This week Israel dispatched a mobile field hospital and 260 medical and relief personnel to Nepal, ravaged by a deadly earthquake. In part, the quick response was an acknowledgement of an unusually close bond between Israelis and Nepalese. The remote, mountainous country is a favored tourist destination for Israelis during their “sabbatical” years between army and civilian life. And Israeli couples, with increasing frequency, arrange surrogate pregnancies in Nepal. Among the 300 Israelis who returned home safe from Nepal this week, 25 were infants born to surrogate mothers.
But the impulse to help goes beyond these warm ties. Israel has rushed to dispatch aid in previous disasters: In Haiti, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, and the Philippines, Israel shared its hard-won expertise in disaster relief and emergency aid with Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus.
Unfortunately, even these gestures are considered suspect in a world quick to judge Israel with a double standard. Greeting the news of Israel’s humanitarian effort was this churlish tweet by Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch: “Easier to address a far-away humanitarian disaster than the nearby one of Israel’s making in Gaza. End the blockade!” Apparently, Roth could not pass up an opportunity to criticize Israel or, God forbid, allow people to think good thoughts about a country so frequently in HRW’s crosshairs.
No doubt, Israel is not above criticism in its treatment of Palestinians or its actions in Gaza; indeed, this week it was dealing with the fallout from a UN report demanding answers on the deaths of Gaza civilians who had sought shelter in UN schools during last summer’s war there. (The same report also chided Hamas for using empty schools as armories.) But the knee-jerk impulse to scold Israel is a discredit to an organization that should be promoting human rights and humanitarian aid, no matter the recipient, no matter the provider.
The Jewish impulse to help is seen in the reach of Israeli and Diaspora Jewish institutions far beyond communities with large Jewish populations. (The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ has opened a mailbox for Nepal relief — see sidebar.) Helping others and repairing the world is a tenet of Judaism and shouldn’t be ridiculed in the interest of scoring snarky political points.