If you think that anything in Israel is above politics then you are simply mistaken. This includes lifesaving, and the battle for control among the volunteer organizations is among the most politically charged as they come. This is not new, but perhaps more visible today for there are a number of organizations competing for your donor dollars.
For decades, Magen David Adom was viewed as “Israel’s Red Cross”, the humanitarian agency responsible for everything from blood bank services, pre-hospital medical care and other disaster relief operations. Truth be said, in its early years MDA was there, through thick and thin, always ready to provide life-saving care as it was available at the time. Sadly, the organization lagged and failed to train future leaders, not just certifying EMTs and paramedics, but people with pre-hospital managerial training, visionaries, those required to maintain an EMS system in a modern growing nation.
The launching of the Oslo War and the frequency of buses being blown apart by suicide bombers led to Zaka entering the scene, an organization that existed for years, but one that was not in the center stage until it was taken over by Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, the former Neturei Karta operations office turned model public servant. Perhaps the culmination of his transition was seen when the staunch Meah Shearim resident lit a torch on Mount Herzl, the epitome of the Zionist state, being MeKadesh Shem Shomayim according to some as he bridged those worlds and by spitting on that which remained of his illustrious past according to others.
Things were going well for both organizations until Zaka gained too much notoriety as a result of the international media coverage focused on the unprecedented efforts and mesirus nefesh of Zaka volunteers, seen scraping human remains from suicide bombing scene for endless hours after the bodies were removed from the scene. Zaka continued to grow and prosper, as donations literally poured in. Its volunteers were seen at disaster scenes around the world, such as the massive earthquake in Haiti. Zaka leaders became acknowledged experts with whom one consulted when one wished to hear an opinion on disaster and rescue. The organization sprouted from its modest roots to an international body recognized by the United Nations and others.
All was fine until Meshi-Zahav became too powerful, detracting from MDA’s limelight and one can assume, also from its annual income from the generosity of supporters around the world. All said and done, the dollar can only be divided so many ways and when you hit one’s pocketbook, one will react.
Not willing to be outdone, MDA quickly repainted a number of ambulances to resemble Zaka vehicles, now claiming to be responsible from removing the dead from scenes of accidents and disasters, including terror attacks. The fights that followed are similar to the MDA master plan to counter United Hatzalah today. Incapable of running an organization with a plan and a vision, MDA settles for interfering with others when they are successful. The effort was far from noble and less than effective, but it is MDA’s way, for having grown accustomed to its monopoly status over the years, run by one political appointee after another, it was plagued with corruption and incompetence.
It did not take long for the MDA clone Zaka vehicles to disappear for the terror attacks became fewer in number so there was no point, for after all it was never about actually providing a service, just about the media spotlight. There was no money in removing the victims of a simple vehicular accident, so MDA closed shop and left the dirty work for Zaka.
Sadly, when MDA gets a bad reputation some frown on the volunteers, who are truly the backbone of the organization, those who keep it alive on a day-to-day level. One can only question – if MDA builds its station with donor funds, receives ambulance with donor funds, charges for its services, and only maintains a minimal paid staff, where is the money going? Anything that proudly displays the Red Magen David symbol is accompanied by a dedication to some well-intended philanthropist who wants to help Israel and the Jewish people, so once again, where is the money? Let’s not forget, MDA also receives government funding. Some MDA donors may be offended, but if MDA was a public company and you owned stock, the top CEOs would have been out on their pants a long time ago. Apparently, when an organization does not issue quarterly dividend checks incompetence is tolerated.
Anyway, Zaka emerged the successor in the battle with MDA, but as the terrorism waned Baruch Hashem, Zaka bank accounts dried out too. Pagers and MIRS communication devices were shut off and returned, vehicles stripped of their once proud Zaka stripes and red lights, and the organization has taken its place in the background, still responding to calls but apparently incapable of emerging from its fiscal woes, at least for the time being. Adding to the problems are allegations that Meshi-Zahav has been less than straightforward with the organization’s money, allegations that he adamantly denies.
Then came Hatzalah, and organization which began on the humble streets of Williamsburg, NYC in the 1970s, Bedford Avenue to be exact, launched by a Satmar chossid named Hershel Weber. This well-intended yid never dreamed his efforts would be the start of an international Halachically-observant emergency medical service, the likes of which the world has never seen. While limited in size, Hatzalah Israel took its place among the proud and the few, the pre-hospital volunteers of Eretz Yisrael.
Depending on whose version you wish to accept, Hatzalah split and branched off into Ichud Hatzalah or United Hatzalah, today an integral part of the nation’s pre-hospital medical response system with close to 2,000 nationwide volunteers.
Now, with the realization that United Hatzalah’s unprecedented response time and free services, MDA leaders are seeking a way to limit the damage. In line with the Zaka prototype, MDA leaders began purchasing motorized scooters, announcing “we too are first responders” like United Hatzalah. Remember, when you lack vision and competent leadership, you copy the leader.
Suddenly, a big breakthrough for MDA. Someone leaked a PowerPoint strategy presentation to the media, one that depicts United Hatzalah in an unfavorable light.MDA top guns made certain this news was covered in Israel, maximizing the discovery of this critical piece of intelligence data, the master plan that shows how United Hatzalah leaders will usurp control of Israel’s EMS from MDA, and along with it, national government funding.
In truth, one can only be mispallel the day will come, sooner rather than later, for MDA has failed to keep up with the times, failed to recreate itself and failed to keep up with the times. MDA’s strategy is to oppose any other organization that does good – to safeguard the monopoly at all costs. Taking this all into account, one can understand the Tuesday 24 Elul meeting that took place between MDA and Zaka leaders, assumingly to discuss the common enemy, United Hatzalah. The meeting made the news, as the meeting was billed as a first stage in renewed cooperation between Zaka and MDA. Why not, they are both losing ground so why not unite against the common enemy? The media quoted MDA Director-General Eli Bin as optimistic following the meeting, one that he views today as a natural alliance.
Sadly, the media in Eretz Yisrael fell for it, perhaps sucker punched. They used the leak of the United Hatzalah PowerPoint to paint the organization in a bad light. In reality, yes, one can see that United Hatzalah feels it should push MDA aside, after all, it gets there first on many occasions, provides the same care but without charging. MDA horror stories surrounding payment are too numerous to mention, yet when a free alternative steps in, accusation begin to fly. The State Comptroller reports have more than enough pages filled with the horror stories of MDA and its inappropriate operations.
Ultimately, United Hatzalah will ride out the storm and in the eyes of the mainstream media; the organization suffered a public relations blow with the leaked PowerPoint. For Zaka and MDA, they will attempt to capitalize on the situation, for that is how the game is played in Israel, to beat one’s opponent when he is down.
What is certain is that MDA’s monopoly is winding down and the days when Israelis will have a nationwide 911 system are rapidly approaching, albeit long overdue. The retired generals and public officials fathered into posts like director-general of MDA will have to step aside for competent fresh blood, persons with a lifetime of EMS experience and an accompanying academic degree in pre-hospital management, hopefully bringing an end to that old crony’s network.
To the credit of the organization’s fundraisers, who do a splendid job portraying MDA as the nation’s gift to pre-hospital care, the money continues to flow but on must ask, where is it going? As for Zaka, it is not likely that any firm agreement will be reached with MDA for at the end of the day, those in charge are unaccustomed to sharing their power base. As for United Hatzalah, perhaps the leaders would be wise and refrain from issuing clarifications and apologies, and admit, “Yes, we have plans, plans to become the new generation in pre-hospital care”, not resting on the successes of the 20th Century but on the vision for the years to come.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)