It is well known that Israel, uniquely among all the world’s countries, is frequently singled out for ridiculously unequal treatment in international bodies. This might give the impression that Israel is some type of international pariah nation, and this is certainly the impression that its enemies seek to convey.
However, the truth is that, despite problems including the continued inability to reach a secure and lasting peace with the Palestinians, Israel is an extraordinary democratic, economic and social success story with much to offer the rest of the world, and this reality is increasingly being recognised around the globe.
What Israel uniquely represents in terms of economic dynamism, cutting-edge technology, ecological and agricultural know-how, fostering entrepreneurship, expertise in both counter-terrorism and disaster relief, military IT, innovative medical aid and humanitarian assistance is today admired and being sought out by more and more countries.
Israel’s Economy and Commerce Minister Naftali Bennett recently visited Australia, and explained this reality well at a number of appearances whilst here. He described Israel as potentially a “lighthouse” in a Middle East storm, because, like a lighthouse, it has strong foundations, but also “shines its light for the benefit of others”. In Israel’s case, this takes the form of expertise in various areas of technology, which can help other nations combat problems common to much of the planet.
Bennett’s visit to Australia followed his attendance at a conference of the World Trade Organisation in Bali, Indonesia, the first visit by an Israeli cabinet minister to Indonesia since Shimon Peres went there in 2000.
Indonesia, in common with most other Muslim majority countries, does not formally recognise Israel, but there are growing informal links between the two states, and there is no doubt that many in Indonesia are very interested in what Israel has to offer relevant to them in a variety of areas. Over the past few years numerous influential and important Indonesians have visited Israel, including various media delegations sponsored by AIJAC.
On his return to Israel, Mr Bennett stated that he “spoke in front of 157 of the world’s economic ministers”, and that Israel “advanced trade agreements with surprising countries”, although he declined to say which ones. However, it has been reported that while in Bali, Israel and Russia agreed to launch formal talks aimed at establishing a free trade zone while, separately, the Chinese and Israeli Prime Ministers have also agreed to significantly upgrade economic relations.
Israel also has a proud record of humanitarian contributions which are increasingly gaining international notice. Most recently, in the wake of the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, a 148-person Israeli medical team set up a field hospital in Bogo City, one of the worst affected areas, treated over 2,600 people and received rave reviews from virtually everyone who looked at what they were doing. This followed many similar post-disaster efforts including in Turkey in 2011 and Haiti in 2010.
Closer to home, Israel has treated over 500 Syrians wounded in that country’s civil war, and has even been providing humanitarian aid to Syrian villages near the Israeli border and quietly aiding Syrian refugees in Jordan.
Much of Israel’s humanitarian work is carried out by Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation. Operations carried out by Mashav in many developing countries include the training of doctors, blindness prevention and eye-care, assistance in agricultural methods, education, water conservation and energy conservation, and the protection of the rights of women and children.
Israel has been particularly active in the Pacific where its aid has included sporting and school equipment, diabetes monitoring kits, medical aid, expertise in science, technology, health, agriculture and water management in countries including Nauru, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, the Cook Islands and Tonga. Israel is even considering recent requests from Fiji for Israeli observers for its upcoming election, and Papua New Guinea for help with maritime surveillance.
In 2008, India and Israel signed an Agriculture Cooperation Agreement, pursuant to which there are teams of Israeli agricultural experts in many areas of India helping to vastly increase crop yields, and many Centres of Excellence have been established.
Meanwhile in Africa, an Israeli organisation called “Innovation: Africa” has provided solar power, food, clean water and medical care to over 500,000 people in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda.
Furthermore, it is an open secret that Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states, supposedly sworn enemies of Israel, are today looking to it to provide a counter to the country they really fear – Iran! Reports claim that Israel and the Saudis have held detailed discussions about potential coordination if an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure becomes necessary as a last resort.
What is perhaps less well known is that Israeli President Shimon Peres recently made an unprecedented appearance at a gathering of Arab and Muslim nations – at their invitation. Peres appeared by video link from Jerusalem at a Gulf Security conference in Abu Dhabi in November, attended by foreign ministers from 29 Arab and Muslim states. Interviewed by UN Under-Secretary-General Terje Roed-Larsen, he was introduced as the President of Israel, and sat in front of an Israeli flag. Furthermore, he was actually chosen by host nation the UAE to open the conference, not one of the attendees walked out, and, at the end of his appearance, he was applauded.
While it is hard to see the skewed voting at the UN changing any time soon, more and more countries are realising that Israel is not only a valuable partner and friend, but offering indispensable remedies for major problems directly relevant to them. The remarkable Israeli record of positive achievement is not only being noticed, but making a constructive contribution around the world. Bennett’s concept of a “lighthouse nation” appears very apt indeed.