Monday, February 01, 2010

Jewish Fact Check #5: Obama, Israel and Haiti relief

Despite that old saying, "But is it good for the Jews," sometimes we need to remember that's it's not all about us. That's certainly the case when we talk about aid to post-earthquake Haiti.

I saw this blog post by The New Republic's Marty Peretz entitled "Maybe I'm Getting Paranoid .... About Obama" and thought, "Yes, Marty is getting paranoid about Obama." Basically, Peretz posits that the president was snubbing Israel because the Jewish state was not one of the six countries Obama mentioned in a list of those supplying aid to Haiti in a Jan. 15 speech:

At the airport, help continues to flow in, not just from the United States but from Brazil, Mexico, Canada, France, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, among others.


Peretz notes that "next to our country, Israel sent the largest contingent of trained rescue workers, doctors, and other medical personnel," and adds that "the Israeli field hospital was the only one on the ground that could perform real surgery," and then argues that the reason Obama didn't mention Israel is because Arab states hadn't made a contribution equivalent to Israel's.

But I decided to not ignore it any longer after the Zionist Organization of America repeated Peretz's claims in a press release Monday entitled "ZOA Critical Of President Obama's Omission Of Israel From Among Countries Helping Haiti." (It's not up on the group's Web site yet--I will link when it appears.) The release also reiterates Peretz's questionable supposition that the omission of Israel somehow had to do with Obama's unwillingness to offend the Arab side in the Middle East peace process.

Let's leave aside the accuracy of that comparison (while maybe not as much as Israel, a bunch of Arab states did in fact send aid, as catalogued here, although apparently the Saudis had to be shamed to contribute $50 million), and just look at a couple important facts here.

First, as this Associated Press article from Jan. 13 notes, by the day after the earthquake, 16 countries had already pledged aid. So realistically, the president couldn't name every country, or it would have been a very boring speech (and by Jan. 15, when Obama gave the speech, the number had surely risen from 16). He did say "among others," after all--it's not like he ever implied that the countries he named were only the ones giving aid. And let's look at who he did name. All except one are immediate neighbors of Haiti, located in either North or South America (Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and, of course, the Dominican Republic, which is located on the same island). The only other country he names is France, which, of course, has a long history with Haiti. He didn't name the Netherlands, who sent $3 million and a 60 person rescue team, for instance -- or Great Britain or Spain or, for obvious reasons, Cuba.

But the main reason why the suspicion about Obama's motives is unwarranted is this glaring fact: According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the Israeli aid team landed in Haiti on the evening of Jan. 15. That's right, around the same time -- or perhaps a couple hours after -- Obama actually gave the speech. So that means that all the truly great work that Israelis did in Haiti -- the work in the field hospital, the rescuse of someone trapped in the rubble more than a week after the quake -- all occurred AFTER the Obama speech which Peretz cites. Sure, Israel had announced that they were sending a field hospital and rescue personnel, but they hadn't actually done anything yet. So citing the great accomplishments of Israel in Haiti and then wondering how Obama overlooked them -- when the only way he could have mentioned them in that Jan. 15 speech is if he had time-traveled to the end of January -- is ridiculous.

In their press release, ZOA unwittingly proves this point by contrasting Obama's remarks with former President Bill Clinton, who was quoted in a Haaretz piece telling Israeli President Shimon Peres, "I don't know what we would have done without the Israeli hospital at Haiti." Of course, the article is from January 29, and Clinton made the remarks the previous day at the Davos economic forum.

So if you want to be upset at Obama, you can criticize him for leading with a settlement freeze in the Middle East and then, when it seemed to backfire, apparently not having a Plan B. You can criticize him for botching health care reform, by spending way too much time talking about how health reform will magically lead to fewer tests and fewer pills, when he should have been talking about real people, and how health reform would mean you won't lose your health insurance when you lose your job and you'll be able to actually get coverage even if you have a pre-existing condition. But don't get mad at him for somehow snubbing Israel in his list of countries that helped Haiti--because it just didn't happen.

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21 Comments:

Anonymous John said...

Another excellent blog on an issue that I wasn't following!

2/2/10, 1:32 PM  
Anonymous Goldie said...

THE SMOKING GUN:

"He didn't name the Netherlands, who sent $3 million and a 60 person rescue team, for instance -- or Great Britain or Spain or, for obvious reasons, Cuba."

For obvious reasons, Cuba?????????

What are these obvious reasons? Could they be political reasons? And if they are political reasons, then that establishes the underlying principle, that a contributing country may be omitted for political reasons. Now, what one country in the entire world stands out over all others as a country, the very mention of whose name triggers some politically sensitive people, easily offended people, to take offense? That country is not Cuba. Could that country be Israel?

Oops, Mr. Fingerman - you inadvertently supplied the answer to your conundrum.

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