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Israel is at the bottom of the chart that records the relative amount of aid given by industrialized nations to developing countries, according to a Tel Aviv University study made public Wednesday, the same day Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman began his nine-day, five-country tour of Africa.
Even as Lieberman was in Ethiopia to inaugurate a new aid project on Thursday, the TAU study showed that Israeli aid abroad - primarily to emerging nations in Africa, Latin America and Asia - fell precipitously over the last 40 years. The percentage of Israel's gross national income that goes to aid was lower not only than Norway and Sweden, which led the world in these figures, but also less than Hungary and Latvia.
Since 2000, according to the study, "Israel's development aid budgets have ranged from 0.03% to 0.07% of its gross national income, lower than any of the OECD countries, or even emerging donor countries such as Turkey, Poland and the Slovak Republic."
At the height of its international assistance program in late 1960s and early 1970s, the Foreign Ministry's Center for Cooperation (Mashav), the body responsible for managing aid programs, was the largest department in the Foreign Ministry, and Israel had, per capita, one of the most extensive technical assistance programs in the Western world, according to Aliza Belman Inbal and Shachar Zahavi, of TAU's Hartog School of Government and Policy, in a study entitled "The Rise and Fall of Israel's Bilateral Aid."
"Israeli agricultural experts, engineers and doctors were in demand throughout the developing world, and Israel had a reputation globally as an important contributor of ideas and technical assistance to developing countries. In other words, during the 1960s and 1970s, when Israel was itself still a developing country, it had a bilateral aid program comparable, relative to the size of its economy, to that of the major, developed-country donors of the time," they wrote.
By contrast, they wrote, Mashav today has reached a budgetary nadir.
"Since 1999 and the collapse of the peace process, Mashav's budget has declined by 50%, even as overall Foreign Ministry budgets have remained relatively stable."
Inbal, Senior Pears Fellow for International Development at the Hartog School, said in an interview Wednesday that Israel's "golden age" of development aid, which peaked in the 1960s and early 1970s, came to a screeching halt with the Yom Kippur War, when much of Africa severed diplomatic ties.
She said that this perceived "betrayal" dealt a deep blow to Israeli public and political support for its aid program, marking a turning point from which Israel's technical assistance has never recovered.
"Historical evidence indicates," according to the report, that "while in the short term, development cooperation may inject practical content into emerging relations, it is unlikely to substantially influence the course of those relations when larger political issues are at stake."
Nevertheless, the report concluded there were still compelling reasons to invest more heavily in these programs. Among them are to reap international praise and also to garner the ability to attract co-financing for additional aid projects abroad.
There were two spikes in Israeli aid efforts in the country's history, Inbal said. The first was in the 1960s and 1970s, and the second was in the early 1990s, when aid was seen as a way to solidify ties with the emerging countries of the eastern bloc and some of the Arab states.
When the peace process fell apart at the end of the decade, however, the aid budget was again reduced as aid to Arab countries was no longer on the radar screen.
"It was misguided to think you could buy friends bilaterally with aid," Inbal said.
But, she added, foreign aid in developing countries was an extremely important and high-profile issue on the international agenda.
"When Israel opts out of international concerted efforts, we are taking ourselves out of the club of enlightened nations," she said.
Furthermore, she said, Israel had to deal with international organizations, and hefty international aid programs were a way to get on positive footing with these organizations.
Lieberman landed in Ethiopia on Wednesday and met with Foreign Minister Seyfoum Mesfim. According to a statement issued by his office, Lieberman said Ethiopia and the African states could have a positive impact on the diplomatic process through their ties with the Muslim and Arab countries. He also urged the African states not to vote in favor of one-sided, anti-Israeli resolutions in international forums.
On Thursday, Lieberman is scheduled to inaugurate in Addis Ababa an agricultural development center, a tripartite project of the two countries and USAID.
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