Michael Oren’s passion for re-writing history

Ron Kampeas writes: It’s a compelling hero-takes-the-fall narrative: Valiant little country takes the lead in rescuing a battered people and gets snubbed when it’s time for kudos.

It’s the picture Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., paints of Israel’s 2010 Haiti rescue operation in “Ally,” his book excoriating President Barack Obama’s treatment of Israel. Haiti’s devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake, which struck outside the capital, Port-au-Prince, and killed hundreds of thousands (though the official death toll is disputed) comes at a pivotal moment in the book, when Oren believes the U.S.-Israel relationship is on a downward trajectory.

There’s a problem, though: Except for the part about the uncommon valor of Israeli rescuers, none of it appears to be based on anything that actually happened.

The passage appears on pages 132-133, in a section punningly headlined “Tremors” and that describes tensions over Israeli-Palestinian peace, “as the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office pitched toward collision”:

“My foreboding only deepened on January 15, when Obama issued an official statement on Haiti. ‘Help continues to flow in, not just from the United States but from Brazil, Mexico, Canada, France, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic,’ the president declared. Omitted from the list was Israel, the first state to arrive in Haiti and the first to reach the disaster fully prepared. I heard the president’s words and felt like I had been kicked in the chest.”

• Israel was not “the first state to arrive in Haiti.” Israel arrived on the evening of Jan. 15. According to this CNN timeline, the United States, Iceland, Canada, Spain, China, Argentina, Cuba and Brazil had rescue teams in place by Jan. 13 and 14. The Dominican Republic was first. (I’m also not sure what Oren means about Israel being the first to reach the disaster “fully prepared.” According to the CNN timeline, an Argentine field hospital had treated 800 people by Jan. 13.)

• Obama delivered his remarks between 1:08 and 1:14 PM on Friday, Jan. 15. The Israeli rescue teams arrived on Jan. 15 – in the evening, according to Walla News. And, according to multiple news sources, including JTA, the Israeli army’s field hospital was not set up set up before Saturday morning, Jan. 16.

So why would Oren have “felt kicked in the chest”? Israelis did not rescue or treat a single Haitian until after Obama delivered his remarks; there was no Israeli team in place when he spoke; what would have led Obama to cite Israel that Friday afternoon? [Continue reading…]

Without questioning the good intentions and noble efforts of individual Israeli relief workers, there’s little question that the Israeli government and media viewed the tragedy in Haiti as a wonderful PR opportunity.

“Haiti’s disaster is good for the Jews,” declared a site run by Israel’s popular Hebrew daily, Maariv.

Every disaster needs a hero, the report said, and the heroes in Haiti are the Israelis. And as I wrote at the time:

The message that Israel is saving Haiti was likewise captured in an editorial cartoon in Yediot Aharonot which shows American soldiers digging for earthquake survivors. A voice from beneath the rubble calls out, “Would you mind checking to see if the Israelis are available?”

Bnei Akiva, the largest religious Zionist youth movement in the world, in partnership with Latet, an Israeli humanitarian aid organization, launched a Haiti appeal saying: “We are not only helping Haitians with their tragedy, but uniting the Jewish world and demonstrating the Jewish values of the State of Israel. We believe that it is a Jewish duty to help the people of Haiti. As the representative of the Jewish people, the State of Israel is leading the relief effort.”

An Associated Press article I linked to yesterday describing the exodus of Haitians fleeing from the ruins of Port-au-Prince, strangely was subsequently replaced by a report describing the rescue of a 22-year-old man by an Israeli search team 10 days after the earthquake leveled much of the capital.

In Haaretz, Bradley Burston writes:

Over the past week, the work of the Israeli medical team has become a kind of Rorschach for how people view Israel and Israelis. Most of the comment, it must be said, is supportive. Even on the part of those who cast the humanitarian misery in Gaza in contrast.

But for a shocking number of others, the bottom line is simple: Israel, and Israelis, can do no right.

In its most extreme form, there are those who have accused Israel of using the Haiti catastrophe as a new reservoir for harvesting organs.

But even many of those who shun blood libels, have seized on the Haiti mission to bash Israel, revealing in many cases a hatred – and a bigotry – that borders on the visceral.

Would Burston lump me in with the anti-Israel commentators? Maybe.

Do I think the Israeli doctors, nurses and rescue teams now working in Haiti are all toiling away purely in the service of Israel’s international image? I doubt it. I would expect that for most of these individuals, their response is like that of most of the other foreigners now providing relief to Haitians: it is above all a human response to human suffering.

Is there such a thing as an Israeli response or a Jewish response or an American response to human suffering? If so, it is laced with vanity.

To say this is what we do because this is who we are is to preen oneself in front of a mirror of self-praise. It is undignified. It spies a reward in someone else’s loss.

In this mirror, Israel now sees an image of itself as a big-hearted nation admired around the world for its humanitarian efforts in Haiti. But the self-satisfaction will be short-lived. Before long this glimmer of goodwill will once again be overshadowed by the enduring reality that in the minds of most Israelis the suffering of others seems just as likely to provoke callous indifference as it does an open heart.

The big Israeli heart shrivels at the sight of a Palestinian.

Maybe Oren felt kicked in the chest when heard Obama’s words because he’d been busy sending out press releases to all and sundry hailing the imminent arrival of Israelis in Haiti, imagining that the whole world would be in awe at the mere fact that they had been sent.

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  1. Charles says:

    Significance of the Israeli effort in Haiti:
    – “I’ve been here since Thursday. No one except the Israeli hospital has taken any of our patients that are dying.” – Dr Jennifer Furin, Harvard Medical School, on CNN, Monday 18th.
    – “In the context of… assistance to Haiti… Israeli rescue teams’ efforts have been second to none.” – The Guardian
    – “Q: Have the Americans set up a field hospital? A: Currently, not yet.” – CNN, Monday 18th.
    – Of the many countries that came to Haiti’s aid… only seven sent more than 1,000 personnel. Among those was diminutive Israel.

    Awareness of Israeli efforts:
    – “Israel and Ireland also had disaster aid teams on the way.” – Fox, Wednesday 13
    – “Two plane loads of aid and rescue staff of 240, including 40 doctors and nurses to set up a field hospital capable of serving 500 people a day.” – CSM, Thursday 14

    Timing:
    – “Levy said (Thursday) a Home front Command delegation was currently making its way from the Dominican Republic to the quake-struck country.” – YNet, 11h29 Thursday 14th
    – “At around noon a Foreign Ministry delegation is expected to arrive in Haiti.” – YNet, 11h29 Thursday 14th
    – “Israeli physicians and a rescue team will leave for the Caribbean country in the evening.” – YNet, 11h29 Thursday 14th
    – “ZAKA rescue workers hitched a ride with the official Mexican aid delegation to Haiti (early Thursday)… Before the week was over, (they) had pulled out eight students alive.” – JTA