Sunday, January 2, 2011

[By Geary, crossposted from CiF Watch.]


OxFam's Israel Boycott Poster: "The Fruits of Israel Taste Bitter. Refuse the Occupation of Palestine: Don't Buy Israeli Fruits or Vegetables"

It is an open secret that several of even the mainstream "high street" charities and NGOs long ago morphed into political associations.

One area where this is most obvious is environmentalism. According to War on Want, the only way to fight climate change (and presumably everything else they don't like) is to smash capitalism.

Dr Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, has often expressed his utter dismay at this process of politicisation:

"The environmental movement I helped found has lost its objectivity, morality and humanity."

His words are echoed by other experts in the field of human development:

Activists who've never had to worry about starvation, malaria and simple survival have no right to impose their fears, prejudices and ideologies on the world's poor.

(CS Prakash, Professor of plant genetics)

Stewart Brand, one-time Green guru, describes in his book Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto the infiltration of his field in the 90s by far-left ideologues, refugees from the lost Cold War who saw environmentalism as a new way of attacking the west and its economic system.

Outside the Green ideological industry, we also have no trouble finding NGOs with blatant political agendas. Human Right Watch's anti-Israeli stance is a glaring case. The main story on its Middle East page is very generally a criticism of Israel - quite absurd in a region where many countries and organisations, including and especially Israel's enemies, are guilty of particularly egregious human rights abuse.

However, even when a charity / NGO has not necessarily been infiltrated by far-left ideologues, aid charities find themselves in a kind of fundamental "existential bind", described with great clarity by Nick Cohen:

The aid charities are hybrids with incompatible aims. On the one hand, they provide relief regardless of the political consequences - like the Red Cross - and, on the other, they lobby for political change - like Human Rights Watch.

Of interest here, he takes the particular case of Oxfam:

... if Oxfam were to speak out against the obscenity of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe being elected to head the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, there's a fair chance Mugabe would stop Oxfam workers from relieving the suffering inflicted by his economically unsustainable regime. Its hybrid status means Oxfam has to direct disapproval at governments that won't respond to criticism by closing down Oxfam operations, but, rather, will invite Stocking in for a chat and a cup of tea. The aid charities are therefore treacherous guides to global politics. They are dependent on dictators and must overlook their crimes. They are respected by democrats and can therefore safely blame the democracies for the crimes of others.

(Nick Cohen, New Statesman, May 2007)

This is clearly the case applying to Israel and its enemies. The latter governed by warlords and dictators to whom the charities must fawn, the former a democracy which is frequently berated for the crimes of others. Most iconically, the plight of the Gazans cannot be laid at the feet of Hamas without consequences for aid workers on the ground and so it is thrust upon Israel, whose only intent is to defend its citizens from Hamas and jihadist attacks.

It may well be the case that this existential bind is inescapable. But the agencies should at least be honest with themselves, and not all are. Some agencies, indeed are dabbling in politics of which they have little understanding.

We might return to Oxfam where we can read from its website

As Oxfam launches a campaigning drive to lift the blockade on Gaza, Katy Wright imagines how her own life would be affected by living under the conditions in Gaza.

I'm sorry. I beg your pardon? Oxfam campaigning to end what it calls "the blockade"? When did it become the remit of Oxfam to enter the arena of international diplomacy? The politicisation is already clear in the language. In this most bizarre of pieces, the extraordinarily self-referential author compares the refitting of her bathroom to the "conditions in Gaza". Yes, dear Katy, I'm sure the tribulations of handling English plumbers is the closest thing to dealing with the Islamist Hamas police.

This brings her to a reflection of all the items she claims Israel is gratuitously denying to the people of Gaza. She links to a list of supposedly "prohibited" goods, produced by a body named "Gisha". This turns out to be an activist group whose website reads:

Gisha is an Israeli not-for-profit organization, founded in 2005, whose goal is to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents.

This just gets crazier. The freedom of movement of ALL Gaza residents? Including the jihadists and the poor men, women and children brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers? There are few borders in the world where freedom of movement needs policing as much as this one.

In any case this list turns out to be a fabrication, based on little more than interviews with Gazan shopkeepers of the type "what are you finding in short supply this week?".

But back to Katy:

It's a shocking injustice that the people of Gaza are denied such items as coriander, crisps, A4 paper (!?) or toys.

Indeed, one wonders how they can cope. As shocking injustices go, it feels a little tame. But Katy is not done with us yet:

The Gaza blockade is a humanitarian crisis.

No, Katy. Darfur, Haiti, the Pakistan floods are humanitarian crises, and your use of the term cheapens their victims. The crisis in Gaza is political: the place is governed by a reactionary fundamentalist war-party which craves not well-being for its people but the deaths of its neighbours.

Thankfully, Katy's is a story with a happy ending:

My toilet works now, by the way

And so, with her own toilet un-blockaded, she feels this is the moment to celebrate by:

...taking action in solidarity with the people of Gaza and calling for the blockade to be lifted

What makes such minds tick? How can she not know what would happen if there was no control over imports into and "exports" out of the terrorist state of Gaza? Would she feel guilty or pleased when the first Iranian-made rocket hit a Sderot school or the first suicide bomber exploded in an Ashdod kindergarten?

Meanwhile yes, indeed, there are shocking injustices being perpetrated in Gaza. There are too many poor people whose livelihoods are being squandered in the futile belligerence against Israel. There are however also a growing number of fat Hamas cats growing ever fatter on monopoly licenses and illegal trade, including the brutal trafficking of sub-Saharan emigrants.

While it may be the case that Oxfam is trapped in the aid agency existential bind and therefore cannot criticise directly those actually responsible for the plight of the Gazans, namely Hamas, at least the people it hosts on its site might have a minimal knowledge of the facts on the ground and refrain from spreading Hamas's propaganda for it.

But I'm left with a lingering doubt. If I was cursed with a more suspicious turn of mind, I might wonder whether hosting such pieces on the world's favourite conflict which attacks the left's favourite hate-figure, Israel, is thought to be good for donations. The campaign to greatly restrict Israel's defensive measures, with all the inevitable bloody consequences, seems entirely acceptable if it means money in the bank, keeping well-paid jobs, expanding the corporation. But no. Nobody could be so unscrupulous. Certainly not an aid agency.

And yet:

"What is truth?" a jesting Pilate said,

A little falsehood earns a lot more bread.

(Editor's note: For more information on the NGOs mentioned in this post, visit the website of NGO Monitor.)

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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