The international medical organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF-Doctors Without Borders) prides itself on its neutrality, claiming to provide emergency assistance to people around the world regardless of their “race, religion, gender or political affiliation.” In practice, however, MSF consistently abuses its status as a humanitarian organization to launch venomous anti-Israel political campaigns. These attacks are entirely divorced from medical and health related issues, raising questions as to what its priorities and goals are.
The most recent manifestation of this phenomenon can be credited to MSF-France. The French branch of the organization recently launched an exhibition titled “In Between Wars,” serving as a mouthpiece for Palestinian propaganda. In it, MSF parrots the “Nakba” narrative that views the founding of the State of Israel as a catastrophe, thus delegitimizing the very existence of the Jewish state. Moreover, MSF romanticizes 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, the exhibition portrays the living room of Palestinian homes as a place to pay tribute to “martyrs”—a term that whitewashes the murderous terror attacks many carried out against innocent civilians.
In response, Roger Cukierman, head of the Council of Jewish Institutions in France, condemned the display as “an apology for terrorism…that could inflame antisemitic violence.”
The organization’s flirtation with Palestinian violence was also on display in September 2015, when MSF-Spain published a short video glorifying 14-year old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi. The video claims disingenuously that “every Friday the village [of Nabi Saleh] demonstrates peacefully” against Israeli policy. This represents a blatant omission of the numerous planned, directed and premeditated violent incidents instigated by the villagers, which include the use of slings and the throwing of rocks at Israeli security forces. Tamimi herself has posted pictures on Facebook of her stone throwing, and she was repeatedly documented while provoking IDF soldiers.
During the video interview, Tamimi is pictured under posters of family members whom she refers to as “martyrs.” One of them, Muataz Washaha, was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and was wanted for planning and carrying out terror attacks across the West Bank. The PFLP is recognized as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union, and its logo is clearly identifiable in the poster that appears in the video.
These examples highlight MSF’s complete political bias regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a willingness to excuse Palestinian violence against Israeli Jews. More outrageous, however, is the complete inappropriateness not just of the views themselves, but the fact that they are being espoused by a medical group. These statements are indicative of a worrying trend whereby NGOs use their humanitarian status as a bully pulpit to push a completely political agenda.
Is wasting money on such propaganda the proper use of funds for a humanitarian organization?
Questions of relevance should be directed not only at MSF, but at its funders as well. In 2014, the organization took in €115 million from institutional donors, mostly European governments, EU bodies, and UN institutions. This includes €40 million from European governments like the UK, France, Germany and others. It is doubtful that these governments sought to create a platform for pro-Palestinian incitement when they donated funds to a medical NGO. What do donors think when they see their money—given for vaccinations and hospital beds—used instead to excuse violence and demonize Israel?
This bastardization of humanitarian aid to spew hate is detrimental to all involved. The demonization of Israel exacerbates tensions and deepens mistrust between Israelis and foreign NGOs, as well as between them and their Palestinians neighbors. As such, these actions do not contribute to the advancing of a peaceful solution to the conflict.
By politicizing medical relief, MSF endangers the life-saving mission it was created to carry out. Universal treatment of patients and helping affected populations are MSF’s raison d’être, and there is much to be done in this field of work. This is also the reason it is generously funded by various countries and institutions. For the good of the organization, the people that it serves and the cause of peace, it should stick to medicine and leave the politics to others.
Yona Schiffmiller is a David Littman fellow and researcher at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.
For more on the Tamimi family, which is also heavily supported by Amnesty International, see How a Family Became a Propaganda Machine, written by Petra Marquardt-Bigman in the November 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine.
[Photo: Médecins Sans Frontières]