As far as international humanitarian organizations go, few can compete with either the reach or the reputation of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders. Active in nearly 60 countries, the group has been providing much-needed medical relief and assistance to victims of epidemics, malnutrition, armed conflicts and natural disasters for close to 40 years.
With a Nobel Peace Prize under its belt, this group of philanthropic physicians have raised hundreds of millions of dollars and deployed tens of thousands of aid workers and volunteers on missions of mercy worldwide.
Countless lives have been saved, and much suffering alleviated, thanks to their intrepid presence in many of the world's hot-spots.
And yet, when it comes to Israel, MSF seems to have fallen on its head.
For despite its virtuous profile, and its professed impartiality free of a political agenda, the group has a decidedly dubious track-record vis-à-vis the Jewish state.
The latest example of this was on display in recent weeks in a remote part of Africa, when a team of five Israeli specialists flew to the Congolese city of Uvira to treat 50 villagers who had been severely burned in a devastating fire that claimed more than 230 lives. Working around the clock, they treated the wounded, trained Congolese doctors in performing skin grafts and donated a ton of medical equipment to local medical facilities.
And yet, incredibly enough, these angels of compassion received a distinctly cold reception from MSF volunteers working in the area, who seemed to go out of their way to demonstrate their displeasure at having to work in the vicinity of Israelis.
As Haaretz reported (July 18), the Israeli medical staff "got the distinct impression that the volunteers did not wish to be around them."
The treatment meted out to the Israelis was such that it left Dr. Eyal Winkler, deputy director of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the Sheba Medical Center, in a state of disbelief. "This is the reality today," he said. "Doctors from international aid organizations treat a delegation of volunteer Israeli doctors to Congo as though we were occupiers."
Camaraderie among a staff is, of course, critical to ensuring success. So it is simply mind-boggling that MSF volunteers on a humanitarian relief mission would allow their personal political agendas to get in the way of caring for the injured.Somehow, I doubt that the ethnic identity or political beliefs of the doctors attending to them mattered very much to the Congolese patients waiting to be healed. So why would MSF personnel allow it to interfere? Indeed, every physician takes a solemn vow that, "I will not be ashamed to say 'I know not,' nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient's recovery."
But some of MSF's volunteers seem to have replaced the Hippocratic Oath with a more cynical hypocritical oath, one in which they allow their anti-Israel agenda to get the better of them.
SADLY, THIS is but one of several examples in recent years of MSF's disdain and outright hostility toward the Jewish state.
In 2007, Masab Bashir, a Palestinian doctor employed by MSF for five years in Gaza, was arrested and charged in a Jerusalem court with plotting to assassinate prime minister Ehud Olmert and a host of other public personalities.
Bashir had been given a VIP pass by MSF, which he used to travel freely to Jerusalem to gather intelligence for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He received weapons and combat training, and planned various attacks.
Last year, MSF was among the harshest critics of Israel's incursion into Gaza, while remaining virtually silent on Palestinian rocket-fire against Israeli civilians. A spring 2009 "alert" issued by MSF entitled "Gaza: A Devastating Disregard for Civilians" reads as if it was published by the propaganda arm of Hamas, accusing Israel of a "steamroller attack" that was indifferent to civilian casualties.
One MSF official, Cecile Barbou, was quoted as saying that Gaza had become "hell," and even insisted that Israel had fired on people "carrying white flags."
Subsequently, MSF came under heavy criticism for the release and, to its credit, it later acknowledged that it had been "one-sided."
But the damage, by then, had been done, and Israel's reputation had been unfairly blackened. Indeed, on January 16 of last year, the organization held press conferences in Paris and Jerusalem to denounce Israel's actions in Gaza, and the vitriol directed against the Jewish state by MSF was both shameless and disgraceful.
A senior MSF official brazenly accused Israel of targeting ambulances and hospitals, while another demanded that "this bloodshed of civilians must end."
But the low point came when Dr. Marie Pierre Allie, president of the French branch of MSF, asserted that Israel's counterterror campaign in Gaza was actually worse than the Darfur genocide taking place in the Sudan.
"In more than 40 years of work in conflict situations," Dr. Allie said, apparently with a straight face, "MSF has rarely faced such levels of violence against civilian populations. Whether in Somalia, the DRC or even Darfur, none of those wars produced so many deaths in so little time."
Doctors Without Borders? It sounds more like doctors without scruples to me.
MSF's strident anti-Israel record, and its inability or unwillingness to contextualize the Middle Eastern conflict, is a stain on its reputation and does a grave disservice to its professed mission. By repeatedly slamming Israel, and ignoring the outrages perpetrated against the Jewish state, the group has played right into the hands of those who seek to destroy Western civilization and its values. There is nothing medicinal or therapeutic in that.
In a world rife with evil, there is so much good that needs to be done. What a shame that groups such as Doctors Without Borders often seem to have trouble distinguishing between the two.