MASHAV — Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation — this year celebrates 60 years of critical development work in fields ranging from agriculture to health and from community development to entrepreneurship. As a part of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the agency set out with the aim of transferring expertise to developing countries that have assisted Israel on its own path to development. Today, Israel cooperates with over 132 countries providing trainings in Israel and abroad, and operating long-term on-site projects.
The guiding principles of MASHAV are directly informed by and intertwined with Jewish value of “tikkun olam.” It provides the foundation for Israel’s commitment to contribute to the fight against poverty and global efforts to achieve sustainable development, and it is reflected in our own mission at B’nai B’rith to dedicate resources to make the world a safer, more tolerant and better place. Fundamentally, we agree that development cooperation can and should be used to forge bonds of peaceful cooperation between Israel, the Jewish community and our neighbors.
David Ben-Gurion, the founder and first prime minister of Israel, recognized the importance of development work as both a moral and a political issue for Israel. Even in the early 1950s, shortly after gaining precarious independence, Israel’s leaders knew that their experience was relevant for Africa. Foreign Minister Golda Meir set out with the blessing of Ben-Gurion to establish close relations with emerging African countries and to fortify those relations with material assistance through MASHAV.
Though the nascent state of Israel was still very much a developing country itself — dealing with food security, hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who had been forcibly expelled across the Middle East, water scarcity and a plethora of health and social ills — they understood the value of their expertise for young emerging countries facing similar challenges. Israel was still a growing country but had already so much to offer in the way of knowledge regarding agriculture, water conservation and equality in the labor force.
Due to such similar conditions Israel has been, and effectively still is, a laboratory for development solutions, and indeed makes the nation well positioned to support sustainable development worldwide. That Israel is able to serve in this capacity with such a small budget is a remarkable testament to the ingenuity and values of the Jewish state.
What started as a modest program focused on grassroots-level human capacity building — at a time when Israel itself was still very much a developing country — blossomed into an extensive program of cooperation throughout the developing world with the aim of ensuring social, economic and environmental sustainable development.
With a presence in countries all around the world, one of the pillars of B’nai B’rith’s own work is helping communities. Our disaster relief program has raised funds to help the victims of disasters around the world since 1865. While not first responders ourselves, we work closely with first responders in answering the call to the world’s most pressing emergent challenges.
B’nai B’rith has made its own contribution to Israel-Africa ties by helping to establish and sustain IsraAID — the largest Israeli civil society organization dedicated to providing humanitarian aid around the world. In Africa, we have partnered in response to famine, the Ebola crisis and the Kenyan school massacre.
IsraAID was established as a partnership between Israeli and Diaspora Jewish organizations — including B’nai B’rith. In its 17 years, IsraAID has engaged in hundreds of projects in dozens of countries around the world, bringing Israeli professionals and volunteers to assist in solutions to natural and man-made disasters.
The impact of these combined development efforts is two-fold, as Ben-Gurion suggested: both in the direct development outcomes, but also in establishing closer ties for Israel and the Jewish people around the world. In the work of B’nai B’rith, the impact of MASHAV is far reaching and often presents in unexpected places. Many of the diplomats that we engage in our advocacy work — based in Washington, D.C., New York at the United Nations and abroad — have participated in a training program by the agency. MASHAV is a pioneer in institutionalizing this type of “aid diplomacy” and we consistently see it reflected in our relations with foreign governments.
The return on investment has been immense, and the program continues to be a remarkable success. MASHAV’s signature approach is truly a model for the world.
Sienna Girgenti is the Assistant Director for the International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy and Director of the Cuban Jewish Relief Project at B'nai B'rith International. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
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