Why Is ‘Doctors Without Borders’ Prescribing Anti-Israel Propaganda in Dubai?
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, aka Doctors Without Borders) has risen to international stature as a result of the volunteer medical assistance it provides to people in underdeveloped countries and in crisis areas around the world. However, over the last few years, the group has branched out to include political advocacy targeting Israel as a component of its international activity.
The latest example of this egregious misuse of its humanitarian mandate is the “In Between Wars” exhibition that the NGO presented in Dubai last November. Following installments in France and Jordan, the piece purported to provide visitors with a view into the lives of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. Instead, “In Between Wars” served as a mouthpiece for incitement and radicalization.
The exhibition – also available online – refers to the founding of the state of Israel as a catastrophe — the “Nakba” — delegitimizing the very existence of the Jewish state. It goes further and asserts, “The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in the history of colonization in this part of the world, entwined with the world zionist [sic] movement,” presenting Jewish Israelis as unwelcome and illegitimate foreigners who belong elsewhere.
MSF does not limit itself to attacking the legitimacy of Israel and Zionism. It also romanticizes deadly Palestinian violence by referring to images of “armed soldiers face[ing] young stone throwers or Molotov cocktails” as “icons symbolizing the struggle of the Palestinian people against the Israeli occupation.” Similarly, one of the exhibits displays the living rooms of Palestinian homes, identifying them as a place to pay tribute to “martyrs” – a term that whitewashes the murderous terror attacks carried out against innocent civilians.
Unsurprisingly, after being displayed in France in December 2015, this sympathetic portrayal of Palestinian violence led Roger Cukierman, head of the Council of Jewish Institutions in France, to condemn the display as “an apology for terrorism” and warn “that [it] could inflame antisemitic violence.”
While “In Between Wars” indicates the NGO’s embrace of a politicized agenda, what is entirely unclear is how it fits into MSF’s stated goal of providing medical care to those in need. The exhibition makes only passing mention of the process through which Israel grants Palestinians medical permits to reach Israeli medical facilities, instead focusing its attention on Palestinian violence and “resistance.”
It is ironic and noteworthy that MSF is holding these exhibitions in countries like Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), both of which have troops fighting as part of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
At a time when medical facilities and personnel have come under repeated attack in that conflict – including those supported by MSF – addressing the protected status of hospitals, doctors and medics would appear to be more pertinent to a medical organization than pandering to local anti-Israel animus. Alas, MSF has chosen to curry favor with non-democratic regimes by providing a steady stream of political propaganda at the expense of taking a stand on behalf of the medical community and patients. One is left to wonder what quid-pro-quo arrangement — financial or otherwise — lies at the heart of this strategy.
The exhibition’s organizers are themselves guilty of the same sin of omission vis-à-vis Palestinian medical care. MSF could have used this platform as an opportunity to discuss threats to medical access for Palestinians, including the use of medical facilities and infrastructure by Palestinian terrorists to store weapons and plan attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers. Its failure to do so throws into stark relief how the organization’s blind advocacy comes at the expense of its core interests as a medical organization.
MSF’s descent into political advocacy is a cautionary tale for other international humanitarian and human rights NGOs. By increasingly embracing one-side of a complex, protracted conflict, MSF jeopardizes the impartiality that allows it to operate in conflict zones around the world. By inserting itself so crudely into the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the organization does tremendous harm to the heart of its humanitarian mission of providing emergency aid to those who need it most.
Yona Schiffmiller is the Director of the North America Desk at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.