Irans refusal of Israeli aid sets shameful example

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In the wake of the massive earthquake that hit Bam, Iran, Friday, Dec. 26, it’s hard to determine what is more tragic: the death of nearly 30,000 people or Iran’s refusal to accept aid from Israel.

Interestingly enough, Iran has accepted help from the United States even though the countries have no diplomatic relations. No one would believe until now that Iran — on President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” — would take help from “the Great Satan.”

Why couldn’t Iran put aside its hatred of the Jewish state and take whatever help is available? Sadly, even at a time like this, Iran is still able to voice vehemently anti-Israel rhetoric like this:

“The Islamic Republic of Iran accepts all kinds of humanitarian aid from all countries and international organizations with the exception of the Zionist regime,” said Jahanbakhsh Khanjani, Iran’s interior minister.

Furthermore, he added, Iran cannot possibly accept assistance from a country that is occupying another, with its bulldozers and tanks.

In response, the American Jewish Committee issued a press release saying that although the pro-Zionist New York-based organization sympathizes with those impacted by the earthquake, it cannot offer assistance in any way, even though it has given aid after past tragedies in Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo.

Not so for American Jewish World Service. AJWS has opened an emergency fund to provide humanitarian assistance to earthquake victims, and we commend them for doing so. Contributions can be sent to AJWS, 4173 Emerald St., Oakland, CA 94609.

And we also commend those Israeli organizations doing the same. As was reported in The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz, a relief organization called Latet (“to give” in Hebrew) is taking the lead in trying to offer tents and medical supplies, with an international relief organization serving as a conduit.

“If there are many people that are starving and injured and have no place to sleep,” explained Latet general manager Eran Weintrob, “we don’t ask and we don’t argue and we don’t think about political issues. We just act. If we can act, we will.”

The Post further reported that the Voice of Israel’s popular Farsi-language program received many calls from Iranians, expressing “their deep gratitude toward Israelis who have supported sending aid to Iran,” according to program director Menashe Amir.

He added that they “harshly criticized” their leaders for rejecting the openhanded gesture.

We’ve often heard that Iranians themselves do not hate the United States anywhere near as much as its government. The same is probably true regarding Israel.

Latet, too, made the decision to try and help, independently of the Israeli government, also showing that often the party line of those in power is much different from that of the people it leads.

“We’re trying to promote mutual responsibility in Israeli society,” said Latet’s Weintrob. “If we want to be a strong society, even though we are experiencing a very bad situation economically right now, we should see ourselves as part of the wider world.”

We commend Latet for taking such initiative. Israel has had a tough time in the public relations arena lately, and actions like this can show that it still can be the “light unto the nations” that it’s supposed to be.