Summary: As the foreign aid arm of the federal government of Canada, the Canadian International Development Agency distributes over C$2 billion annually around the world in line with government priorities for international development. The largest portion goes towards the division covering the Middle East, where CIDA funds numerous highly politicized organizations with documented anti-Israel agendas. The materials and activities of several of these NGOs call into question the degree of oversight accompanying Canadian funding for international projects.
Created by the Canadian government in 1968 as the successor to the federal External Aid Office, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) describes itself as “the federal agency charged with planning and implementing most of Canada’s development cooperation program in order to reduce poverty and to contribute to a more secure, equitable and prosperous world.”
In June 2004, the Canadian government allocated over C$2.2 billion to CIDA from the federal budget for projects involving social development, humanitarian assistance, environmental sustainability, and governance.
On a global scale, Africa and the Middle East receive the bulk of allocated CIDA funding (Link has expired) totaling $517.1 million, which amounts to nearly a quarter of the total disbursements. (See graph below.) In addition, some of the $850 million for “multilateral programming” is likely to be directed to the region.
CIDA’s funding programs include: “Financial contributions to existing programs run by partners; Direct provision of technical support such as information, skills, or equipment; Sharing of information and knowledge on development related topics; Dialogue with partners on issues important to Canadians, such as human rights, environment sustainability, and more effective aid programs.”
While CIDA states its commitment to “focus on creating an environment favorable to sustainable development and peace”, in the Middle East, funds also go to groups with strong ideological and political agendas that contribute to the conflict by taking consistent one-sided, anti-Israel political positions. These groups include Alternatives, BADIL, Doctors without Borders, Medical Aid for Palestinians, Medecins du Monde, the Mennonite Central Committee, Oxfam, Save the Children, and World Vision. In addition to these and other NGOs, CIDA also works with international bodies such as the World Bank, the UN Development Programme, UNICEF, and UNRWA.
In the section of its website covering activities in the West Bank and Gaza, CIDA’s short history and analysis of the conflict remains, for the most part, politically neutral, and includes references to violence “on all sides”. While the overview reflects sympathy for Palestinians, it also emphasizes the impact of “closures, curfews, and security-related incidents [which] have hampered the movement of people and goods”. This description does not blame Israel directly for these security measures, but it also ignores the role of corruption and terrorism.
An examination of the activities of the NGOs funded by CIDA highlights an agenda that supports Palestinian political positions. Among the most problematic are the allocations to groups that are promoting the divestment and demonization campaigns directed against Israel. CIDA support is officially allocated towards specific projects, including health clinics (such as the Emergency Response Program of UNDP), "fact-finding" visits, and educational activities (such as the Remedial and Distance Education Project (Link has expired) and the Trade Union Education Program (Link has expired)) . However, funding being fungible, NGO budgets are readily diverted to other activities. In the absence of close oversight, budgetary components designated as organizational overhead can easily be applied to political campaigns. As a result, CIDA funding for projects operated by NGOs active in anti-Israel demonization can be assumed to be used, at least in part, for this purpose, and not only for the designated objectives.
From this perspective, it is important to note that recipients of $1 million in funds provided annually to Canadian-based NGOs for work with Palestinians include the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Inter-Church Lutheran World Relief and Justice. NGO Monitor has documented the MCC’s active participation in the boycott and divestment campaigns. In 2003 MCC received funding from CIDA for a fact finding visit run by BADIL, an NGO that was denied accreditation by the UN Economic and Social Council as a result if its extremist political emphasis. Similarly, Lutheran World Relief’s anti-Israel agenda is quite prominent. Its reports systematically ignore the role of Palestinian terror, while emphasizing allegations of “widespread destruction of buildings and infrastructure, [and] soldiers [who] have prevented ambulances from reaching casualties”. The organization also repeats claims that “hundreds of thousands of people are without adequate food, water, electricity and basic services”. There is no effort to investigate these claims, and little mention of the context of terrorism.
The extremist political objectives of this CIDA-funded organization were highlighted in the winter 2004 edition of the Canadian Lutheran World Relief newsletter. Executive Director Ruth Jensen described Israel’s security fence as “contributing tremendous stress as more people are funneled through checkpoints where they can wait for up to two hours. These walls do not contribute to understanding and peace, but to isolation and suspicion.” This attack on Israeli policy ignores the reasons behind the construction of the barrier and its general success in saving lives – on both sides – by preventing terror attacks.
Another example of this group’s biased and conflictual language is seen in a June 2002 press release (Link has expired) entitled “Palestinian Communities Imprisoned Behind Deep Trenches and Coiled Razor Wire”. The Canadian branch of Lutheran World Relief charged that “more and more steps are being taken by the Israeli military to isolate and imprison Palestinian people in small areas” and that “Deep trenches are dug and three levels of coiled razor wire are being strung around the towns in an effort to prohibit any Palestinian travel unauthorized by the Israeli military.” The Lutheran Church, at its recent congress in Orlando, Florida, voted to divest from Israel, participating in a campaign aimed at undermining support for Israel.
In the past five years, CIDA has provided funding for other NGOs with overt political agendas. As documented by NGO Monitor, Medecins du Monde engages in demonizing Israel and ignoring legitimate security concerns necessary for the protection of civilians. MdM’s bias and adoption of the Palestinian narrative was demonstrated in a 2005 report entitled, “The Ultimate Barrier: Impact of the Wall on the Palestinian Health Care System”. The report referred to Israel’s security fence in strictly condemnatory terms, failing to acknowledge the reasons and the need for the fence as a means to prevent infiltration by suicide terrorists targeting Israeli buses and restaurants, and the success of the fence in preventing attacks. The MdM report, based on unverified and unsubstantiated Palestinian “testimonies in the field”, claims that “the Wall deprives Palestinians of adequate access to basic services such as water and education, as well as sources of income such as agriculture and other forms of employment. The Wall has steadily added another layer of obstacles isolating, fragmenting and therefore weakening the already fragile Palestinian healthcare system." Such public statements made by MdM are clearly one-sided and form part of the wider political campaign.
In 2002, CIDA provided $104,000 to “Emergency Medical Assistance to Jenin District, West Bank”, (Link has expired) a project directed by Medecins du Monde. During that period, Jenin served as a refuge and operations base for terrorist attacks against Israeli cities. What, if any, precautions were taken by CIDA to ensure that Canadian tax funds were not used to fund terrorism emanating from Jenin remains unclear.
From 2000-2002, CIDA contributed $174,192 to Medical Aid for Palestinians, an organization whose highly politicized agenda stands in sharp contrast to its humanitarian image. Despite claims to be a “non-political and non-partisan” organization, MAP’s 2004 annual report reflects an anti-Israel bias. Like Medecins du Monde (and numerous other NGOs) relying on unsubstantiated “eyewitness” interviews, MAP employs the language of demonization, condemning Israel for carrying out operations to protect the lives of its citizens.
In yet another example, from 2001-2006 CIDA allocated over $4 million to World University Services of Canada and Alternatives for a project entitled “Technical and Vocational Training for Palestinian Women”. As documented by NGO Monitor, Alternatives’ anti-Israel bias ignores Palestinian terrorism and downplays Palestinian human rights abuses.
The use of Canadian federal funds for such hostile political campaigns is inconsistent with CIDA’s official funding objectives. And while Canada has a well-earned reputation for promoting peace, its federal development agency has been funding organizations and initiatives that fuel the conflict in the Middle East rather than work towards its resolution. New guidelines to prevent political abuse of funds provided for humanitarian assistance and tighter oversight are among the available remedies for this situation.