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The Philadelphia Jewish Voice
October 2005 > Katrina

Bush to Israel: No Thanks

FEMA Worker and Zaka Rabbi Isaac Leider cooperate to salvage Torahs from Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans

Flashback: 9/11/2004. A delegation from Zaka, was grounded at Ben-Gurion Airport when it received word that the Bush administration had adamantly rejected its offer to come to New York to help identify victims at the World Trade Center.

Flashback: 8/7/1998. Al Qaeda kills hundreds of people in simultaneous car bomb explosions at the United States embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. Israel offers its expertise and is among the first on the ground in support of the United States as the Clinton administration has no qualms about accepting Israeli aid.

Flash forward: Thursday, Sept. 8, 2005: Israel sent a plane laden with relief supplies to New Orleans to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina. The Foreign Ministry's Web site noted that the shipment included "80 tons of food, disposable diapers, beds, blankets, generators and additional equipment which were donated from different governmental institutions, civilian institutions and the IDF."

The Web site's notice of the shipment is rather confusing. The first half of the entry announced that the IDF's chief medical officer, Brig. Gen. Yeheskel Levy, would be leading the Israeli delegation that was set to depart last Wednesday, Sept. 7.

A few paragraphs down, the same notice stated that on Sept. 8 a lower-ranking delegation, led Col. Yuval Kimhi, head of the Policy and Development Department in the IDF Home Front Command, would be leading the delegation. The Web site noted: "The contents of the shipment were chosen in coordination with the US government."

Three central questions arise from the contradictory announcement. 

  • First, why would the US ask for Israel to lower the level of a humanitarian aid delegation sent to assist US citizens in need? 
  • Second, why would the Bush administration hold up the arrival of assistance from a close ally whose government's offer of assistance had been announced a week before? 
  • And thirdly, given the IDF Medical Corps' enormous, hard-earned experience in contending with major disasters man-made and natural why would the Bush administration nix the participation of IDF doctors in the humanitarian assistance effort?

According to a documented report in the online newspaper the reason for the delay, and presumably for the lowering of the level of the delegation, was the State Department's unwillingness to accept Israel's assistance.

Administration officials cited by the report claimed that the State Department delayed accepting Israel's repeated offers of assistance because it feared that accepting Israel's offer would make Arab states less likely to make offers of their own.

Indeed, the report notes that in multiple press briefings last week regarding foreign assistance to Katrina victims the State Department repeatedly ignored Israel's offers. It was only on Wednesday night that the State Department released a report noting Israel's assistance.

The article quotes an administration official stating, "At one point, the administration signaled that it would accept Israeli help, but preferred that it be as part of a mission organized by the American Jewish community. There appeared to be a problem with having the Israeli flag in a foreign rescue mission in the United States."

Why would there be a problem with Israel assisting the US? How dare the administration hint that Israel integrate its assistance with that of an American religious and ethnic minority Jewish or otherwise? Did the US suggest that the Irish or Indian governments integrate their relief assistance with relief efforts being carried out by the Irish-American or Indian-American communities? Perhaps Israel should feel grateful that the Bush administration accepted our offer at all.

After all, it refused Israeli offers of assistance in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. At that time a delegation from Zaka, the non-governmental organization of volunteers that collects body parts for identification and burial after terror attacks in Israel, was grounded at Ben-Gurion Airport when it received word that the Bush administration had adamantly rejected its offer to come to New York to help identify victims at the World Trade Center.

AT THE same time, as is the case today with Hurricane Katrina, the administration loudly applauded the "outpouring" of assistance it had received from such allies as Saudi Arabia. It took then New York mayor Rudolph Guiliani to set the record straight when, on October 10, 2001, Giuliani rejected a $10 million donation from Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal.

Giuliani discovered that the prince had claimed that "Israeli attacks on Palestinians" were the cause of the al-Qaida bombings in the US. In rejecting the donation Giuliani said, "Not only are those statements wrong, they're part of the problem."

Unfortunately, the problem continues.

Karen Hughes, President George W. Bush's close adviser who recently began her tenure as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, last weekend gave her first public address in her new capacity to the Islamic Society of North America. As Frank Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC noted in a column in The Washington Times, the group "is a front for the promotion of Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi political, doctrinal and theological infrastructure in the US and Canada."

Columnist Joel Mowbray explained in the same newspaper that the group's president has praised suicide bombers, and the organization's Web site includes articles lauding Osama bin Laden written by well-known anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers.

Mowbray offers in his column that perhaps Hughes was not sufficiently briefed by her aides before she accepted the invitation to address the group. Perhaps however, she was briefed by her close adviser, Edward Djerejian, former US ambassador to Syria and the director of the James Baker Public Policy Institute at Rice University in Houston. Djerejian has for years called for the adoption of a hostile US approach to Israel within US policy making circles.

THE STORY of African-American sprinter Jesse Owens's great victory at the "Nazi" Olympics in Berlin in 1936 has always been upheld as a great symbolic victory of a multi-racial democracy against a racist totalitarian regime. Less widely known is that Owens won his fourth gold medal in the 400-yard relay because of anti-Semitism. Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, another African-American, were not scheduled to participate in the race. Their participation was the result of a last-minute decision by Avery Brundage, chairman of the US Olympic Committee and an enthusiastic supporter of Hitler, to remove two Jewish-American sprinters, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, from the lineup.

It is hard not to view the State Department's reticence over accepting Israel's offers of assistance to hurricane victims and victims of Arab terror on the one hand, and its enthusiastic playing up of assistance from Arab states on the other, as an historical parallel to Brundage's decision to prevent Glickman and Stoller from competing in the Olympic Games in Berlin.

The most disturbing aspect of this episode is that it shows clearly the enduring power of the darker side of America. There is the great America that stands as a beacon of freedom and democracy for the whole world. This is the America that is willing to send its forces throughout the world to defend America and bring freedom to millions who suffer under the yoke of tyranny.

But, on the other side, there is the America of special interests and of prejudice. This is the America that, at the behest of the Saudi government, announced its support for the establishment of a Palestinian state just weeks after thousands of Palestinians celebrated the destruction of the World Trade Center. This is the America that put forward a reform plan for the United Nations that makes no mention of reforming the organization's blatant, institutional discrimination of Israel.

The Bush administration is constantly declaring its revolutionary strategy of transforming the Arab world through democracy. But how can anyone take it seriously when it repeatedly humiliates the only democracy in the Middle East as it courts favor with anti-democratic, terror-supporting Arab autocracies while winking at their inherent, genocidal hatred of the Jewish people?

(c) 2005 Zaka: Rescue and Recovery. Reprinted with permission of Zaka.