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Issues of the Day Declining Cooperation

Israel's near withdrawal as an actor in international cooperation activity does not derive from a lack of economic capacity or expertise. It stems from a lack of will on the part of our decision-makers.


As expressed by Knesset Member Dan Ben-Simon in his remarks yesterday at a conference sponsored by the Hebrew University's Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace and Braun School of Public Health, what is behind the shameful betrayal of Jewish tradition is the worldview of those who have been controlling the country for the past thirty years: The elevation of self-interest to governing creed.


When I researched my master's thesis on Israeli's relations with the political left and the developing world in 1977,  I was enthralled to learn how extensive Israel's international cooperation program had become. Beginning in the early 1960s, leaders like Golda Meir placed great emphasis on cultivating the country's ties with and providing aid to developing nations. At root, was the profound Jewish commitment to mending the world, sharing knowledge, and helping others.


Later, in the 1980s as a director of development planning courses for professionals from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean at the Development Study Center in Rehovot, I observed the vital role our assistance provided to Third World countries. I saw this in action while participating in an Israeli-led, international field mission to Nepal in 1987. Such cooperation greatly served to elevate Israel's status around the world. It was a mainstay of our foreign policy.    

Presentations at  yesterday's conference demonstrated that Israel's role in reducing international development challenges has dropped precipitously. Only a meager presence remains, sustained by the grossly underfunded Agency for International Development Cooperation (MASHAV), a division of the Foreign Ministry, and the nonprofit institutions associated with it.  

Today, as government representatives at yesterday's conference verified, Israel's overseas development assistance is grossly disproportionate, well-below international averages, relative to its standing as a member of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, which represents the "developed" countries.  


The question that begged to be addressed is: Why has Israel abandoned one of its noblest traditions?


Again, the sharp decline in Israel's international cooperation program and its miniscule presence in international organizations dealing with food, health, labor, refugees, communications and other vital concerns of the world today does not derive from economic insufficiency. It is also certainly not a result of a lack of expertise; we have an abundance of that.

Our economic might, though mal-distributed internally and drained by both the settlement project and the immense strain of the defense budget , can, and by international standards should, absorb a greater contribution to the international effort.


The problem is the ideology of insularity that informs the government in its conduct of foreign relations and regional affairs, and that impacts on social policy and civic discourse. 

Above photo: The 1987 Class of the Program in Integrated Regional Development Planning that I directed at the Development Study Center (now the Weitz Center for Development Studies) in Rehovot. 


World Development Information Day

The Harry S. Truman Center for the Advancement of International Peace
of the Hebrew University

The Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, Hebrew University  

© Yosef Gotlieb, . All rights reserved