Don’t let some of the narcissistic comments of PM Netanyahu and the American rabbis dominate your opinion on this Israeli medical effort.
Of course, your opinion about Israel’s efforts might also be influenced by the fact you watch American TV, where you would also find special reports in the achievements of the Israeli doctors, but you wouldn’t hear anything about the Icelandic team, which was there before the Israelis, nor would you hear about the Chinese, the Cubans, the Mexicans, and and so on.
But isn’t Israel’s assistance a great example of international charity even if its a public relations coup? For an answer to this question, there is much to be learned from those who were there firsthand. . . . and then fired for criticizing the Israeli response.
According to Prof. Yoel Donchin, the director of the Patient Safety Unit at the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem, and longtime contributor to Israel’s disaster relief missions:
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
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 endeavors. 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.
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, i.e. 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.
But apparently a minute of TV coverage is much more important.
Is it too much to ask that countries refrain from exploiting disaster victims for the purposes of their own propaganda?
Thanks to Richard Silverstein of Tikkun Olam blog for first publishing this story in English. Thanks to Sol Salbe, director of the Middle East News Service for the Australian Jewish Democratic Society, for translating the original piece.