Israel in Haiti: More Perspectives

Some more interesting features on Israel’s relief (and public relations) efforts in Haiti…

The Jewish Forward:

(On) the ground was a retinue of Israelis dedicated to making sure people heard about their country’s humanitarian mission and spreading the word. Press officers from the Israeli military were flown in, as were photographers and a video team to document the work of Israeli medical and rescue personnel. They distributed daily footage to the press. Representatives of Israeli and foreign media were embedded with the group, and other reporters were invited.

A day after the Israeli field hospital opened, two Israeli officers in uniforms canvassed the row of TV producers sitting in their broadcast positions along the city airport’s runway. “We’re telling them about our hospital,” one said.

A feature from The Media Line by Brian Joffe-Walt:

Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli public opinion researcher and political strategist … (said) “Israelis hate when they are seen only in light of the conflict, especially when they are seen as aggressors, and they feel that most of the world is against them, with the possible exception of America.”

“As a result, Israelis are extremely supportive of anything that shows them in a better light because it’s so rare that they get any good news about how they are viewed in the rest of the world,” Scheindlin said. “We see this whenever there is global attention towards Israel for anything other than the conflict. This happened recently, for example, when an Israeli won the windsurfing gold medal or when an Israeli astronaut died.”

“That said, do I think the government participated in this aid effort for publicity? Absolutely not,” she said. “I don’t think it was a cynical move. Israel would have participated anyway. But Israelis do try to use these things to try to leverage a better image for themselves around the world.”

A very trenchant article by Ha’aretz correspondent Anshel Pfeffer:

The fundamental reason that Israel is routinely treated much more harshly than its adversaries, despite the fact that they very often carry out far worse atrocities, is that Israel puts itself out to be so much better than them. If in almost 62 years of existence, Israel had succeeded in evolving into a tinpot dictatorship, like most of its neighbors and many of the countries that achieved independence during that period, no-one would be holding it to such high standards, sometimes perhaps, unfairly. Israel is not condemned regularly in the media just because it keeps millions of Palestinians under occupation and embarks on a another mini war every other year, but because it is a country aspiring to be a western democracy while doing so.

Various pro-Israel advocacy groups publish glossy pamphlets detailing the manifold benefits Israeli technology has brought the entire world. Every word there is true and in the next editions, there will be an extensive chapter on the IDF’s international humanitarian missions, complete with photographs of the field hospital in Port-au-Prince. But that won’t improve Israel’s international image one iota. Quite the opposite.

We are a disproportionate country, and the difficulty is to reconcile a tiny brave democracy capable of such acts of greatness with an occupying regime constantly at war with its neighbors will continue to bring us bad headlines. Once the delegation comes back from Haiti.

9 Replies to “Israel in Haiti: More Perspectives”

  1. I’m in favor of more “promotional” efforts regarding the great good that Israel does routinely. Perhaps what is being attempted is new: trying to develop a democracy while trying to live up to the highest ethical goals. It’s fascinating that only in that teeny country has a violent dictatorship been avoided as a result of independence.
    It isn’t necessary to continually call attention to the failings of Israel when so little is publicly known about the successes.

    1. I have to disagree. The world still generally looks at Israel as the little nation that could, the plucky David throwing stones at a frightening Muslim/Arab Goliath.

      Yes Israel does good. I’m Israeli, and I’m proud of the good things my country does.

      But look at all the coverage the Israeli effort in Haiti has gotten. Far more, that I’ve noticed, than (say) the Japanese, or French.

      On the other hand, what the world consistently ignores, or downplays, is the horror that my country is responsible for on a daily basis in the lives of millions of Palestinians, in the name of a security that military means have never yet supplied.

      If my fellow Israelis want to live a secure life and have their various successes and acts of kindness feted, they would be wise to be honest about their failings, not try to sweep them under the rug of other, unrelated good intentions, and genuinely engage in a sincere peace process.

  2. I’m NOT with Shirley. I felt like her about Israeli round about 1967, but the blush has worn off the rose.

    And I’m quite cynical about Israel’s propaganda–er, PR efforts in Haiti. The passage you quoted from Ms. Scheindlin is instructive. Note the contradiction here:

    do I think the government participated in this aid effort for publicity? Absolutely not,” she said. “I don’t think it was a cynical move….But Israelis do try to use these things to try to leverage a better image for themselves around the world.”

    Of course the Haiti relief was a naked PR grab & of course it was leveraging a better image (though this will wear off the next time Israel kills a 10 yr old Palestinian child in a another wk or two).

    The fact that this otherwise intelligent woman can’t see the contradiction in her own statement indicates that Israelis live in a bifurcated world & can’t tolerate really understanding what they’re doing to their enemies & themselves.

  3. When I read Emily Hauser and Richard Silverstein’s comments I am reminded of something Jeff Goldberg wrote about the alleged refusal of people to criticize Israel for oppressing Gaza. He called it, to paraphrase “the taboo that won’t shut up.”

    1. Well, there is something to that, certainly among a certain subsection of the American Jewish community. I, personally, don’t see this willingness reflected more broadly in our community, nor do I see if very much acknowledged outside of the Jewish community. But it could be that I’m looking for a stronger reaction, and so, not seeing what I want to see, I see nothing.

      I would recommend Goldberg’s book, by the way: Prisoners. I am certainly to the left of him politically (and I imagine that he would say that I am too far left for him, were he to know me!), but I have a great deal of respect for the intellectual and emotional struggle that he is so open about on the issue of Israel and the occupation. He made aliya as a gung-ho new Israeli, joined the army, served time, and much in the manner of many of the men in Combatants for Peace (see: the blogroll), in the course of his service, discovered that there were actually very few clear answers.

      This quote particularly captured for me my own struggles as an American-Israeli living through the first intifada: “I was failing to make myself an Israeli, and there were moments when I no longer believed I should have this as my goal. The coarseness of life in Intifada Israel was sometimes too much for me to bear. My love for Israel was so bottomless that my disappointment with it was bottomless, too. This wasn’t fair, I knew: Israel is a flawed place, with flawed people, just like everywhere else. But it is no so easy to shake off dreams of Utopia.”

  4. More “irrelevant distraction” from “the left” . . .

    “The Painful Truth: The Haiti Disaster is Good for the Jews

    As sorry as we are about the horror in Haiti, the current positive attitude to Israel – thanks to the IDF delegation – shows that the country must engage in proactive as well as reactive hasbara.” [Excerpt from article in Maariv, “Israel’s second most popular newspaper, . . . written by Tamir Haas who identifies himself as a “publicist” and “media consultant.”] For the full article in Hebrew see http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART2/043/715.html For an English translation of the article (Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel) and links to two separate rebuttals of criticism of those “discussing how Israel’s supporters are using the disaster in Haiti for propaganda purposes” see Adam Horowitz: “Israeli media consultant in Maariv: ‘The Haiti Disaster is Good for the Jews’” http://mondoweiss.net/2010/01/israeli-media-consultant-in-maariv-the-haiti-disaster-is-good-for-the-jews.html

    Also of interest

    JPost story on Israelis adopting Haitian children — [Excerpt] “Israel is looking into adopting Haitians orphaned by the January 12 earthquake, Minister of Welfare and Social Services Isaac Herzog told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday. . . . Herzog said that all children adopted from Haiti would undergo the standard conversion process to Judaism.”
    http://www.jpost.com/servle/Satellite?cid=1263147960538&pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull

  5. It’s not true that Arab countries “did nothing.” Arab delegations (such as they were) did not take sophisticated PR teams with them.

    Morocco, Kuwait and Bahrain pledged $1 million US Dollars each in aid to be delivered in various ways through each country’s Red Crescent organization.

    Jordan, which lost 3 peacekeepers in the quake, has sent two planes of aid and a medical team to set up a medical field facility in Port-au-Prince.

    Qatar and Bahrain sent in planes each loaded with tons of food and medical aid.

    Lebanon flew in an official delegation that distributed aid, checked on the Lebanese community in Port-au-Prince and evacuated three Lebanese, ten Syrian nationals and five Palestinians. In addition carrying tents, food aid and water.

    The United Arab Emirates has established a relief air bridge to Haiti and has already delivered tons (50) of food and medical aid. The charity ‘Dubai Al-Attaa’ is coordinating with NGO’s such as CARE and UNICEF to provide educational assistance to 200,000 Haitian children.

    In Gaza, modest individual efforts were made to collect goods and food to send to the devastated people of the earthquake-ravaged nation. This move impressed some in Arab media to highlight the effort and commend it. It is not clear how this aid will be coordinated to reach its destination.

    In conclusion, there certainly is no such thing as “Arab aid” to Haiti. (Nor should there be – RP) What you will find is individual countries, organizations and even citizens doing what they can to help the people of Haiti.

    Source: Anderson Cooper :CNN
    http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2010/01/22/arabs-and-haiti-aid-trickles-in/
    in an otherwise highly disparaging article

    “Qatar yesterday (14 Jan 2010, a day before Israel ) sent a C-17 strategic transport aircraft carrying 50 tons of aid to Haiti. They also sent an action group of 26, including members from the Qatari armed forces, the internal security force (Lekhwiya), police forces, and the Hamad Medical Corporation.

    In contrast Israel sent a medical team of 12 from IsraAID, an early response relief group that springs into action after natural disasters, plus a further 200 others, including teams from Magen David Adom and Israel Police.

    Qatar has a population of 825,000, while Israel has 7,100,000. It also lacks a large and sophisticated military infrastructure.

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