Western NGOs have become part of the propaganda war against Israel. Amnesty, Christian Aid, War on Want, World Vision, The Amos Trust, Oxfam and Save the Children have disproportionately singled out the Jewish state for attack, often during times of heightened Middle East conflict. They have heaped upon the country calumny after calumny, making repeated allegations of war crimes and apartheid. At the same time, they have systematically ignored Palestinian terror and rejectionism, crucial factors in the continuing impasse. Such an agenda contradicts their claims to impartiality or to holding progressive, enlightened and peaceful values.
These NGOs have built up a formidable reputation for promoting justice and human rights. They are usually treated with automatic deference and respect, as if they were beacons of moral enlightenment guiding us towards a more civilised world. In many ways, they do valuable work in uncovering abuses of international law and human rights – but not when it comes to Israel and the conflict in the Middle East. On this subject, they have become highly politicised, promoting a view so critical of Israel and so one sided in approach as to betray a complete lack of impartiality. They have become part of the propaganda war against the Jewish state.
All except Save the Children are registered organisations with the Charity Commission. The Commission has issued specific guidance for campaigning and political activity by registered charities. Such campaigning is legitimate provided that it is carried out to help deliver its charitable purposes. Even emotive or controversial material can form part of a campaign, provided this is lawful or justifiable, but charities must ensure that the material used is ‘factually accurate’ with a ‘legitimate evidence base.’ The evidence collected here casts doubt on whether all the material collected by charities is factually accurate, though more often, the claims made about Israel are more politically biased or legally dubious, problems that are not covered by the Commission’s guidance. More importantly, charities cannot have a political purpose and political activities can only be undertaken in the context of a wider purpose. The Charity Commission has already investigated War on Want following a complaint that it is an explicitly political organisation, and it may be hoped that other investigations may follow.
Amnesty has often engaged in the demonisation and delegitimisation of the Jewish state. It has directly accused Israel of engaging in apartheid policies on the West Bank, especially in regard to its control of water (a report called ‘Troubled Waters’). In its most recent overview of the Middle East, it accused Israel of carrying out ‘unlawful killings of Palestinians’ and of building ‘illegal settlements’ (a legally very dubious claim) and spoke of the ‘collective punishment’ of people in Gaza. It catalogues real or alleged Israeli misdeeds but rarely puts these into any context. Thus the blockade of Gaza is never linked to the terror threat from the enclave. In another report, produced after the most recent war in Gaza, Amnesty accuses Israeli soldiers of showing a ‘callous disregard for human life’ yet makes no mention of the many attempts made by the IDF to prevent civilian casualties. Part of the explanation for this one sided treatment is the bias on the part of key Amnesty researchers. Individuals like Deborah Hyams and Kristyan Benedict have long shown extreme hostility towards Israel, contradicting their claim to neutrality. There is no space for their vituperative rhetoric in a supposedly ‘impartial’ human rights organisation.
Christian Aid has a long history of promoting anti-Israel views. In its report Breaking Down The Barriers, Christian Aid describes settlements as ‘illegal under international law’ and claims that their expansion ‘undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self determination, which is critical for a viable solution to the conflict’. It ignores important barriers to peace, including Palestinian rejectionism and terror, while it seems to show no concern for Israel’s legitimate security needs. It makes no mention of the many attempts Israel has made to reach a division of the land, including as recently as 2008, and also encourages its supporters to demand a boycott of settlement produce in the UK. In another report from 2011, Christian Aid calls for a ‘right of return’ of Palestinian refugees and produces figures suggesting that there are some 4.8 million such refugees. Such a solution cannot be a viable basis for a just and durable peace settlement between the two sides.
War on Want has consistently employed the most vituperative rhetoric to demonise Israel and portray it as the primary barrier to achieving a just Middle East peace. The Jewish state stands accused of ‘ethnic cleansing’ the Palestinians, of committing ‘war crimes’ in Gaza, of engaging in ‘collective punishment’ and being a Western backed ‘apartheid’ state. A typical example of its egregious misrepresentations can be found in their booklet Arming Apartheid. Here they call on the UK government to ‘implement an immediate two-way arms embargo to end all arms sales to and purchases from Israel.’ They accuse Israel of holding ‘Gaza under siege since 2007’ and say that this is tantamount to ’effectively imprisoning the Palestinian population of Gaza and limiting their supply of essential goods such as food, medicines and construction material’. This claim is based on legally dubious reasoning and is highly decontextualised. War on Want also falsely accuses Israel of engaging in apartheid policies in the West Bank, ignoring the political realities on the ground, including the military rationale for Israel’s continuing presence in the territory. Not surprisingly, War on Want has championed calls for BDS and supports the pro-Hamas Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Oxfam has long promoted a biased, one sided viewpoint on the conflict in which the Jewish state is the prime villain in the conflict and the main impediment to peace. Oxfam has focused a great deal on Palestinian civilian suffering and impoverishment, but in castigating Israel for allegedly causing such suffering, Oxfam fails to take into account the military content for her actions. Thus when the MV Mavi Marmara tried to forcibly break the Israeli naval blockade, with the resulting death of 10 people following the storming of the ship by Israeli commandos, Oxfam condemned one side only. In a statement, Oxfam’s executive director Jeremy Hobbs declared that the ‘flotilla would not have been needed, had the Israeli blockade not debilitated Gaza’s economy and prevented desperately needed humanitarian supplies from entering the territory.’ But the flotilla was not designed to fill the gaps in the humanitarian aid effort, but break an Israeli blockade which was designed to prevent terrorists from acquiring lethal weapons in Gaza. Israel also offered to transfer humanitarian supplies on the ships and send it to Gaza, which it largely did.
During the 2014 conflict in Gaza, Oxfam lazily repeated the Palestinian narrative that Israel attacked purely civilian targets, despite a plethora of evidence that many such buildings (including mosques, schools and hospitals) had been militarised and used for weapons storage. It does not take into account the civilian damage caused by Hamas’ secondary explosions or the human shields policy. By the same token, little consideration is given to the vast number of Israelis who have been forced to live with the consequences of terror for many years.
Oxfam also promotes boycotts of settlement produce, given that it regards Israeli settlements as illegal and a means of exacerbating Palestinian impoverishment. In 2014, Oxfam’s insistence on boycotting settlement goods saw Scarlett Johansson forced to resign as an Oxfam ambassador. Johansson had previously had signed a contract agreeing to be the spokesman and ambassador for Sodastream.
World Vision also claims to be a progressive organisation, ‘working to bring real hope to millions of children in the world’s hardest places’. Yet their political vision is frustratingly hazy when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict. They lament the decline in the Palestinian Christian population but attribute this, against all logic, to the Israeli occupation. They offer a one sided explanation for the state of Palestinian impoverishment in Gaza and the West Bank, ignoring decisions taken by the leaders of Fatah and Hamas who actually run those territories. They have blatantly ignored facts, such as when they condemned Israel for the lack of food and fuel in Gaza, when in fact Hamas had deliberately diverted those resources away from its own population for PR reasons. In 2012, World Vision attacked Israel for denying thousands of Palestinian Christians the right to visit Jerusalem, despite the fact that she had actually issued 20,000 permits.
The Amos Trust claims to offer ‘justice and hope for the forgotten’. Yet like many other NGOs, the Trust has at times been blind to the hatred emanating from Palestinian leaders. Much of the violence on Temple Mount has been fuelled by incitement from Mahmoud Abbas and others, with false claims that Jews were trying to take over Temple Mount. Yet according to the Trust’s director, Rev. Chris Rose, these acts of violence ‘have been in no small part pushed by Jewish extremist groups and the Israeli government has not been effective in countering them’. Not only is Palestinian incitement not mentioned here but a false picture is created whereby Israeli murder victims are, in effect, the victims of fellow Jewish extremism.
The Amos Trust has produced a Bethlehem Pack aimed at children. It contains deeply politicized messages, including this one: “If Jesus was born today in Bethlehem, the Wise Men would spend several hours queuing to enter the town. The shepherds, despite being residents of Bethlehem, would struggle to graze their sheep as their land, annexed by the building of the Separation Wall and inaccessible became of a lack of freedom to travel and restrictions on trade, make it impossible for them to earn a living.” The reality is that a modern day Jewish Jesus, without the security of a barrier or checkpoints, could easily be murdered or maimed by a suicide bomber.
The Amos Trust fails to see that the decline in the Palestinian Christian population owes far more to the gradual Islamisation of those territories than to the ongoing political conflict. It has been estimated that two thirds of Palestinian Christians fled the West Bank and Gaza between 1949 and 1967, the period before Israel’s occupation started. The Christian population in the Old City of Jerusalem also declined, largely owing to discriminatory policies introduced by Jordan. Demographic factors can also help explain the population loss, including the fact that Muslims in Palestinian areas marry earlier than Christians and tend to have much larger families. Attributing the Christian decline to one factor (Israeli policy) is misleading and inaccurate.
These NGOs and charities benefit from a ‘halo effect’. Their aims are generally progressive and enlightened and it is often assumed that their viewpoints are equally fair-minded and beyond reproach. But these organisations have become deeply politicised, especially when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict. All assume that Israel is the prime instigator of the conflict with the Palestinians and that she is the main reason for poverty and suffering in Gaza and the West Bank. They uncritically adopt a Palestinian narrative, making their analyses highly one sided and methodologically suspect, and frequently make spurious and legally inaccurate claims based on partisan research. As a result, they must be held to account for the views they are promoting, ones which fly in the face of any reasonable attempt to bring justice to both Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Jeremy Havardi is the Director of the B’nai B’rith UK’s Bureau of International Affairs, based in London.