Counterproductive politics

The Oxford English dictionary defines counterproductive behavior as having the opposite of the desired effect. Political activists would surely avoid the counterproductive behavior evident in many of their actions and declarations if they heeded the aphorism “Think twice before you act once.”

A typically counterproductive action in South Africa this month was  that cancellation, due to coercion by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), of a planned visit to Israel by mayors and other members of municipalities in the KwaZulu-Natal province that was  intended to promote agricultural and technological cooperation. In view ofSouth Africa’s urgent need to acquire more know-how to improve its ability to feed its hungry population this cancellation can best be described by the idiom “cutting off ones nose to spite ones face”

Following the cancellation, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ebrahim Ebrahim released statements discouraging South Africans from visiting Israel because, in his view, Israelis are an occupying power. This policy is obviously discriminatory in its blatant avoidance of applying the same measures to any of many other occupied and disputed territories in the world like Northern Cyprus, (occupied by Turkey), Jammu and Kashmir (disputed between India and Pakistan), South Ossetia and the complex situation in  Kosovo among many others. Moreover, if implemented, it would deprive Mr. Ebrahim’s fellow citizens of the many real benefits thatIsraelis providing toAfricaand other continents. They are in effect being deprived of learning more about how to implement President Zumas directive, during an address last April in Butterworth, to use land effectively to fight hunger and poverty.

The cancelled trip was but a small part of the extensive Israeli program of capacity building and technology-transfer carried out since1958 in 30 African countries mainly by MASHAV, The Center for International Cooperation of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Photo by courtesy of Mashav

Incidentally, little is known about the covert programs organized by the Histadrut (The Israel Trade Unions Federation) during the apartheid era that trained Black South Africans in leadership, agriculture and organization in defiance of the apartheid government.

A 1997 article by David Kaplan describes some of the training programs. At that time graduates included over two dozen mayors of South African towns and cities including the then current mayors of Johannesburg,Cape Town, Randburg, George, Grahamstown and Port Alfred. More than twenty South African Members of Parliament, as well as hundreds of local government officials and ministers of provincial councils had passed through these seminars. Kaplan’s complete article can be found at

Some of the training courses continue to be carried out at several teaching and training facilities in Israel. Others are conducted in the relevant countries including long-term agricultural projects.

The Galilee College has trained more than 400 Black South Africans including college presidents and administrators. It designed a program to enhance the reputation and academic stature of what are now known as Historically Disadvantaged Institutions in the new SA, like the MA program in healthcare management developed at theUniversityofVendain theLimpopoprovince.

Contrary to the adversarial policy advocated by BDS and by deputy minister Ebrahim, Mashav treats cooperation with countries of the region and with the Palestinian Authority (PA), irrespective of politics, as a priority. Working together to meet common challenges contributes significantly to fostering personal and professional ties, as well as promoting better understanding between countries. Programs are conducted bilaterally as well as within a multilateral framework.

In 2011, in cooperation with the PA and other Palestinian NGO’s and organisations MASHAV brought over 260 Palestinian participants to various training activities in Israel and more than 1,000 participants from 33 African countries took part in MASHAV programs.

Blindness prevention and eye-care missions are conducted around the world by Israeli ophthalmologists. Hundreds of surgical procedures are performed by each Israeli team which works together with and trains the local staff, restoring sight to many using ophtalmological equipment and supplies donated by the Government of Israel.

Photo by courtesy of Mashav

MASHAV and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to increase cooperation on food security, water management, the empowerment of women and industrial development inAfricaand in least developed countries.

A while ago MASHAV’s first Early Childhood Education (ECE) course opened inAccra,Ghana, following a successful ECE program started inKumasithree years ago in cooperation with the Millennium Cities Initiative (MCI).

Israelis often called upon to dispatch aid in the wake of earthquakes, floods, famine and other natural disasters and reacts promptly using its vast experience in crisis response to organize and dispatch needed supplies, medicines and medical assistance to countries in crisis.

In 2011 MASHAV provided humanitarian assistance in many countries as described on their web site

Since its establishment MASHAV has trained close to 270,000 course participants from approximately 132 countries inIsraeland abroad and has developed dozens of projects worldwide.

The types of knowledge imparted in the various courses are very wide and practical. They include for example plant nutrition, design of irrigation networks, water conservation and drainage systems and reclamation of degraded soils.

Photo by courtesy of Mashav

Medical courses include preventive medicine for the healthy and establishment of a family health station, training community health agents and providing tools for planning educational programs and monitoring child development as well as cancer prevention for women.

In these circumstances it would not be unreasonable to suggest to those who feel pressured by advocates of boycottingIsraelto research the facts and think twice before cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

About the Author
Maurice Ostroff is a founder member of the international Coalition of Hasbara Volunteers, better known by its acronym CoHaV, (star in Hebrew), a world-wide umbrella organization of volunteers active in combating anti-Israel media and political bias and in promoting the positive side of Israel His web site is at