Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Israel's opportunistic goodness

Which is the country that, in the wake of earthquakes, tsunamis and other catastrophees, has made the biggest donations to the affected populations on a per capita basis? Yes, it's that particular and unique Middle Eastern country you're thinking of -- Saudi Arabia. To give but one example, after Pakistan was hit by devastating floods in 2010, Saudi committed public and private donations to the tune of $350 M; it also donated two 100-bed hospitals. This compares favorably with, for instance, the US's donation of $216.5 M (most of which loan guarantees, not an actual gift) or Britain's donation of $115 M.

I bet that many readers of this post have never heard about this. The foreign aid given by Saudi Arabia is usually not reported by the media. On the other hand, the kingdom is harshly criticized over its treatment of women, non-Muslims and foreigners. Is there a double standard in place? Is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia subject to a policy of demonization, whereby its good actions go unreported, while its bad actions are widely discussed? Obviously this is not the case. Bad actions make for better headlines than good actions, and that's why the stealing of an old lady's $100 purse by two guys on a motorbike is news, while my neighbor's monthly cash donation of $100 to a soup kitchen is persistently ignored by the newscasts. That's also why the stoning of an adulterer gets more coverage than Saudi Arabia's gift of the King Faisal Hospital to Kigali, Rwanda. Anyone can understand this.

Giulio Meotti also understands it -- in the case of Saudi Arabia. But he doesn't seem to understand it in the case of Israel. In a recent piece on Ynet under the title Ignoring Israel's goodness, Meotti lists a few of Israel's responses to natural disasters, such as the earthquake in Haiti in early 2010, and complains that:

Israel’s amazing altruism never had its legitimate space in the global media, because this radical goodness doesn’t fit in with the Zionist stereotype of the colonialist, fascist and apartheid occupier.

A reader picks up the Haitian example and claims:

The only reason the Israeli hospital in Haiti was covered was because it was the only one there - an oasis of salvation in a wasteland.

This is a good time to dispel this myth, and to put the claim of unfair reporting in perspective.

The Israeli field hospital was not the only one in Haiti. An Argentinian field hospital was already operative before the Israelis arrived. Yet I don't see Argentinians moaning that the country's goodness is not reported.

In fact, the Argentinian hospital was part of a permanent program for helping Haitians, which was in place before the earthquake and continues to be in place many months after. There's a huge difference between this genuine goodness and the bogus, opportunistic Israeli goodness, which only shows during the short time that TV cameras focus on a catastrophee site. 

If Israel's rescue actions are not seen as the definitive proof of Israeli generosity it's perhaps because the media can distinguish a PR operation, however sophisticated, from true charity, which is manifested over months and years of quietly helping those in need, rather than in spectacular, but short-lived, rescue efforts whose foremost aim is to improve a country's image.