When nearly 3,000 people died in a horrific mudslide in Senegal this summer, Israel was there.
And when more than 100,000 people died in the tragic 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010, Israel was there too.
Israel’s penchant for getting its hands dirty and sending volunteers, medical personnel and NGOs to the scene immediately after disaster strikes is the subject of the Christian Broadcasting Network’s latest documentary, To Life: How Israeli Volunteers Are Changing the World.
CBN News’s Middle East Bureau chief, Chris Mitchell, believes this is an important side of Israel that the rest of the world rarely sees.
“It’s one of the untold stories about Israel,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “It is a major contributor to humanitarian aid around the world in places like Mexico City after their earthquake, Nepal, Haiti. It’s something that many people may not realize.”
While the film is not slated to come out until April 2018, Mitchell offers attendees at The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference a sneak peek of the film’s trailer. He also explains why the subject matter is deeply significant, not only to Israel, but to its Christian friends around the world.
There are a number of reasons why Israel chooses to put itself on the front lines, despite waging its own security battles at home.
The most heartfelt one comes from the Jewish notion of tikkun olam, which is the belief that Jews have an obligation to make the world a better place.
“Tikkun olam is definitely part of the Jewish understanding of the world. I asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu what’s behind the many Israeli efforts around the world, and he said part of it is Israel’s biblical role to be a light unto the nations,” Mitchell revealed.
“I think we see the modern State of Israel living out that biblical fulfillment or role,” he added.
It is a part of Israeli society that deeply resonates with CBN’s Christian following, which take its faith seriously.
“I think Christian viewers and readers of CBN news definitely see a biblical role being fulfilled by Israel. It resonates with him,” Mitchell explained.
The second, and perhaps more pragmatic reason, behind Israel’s humanitarian efforts, is that it packs a powerful punch against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions narrative.
“If people understand that the Jewish state is trying to help around the world, it puts Israel in a whole different light than what I would contend would be the false narrative of the BDS movement,” Mitchell, who believes BDS’s ultimate goal is to delegitimize Israel in its entirety, said.
While BDS has yet to inflict any serious damage to Israel economically, it does have the potential to severely impact how the rest of the world views the country.
“In a public-relations sense and court of world opinion, [BDS] can resemble an existential threat because I think its ultimate goal is to delegitimize the Jewish state and paint it in a pejorative way that would undermine its very existence. In that regard, I think the BDS movement is a very dangerous one,” he said.
So with all of Israel’s humanitarian relief worldwide that has been implemented since the country’s inception, why aren’t outsiders more familiar with this part of the Jewish state? Mitchell doesn’t have a definitive answer for that, but he believes the media can shoulder some of the blame.
“I think part of [the problem] is the narrative created by some of the world’s media that maybe puts Israel in a pejorative light and doesn’t recognize or report some of these other efforts that Israel does,” he said.
“Either some media don’t think its valuable or maybe they don’t want to report on it for whatever reason. That would be up to them,” he said. “But the story itself is extremely important given the way that Israel is characterized in media around the world.”
CBN, though, is hoping to do its part in expanding what people are exposed to when it comes to Israel. At the moment, the media’s portrayal of Israel constantly wading into geopolitical conflicts does not give an accurate portrayal of daily life here.
“As an example, I have many times spoken to tourist groups that come in and I ask – many of them that have come for the first time – ‘Is this the Israel that you perceived?’ And most of the time, the answer is ‘No,’” he said.
And in a time where life for Israel’s neighbors is increasingly complex – uncertainly for the future of Lebanon, increasing Iranian hegemony in the region, and a moment of hope for Kurdish independence – spotlighting a country that is relatively stable and doing good around the world is one positive story in a region of tumult.