Yesterday (June 13) the UK House of Commons held a debate on the government’s external aid spending, which is fixed at 0.7% of the gross national income. The debate was initiated by an e-petition, calling for the UK to scrap its fixed aid target and instead disburse money to “truly deserving causes, on a case-by-case basis.”
While many dimensions were discussed, a central theme was the spending allocated for issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a number of the speeches, NGO Monitor’s detailed, accurate research and analysis was cited. (NGO Monitor reports also played a role in the petition that triggered the debate.)
Large-scale international aid spending, including for political NGOs, and particularly in times of deep cuts in local budgets, has become a major topic of debate in many European counties. As conservative Member of Parliament Philip Davies stated, “the fact that over 150,000 people signed the petition in the first week, shows how angry people are at the way the government spends more and more on aid while making cuts at home.”
As a world leader in international development, the UK’s agency for administering overseas aid, the Department of International Development (DFID), has a budget of £11.1 billion, ostensibly “to promote sustainable development and eliminate world poverty.” Contrary to these stated goals, critics cite many indications that U.K. taxpayer money is being spent on the wrong causes, and without the accountability required in other realms.
During the one-hour debate, members of both leading political parties spoke about the value and impact of U.K. aid in developing countries. However, a major point of contention centered on the massive aid funds allocated to the Palestinian Authority (PA), as well as, based on NGO Monitor’s research, to NGOs in both Israel and the PA.
MPs noted that corruption within the PA, as well as funding allocations to politicized NGOs that openly contradict UK foreign policy, taint the good work being done in other parts of the world and ruin the reputation and legitimacy of NGOs that do work towards peace and co-existence.
As Labour MP Joan Ryan noted: “We are providing pitiable support to the co-existence projects that bring Israelis and Palestinians… I have calculated that less than 13% of the £1.14 million from the Government’s conflict, stability and security fund spent in Israel and the Palestinian territories funds co-existence projects. That represents a mere 0.2% of the roughly £72 million that DFID spends in the Palestinian territories.”
As the Debate continued, Conservative MP, Dr. Matthew Offord quoted NGO Monitor in stating that: “…a significant proportion of the NGOs receiving British funds promote the Palestinian political narrative, focusing only on allegations of Israeli human rights violations.”’
He also noted that UK funded NGOs seek “a manipulation of the democratic process, in an attempt to change ‘Israeli civil and military judicial practice and decisions’ and government policy.”
The UK Government currently funds 10 NGO projects in Israel through the conflict, stability and security fund: the Peres Centre for Peace, INJAZ, Kids Creating Peace, Yesh Din, Gisha, Peace Now, Terrestrial Jerusalem, the International Peace and Co-operation Centre, and Rabbis for Human Rights. Because of the limited amount of time, I will look at just one of those. Yesh Din describes its mission as working “to oppose the continuing violation of Palestinian human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory… documenting and disseminating accurate and up-to-date information about the systematic violation of human rights in the OPT, by raising public awareness”.
In October 2013, members of Yesh Din took part in an Arab celebration on the ruins of a Jewish community in Homesh, with attendees desecrating Jewish symbols and waving anti-Semitic posters, including one depicting a Jew with a spear through his head. That is where our money is going.
I would like the Minister to hear our concerns today and not to continually view this problem through a prism of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Our money is going to some causes that I am sure he would be ashamed of. I hope that we can take that message to the Government today and make sure that we actually look at our spending.
Conservative MP Andrew Percy added, “I also want to mention NGO funding, particularly the Ibda’a cultural centre, which will receive £5,602 from DFID this year. Last year, it hosted an exhibition to honour martyrs, including Mohanad Al Halabi, who killed one and injured 11. We must be careful about where our money is going and always be prepared to review.”
With the growing number of examples of funding going to the PA and anti-peace NGOs, whose activities defy U.K. policy and values, MPs Alan Duncan, Diane Aboot, and Andy Slaughter sought to deflect criticism of DFID, instead blaming “settlements”. Dr. Offord, responded, quoting NGO Monitor that “a significant proportion of the NGOs receiving British funds promote the Palestinian political narrative, focusing only on allegations of Israeli human rights violations.”
This debate, like others in the parliaments of Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, was less about the specific amount of funding and more on accountability. As MP Sir Eric Pickles (Conservative) stated, “Surely it is not unreasonable to say that if people are to receive money from the British Government, they should unequivocally renounce violence in all its forms and work for a two-state solution.”