Oxfam Aid Questioned

March 6, 2014
BY Dmitriy Shapiro
Israel Law Center threatens international organization with legal action
Scarlett Johansson and SodaStream  CEO Daniel Birnbaum (Photo Provided)

Scarlett Johansson and SodaStream
CEO Daniel Birnbaum (Photo Provided)

An Israeli organization is mulling over taking a legal fight against Oxfam International to the global aid conglomerate’s donors, cutting off a source of funds it says is ending up in the hands of people allied with terror groups.

“We are thinking of alerting the foundations that fund Oxfam,” Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, director and founder of the Israel Law Center, told the Washington Jewish Week. Companies such as “Coca-Cola [and Oxfam’s] ambassadors, they have a lot of celebrities who serve as their ambassadors.”

The warning, detailed Darshan-Leitner, is that such entities “may pay directly or indirectly to fund a terror organization if they fund Oxfam.”

Following the international brouhaha last month, when actress Scarlett Johansson publicly quit her position as a global ambassador for Oxfam after the organization criticized her marketing efforts for Israeli company SodaStream, the ILC sent a letter to Oxfam and its Netherlands branch warning of an anti-terrorism lawsuit.

At issue is Oxfam’s aid and collaboration with the Gaza-based Union of Agricultural Workers Committees and the Union of Health Workers Committees; according to the ILC, both unions are closely affiliated with the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an Arab nationalist organization responsible for numerous acts of terrorism dating back to the 1960s that has long been regarded as a terrorist organization by the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, European Union and Israel.

Claiming that it has proof that the unions are instruments of the PFLP, allowing the PFLP to use their facilities to honor suicide bombers and possessing many of the same leaders as the Palestinian group, the ILC alleges that the unions were created as the PFLP’s outreach arms to bring relief to the impoverished citizens in Gaza in order to bolster support for its cause.

“Please be advised that providing services to the terrorist instrumentalities UHWC and/or the UAWC is illegal and may have already exposed Oxfam, its global affiliates and its officers to criminal prosecution and civil liability to Israeli, European, American, Australian citizens and others victimized by terrorism sponsored by the PFLP, the parent organization of the UHWC and the UAWC,” the ILC’s letter said.

As of March 2, neither Oxfam nor any of its affiliates had responded to the charges, but in a statement to the Times of Israel, the organization noted that the ILC had threatened a lawsuit before.

“We take any such allegations seriously,” the statement read. “However, these same allegations by the Israel Law Center against UAWC were previously investigated thoroughly by the Australian government’s Federal Police and Security Intelligence Organization and were found to be completely unsubstantiated.”

The Australian investigation in 2012 found that the UAWC was listed in Israel as a humanitarian group, but according to Darshan-Leitner, that organization was different from the UAWC that partners with Oxfam.

Darshan-Leitner hopes that the transparency of a trial will allow for a more thorough investigation of the connections between the PFLP and the unions working with Oxfam.

Regardless of the funding charges, Oxfam’s antagonism to Israeli policies is nothing new. The organization is a public supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that sparked the Johansson flap and has for years released statements, articles and press releases confronting Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. NGO Monitor, an organization that tracts anti-Israel sentiment, maintains a significant dossier on both Oxfam International and Oxfam Novib, the Netherlands-based arm.

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an expert on Palestine and terror funding, said it is not unusual for aid organizations to cross the threshold from humanitarian assistance to political advocacy.

“That is unfortunately the M.O. of a lot of organizations that have committed to working in the Gaza Strip or even in the West Bank,” explained Schanzer. “There’s the sense that sometimes when they work with these jurisdictions, they almost become a client of the Palestinian cause.”

Schanzer said that he didn’t know whether the unions were part of the PFLP like ILC alleges, but that it is not uncommon for further vetting to be required when an organization wants to deliver aid to a place like Gaza.

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com
JNS.org contributed to this story.

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