During a July 2, 2011 hearing of the Australian Senate’s Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade Legislation Committee (pp. 79-80), Senator Eric Abetz asked officials from the Australian Agency for International Development,

“What are the safeguards in place that prevent AusAID funding being used by APHEDA [‘overseas humanitarian aid agency of the Australian Council of Trade Unions’] or any of the others in a manner that contravenes Australian government policy on Israel? Let us just pluck an example out of the air like BDS—Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.”

Senator Abetz continued by identifying indirect Australian government funding via APHEDA for Ma’an Development Center, which “is heavily involved in the BDS [anti-Israel boycotts, divestment, and sanctions] campaign… On their website the Ma’an Development Center published a guide to grassroots and international BDS campaigns in 2009… and it is quite clear that the ACTU and APHEDA have no difficulty with the BDS campaign.” (Following an October 2010 hearing, where these issues were first raised, AusAid stated that “Ma’an Development Centre received approximately $1,219,320 from Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA in the 12 months to 30 April 2010.”)

The BDS campaign is a concerted effort to isolate Israel internationally, falsely labeling Israel guilty of “apartheid” and “war crimes.” In possible violation of Australian law, anti-Israel BDS activists have targeted Israel-based Max Brenner chocolate stores.

In response to the Senate discussion, Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA and Ma’an Development Center released a statement denying that government funds supported APHEDA’s and Ma’an’s BDS efforts: “Project documentation and regular financial reports show that no AusAID funds or resources are used to support campaigning by MA’AN or APHEDA” (emphasis in original).

Senator Abetz’s questions and the APHEDA-Ma’an statement acknowledge that support from Australian taxpayers for BDS would constitute a misuse of funds.

At the same time, these organizations did not repudiate their involvement in BDS activities. APHEDA and Ma’an argued that “Palestinian civil society organisations are significant forces for democratisation, and should be free to adopt and voice policies and advocacy positions,” and that “Decisions on project funding should be made only on merit – on whether the projects are achieving the results that are contracted – rather than external political criteria.”

In contrast, in statements before the Committee, Senator Abetz expressed “great concern about” Ma’an’s possible support for international BDS campaigns and demanded that “AusAID [remain] very vigilant to ensure that the money is withdrawn in the event that that assertion is correct.”