

Update 2: Nothing like 150,000-plus deaths being “good for you.” I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if you ever consider six-figure deaths a positive development under any circumstance, your priorities and behavior are certainly in the wrong place.

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1 philipblue January 28, 2010 at 9:59 am

I understand your argument, but I would still have been more charitable, at least in tone if not in substance. After all, as you say, the doctors, firefighters and so on, probably went with the best of motives, and we shouldn’t denigrate their efforts. I just think it probably warranted a comment on that before the criticism of the way the government used it.

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