Good Deeds Won’t Win Israel Any Friends

By Jonathan Tobin


May 14, 2015


In recent weeks, a fair amount of publicity has been given to the fact that Israel’s efforts to aid the victims of the Nepal earthquakes have been far out of proportion to its size. Far larger countries have done much less or nothing at all to assist the Himalayan nation deal with this terrible tragedy. In fact, Israel’s humanitarian delegation to Katmandu numbered more than 250 persons including medical personnel and experts in rescue and recovery operations is the second largest of any country that sent assistance to Nepal. As with similar instances in which the Jewish state donated so generously to countries in need, both Israel and its friends around the world have felt a great deal of pride in this fact. But it has not altered the opinions of those who wish to see it destroyed. Indeed, as the Times of Israel notes, some of the country’s foes have taken to label the aid effort “rubble-washing,” deeming it a transparent attempt to distract the world from the country’s alleged sins. This is a monstrous charge and those who make it deserve to be treated with contempt. But the issue here goes further than such libels. So long as the pro-Israel community neglects efforts to highlight the justice of its cause in the conflict with the Palestinians, highlighting the Jewish state’s accomplishments and attractions won’t help.

There’s something particularly egregious about those who actually criticize Israeli aid efforts to a prostrate Third World nation. Apparently nothing, not even a humanitarian crisis, is enough to cause those who wish to see the Jewish state brought down to call a timeout in their campaign of delegitimization. That’s bad enough when it comes from bottom feeder websites like Mondoweiss. But when it comes from supposedly legitimate figures within the human rights community, it bridges the gap between the absurd and the pathological. Much like those who advocate gay rights but who react furiously when it is pointed out that Israel is a haven of freedom and equal rights for the gay community (called “pinkwashing”) the criticism of Israel’s generous humanitarian aid efforts says more about rigid ideology, if not outright hatred, of the people making such bizarre charges than it does about Israel.

But this nasty business aside, the fact that aid to Nepal doesn’t endear Israel to a world that continues to single it out for condemnation about debatable charges while ignoring actual human rights catastrophes elsewhere such as the slaughter in Syria or tyranny in Iran (a far larger country that, of course, sent no aid to Nepal) still frustrates a lot of well meaning supporters of the Jewish state. For years, many in the pro-Israel community as well as some in the country’s Foreign Ministry have been obsessed with the idea that Israel’s problem is primarily one of a negative image. They rightly point out that many people only associate it with stories about conflict and violence as well as allegations about violating the rights of Palestinians or slanders about it being an “apartheid state.” They say the answer to that is an effort to “rebrand” the country. If only, they have asserted, people associated Israel more with beautiful beaches (and pretty girls frolicking on the beaches), the lifesaving medical advances that have been discovered by its brilliant scientific community or the fact that it is truly the Start-Up Nation that has a high-tech industry second only in many respects to that of the United States, people would stop listening to the attacks.

But while there is plenty of good news to be disseminated about Israel’s many accomplishment and genuine attractions, as well as its humanitarian bona fides, the discussion of these topics won’t change a single mind about the attacks on the country’s legitimacy or its behavior. As I noted in a COMMENTARY feature back in October 2009,the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s rebranding campaign was not only doomed to failure; it was a distraction from its real job of combating the lies about the conflict.

It’s satisfying for both Israelis and their foreign friends who are sick of being bashed in the media and tired of the old arguments about territory and settlements, to see attention focused on publicizing the good things about Israel, whether it is gay rights, medicine or humanitarian aid. But the problem is that a rival branding program has overtaken this effort. Israel’s foes have devoted themselves to the apartheid libel, effectively convincing much of the world that only the Palestinians have rights and that the terror threat as well as the ongoing siege of the Jewish state is irrelevant to discussions about the peace process. By establishing the notion that all of the West Bank and Jerusalem is stolen property rather than just land to which both sides have legitimate claims, Israel is branded as an oppressor and thief of over people’s property. This dovetails with the rising tide of anti-Semitism throughout Europe and the world.

The only thing that will convince the world that Israel does not deserve the opprobrium directed at it is a case for the justice of its cause in its fight against the Palestinians. That means Israel’s advocates must still directly address the case for its right to be where it is as well as its right to defend itself against those who are only interested in its elimination and not a two-state solution.

Just like its gay rights policy, scientific advances, vibrant economy, beautiful scenery and pretty girls, Israeli humanitarian efforts deserve to be celebrated by the world. Moreover, like those other aspects of its national life that illustrate the country’s basic character and values, a willingness to help others is worth doing because it is right, not to win popularity contests. But none of this will prevent the country from being smeared with the apartheid label. Only direct answers to those charges as well as an effort to turn the tables on the Palestinians and to highlight the truth about their support for terrorism and refusal to make peace on any terms but Israel’s destruction, will help to alter its image.