Medical aid delegations are critical tool for ‘hasbara'

Danny Ayalon says missions are a way to show Israel is "beyond the conflict."

IDF Medical brilliant (photo credit: IDF)
IDF Medical brilliant
(photo credit: IDF)
In an era where Israel’s enemies are increasingly turning toward judicial and political methods to delegitimize the Jewish state, medical aid delegations sent to foreign countries – like the IDF’s aid mission to Haiti last January – are a vital tool for enhancing the country’s diplomatic efforts, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
“Today the methods of attacking Israel include judicial and political means, and a very effective way to fight that is to show Israel beyond the conflict,” Ayalon told the Post after addressing the annual Hadassah Israel Medical Convention at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.
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“It’s important for us to brand Israel as a humanitarian, giving country – because we are, and there are ample examples of that,” he asserted.
“We have a very capable aid system, and we’re able to give assistance where it’s needed, whether that be in Haiti or Africa,” he went on. “And we give aid for two reasons. One is because of tikkun olam [the Jewish concept of repairing the world], meaning we have a moral obligation to do so, and two, because it helps Israel’s diplomatic and hasbara [public relations] efforts around the world.”
Ayalon’s comments to the Post reflected his address to the convention, during which the deputy foreign minister lauded the country’s medical professionals for their work both at home and abroad.
“Part of the battle for public opinion in the diplomatic realm is the medical work we do,” Ayalon told the audience.
“And it’s not only what we’ve given to other countries, but what we’ve built here,” he said. “Generally speaking, we’re a young country, which has built itself. And in addition to building some of the best hospitals and universities in the world, we have also hosted some 260,000 researchers and medical personnel from nearly 100 countries since 1958.”
Ayalon noted that “these are people who have come here to learn from us. Not to mention the fact that over that time period, our doctors have gone out to locations across the world, from Kenya to Kyrgyzstan.”
Nevertheless, Ayalon stressed that it was precisely Israel’s medical work abroad that showed the country’s commitment to being “a member of the family of nations” and served to enhance Israel’s image as a humanitarian state while countering negative images produced by Israel’s enemies.
In that vein, the deputy foreign minister added that he was currently working to triple the current budget for foreign medical aid projects, which the Foreign Ministry oversees, and to expand Israel’s foreign medical aid efforts to include agricultural and public health initiatives.
“The fact that we are now a member of the OECD certainly helps those efforts, and we are also cooperating with foreign aid groups like USAID and Germany’s foreign aid operations to expand our efforts in more places around the world,” he said.
Ayalon added that he had recently signed an agreement with the German federal minister of economic cooperation and development, Dirk Niebel, to increase foreign medical aid cooperation between the two countries, and that successes in the past – as was the case in Haiti last January, or in Turkey in 1999 – had made it easier to reach such agreements and raise the budget for foreign medical aid.
“These kinds of projects are worth the investment, because they yield such huge dividends for hasbara,” Ayalon said. “And just as Israel is known as a hi-tech empire around the world, I believe we have the ability to become an empire for medicine as well.”