The problematic nature of massive funding from European governments to NGOs active in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict is regularly part of the public debate in Israel.
Now issues related to Australian funding for such organisations has become part of this important conversation.
In a new report, Shurat HaDin (Israel Law Centre) presents “conclusive evidence” that a Gaza-based organisation supported by two Australian groups is linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group.
The report explains that the Australian Agency for International Development and World Vision Australia are “providing financial aid and other forms of material support to the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, an agency of the proscribed terror organisation the PFLP.”
The possibility that Australian government funding is being transferred to organisations affiliated with a terror group reflects a wider problem. As demonstrated by research by NGO Monitor, an independent, non-profit organisation based in Jerusalem, substantial AusAID funding is channelled through Australian NGO intermediaries to NGOs that claim a “human rights” mandate, but in reality pursue agendas counterproductive to peace.
In fact, numerous Australian-funded NGOs are active in anti-Israel demonisation campaigns such as BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions).
Along with funding World Vision Australia, in 2010-2011 AusAID provided $5.5 million to APHEDA, Actionaid Australia, and CARE Australia. This funding is conducted within the framework of the Australia Middle East NGO Co-operation Program, which claims the noble goal of “improving food security and the livelihoods of Palestinians and strengthening the community organisations that provide them with basic services”.
But, as is the case with European funding, the stated goals of NGOs often do not square with their actual activities.
As NGO Monitor has shown, APHEDA, for example, engages in activities that fuel the conflict and do not promote humanitarian objectives. APHEDA campaigns for a one-sided and immoral arms embargo that would impair Israeli defence against terror attacks, uses demonising “apartheid” language, endorses the so-called Palestinian “right of return” and partners with organisations promoting BDS and “lawfare” tactics. Its Middle East tours have served as the basis for promoting BDS campaigns in Australia.
Last year, Australian senator Eric Abetz criticised APHEDA for its work with a pro-BDS Palestinian NGO, but no changes were implemented to better monitor and evaluate Australian government funding. As a result, Australian NGOs continue to partner with and provide funding to Palestinian NGOs that are active in BDS campaigns and other anti-Israel demonisation.
CARE Australia receives AusAID funding for a joint project with Ma’an Development Centre and the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem. While ARIJ claims to be a “non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting sustainable development in the occupied Palestinian territories and the self-reliance of the Palestinian people through greater control over their natural resources”, its activities promote the conflict. Along with supporting BDS campaigns, a December 2008 publication labels Jerusalem’s mayor a “racist” who supports “ethnic cleansing”.
In 2009, Ma’an Development Centre published Boycotts, Divestment & Sanctions: Lessons learned in effective solidarity, a guide to grassroots and international BDS campaigns. Instances of delegitimisation of Israel include a “case study” about a farmer from Qalqilya that refers to “consecutive occupation governments since 1948”. This is one of many examples in which such NGOs are continuing the war waged by Arab leaders against Israel from the moment that the state became independent.
Such activities are entirely inconsistent with promoting peace based on mutual understanding and reconciliation.
These government-funded organisations are undermining Australian government policies that foster values necessary for such a peace to exist. This funding not only provides a lifeline for these groups to sustain or expand highly politicised activities, but it also provides a stamp of approval when they seek additional funding for other projects and from other sources.
The questions that have been raised about AusAID and World Vision Australia pose an opportunity for constructive action by the Australian government. It does not make sense that Australian taxpayers would fund groups whose destructive activities run entirely counter to the policies and principles of their government.
A serious investigation into NGO funding and partnerships, including the possibility of terror connections, would be a positive first step towards increasing accountability and towards eventually adopting clear, enforceable guidelines.
Jason Edelstein is communications director of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institution dedicated to promoting universal human rights and to encouraging civil discussion on the reports and activities of non-governmental organisations, particularly in the Middle East.