Why the Board Should Vote "No" To Oxfam
By Jonathan Hoffman
January 21, 2013
This is an edited version of the original, sent to Deputies - full links were appended. The motion to partner with Oxfam was carried 113 - 65, 15 abstentions
1. Why are you bringing this motion?
(a) Because the Oxfam project was initiated undemocratically
Whether or not you support it, in all likelihood the first you knew about the Grow Tatzmiach project was when you read about it in the JC in November.
Is this why you became a Deputy?
To have important decisions made in secret by the Board of Deputies Executive?
It’s entirely wrong that the Executive should push through such a project without discussion and a vote in the Board. It makes a mockery of the Board’s claim to be ‘democratic’. To the best of our knowledge even the Communities Issues Division under its new Chair has never discussed and voted on this project (save for hearing and vetoing our motion – which is not the same thing at all!). It is hardly conducive to encouraging people to stand as Deputies if an important and obviously controversial decision is presented to them as a fait accompli.
We are giving you a chance to make a difference to Board policy
(b) Because it is questionable whether the Board should be doing this at all
We question whether the Board under its Constitution should even be involved in this kind of project. The Board has 9 aims. One of them enjoins the Board to “Promote a better understanding of the Jewish Community within the UK and, to that end, develop relations with other ethnic and minority groups”. It does not say that we should undertake projects with charities such as Oxfam.
(c) Because Oxfam is one of the most anti-Israel charities
However we would not be bringing this motion if the Board was cooperating with one of the thousands of charities that do not delegitimise and demonise Israel. Our problem is with Oxfam. Oxfam is one of the four UK charities (alongside War On Want, Christian Aid, Save The Children) consistently displaying the greatest hostility to Israel . Here are some examples. Links in footnotes can also be found in the accompanying WORD document.
30 October 2012: Crisis Action, a London-based umbrella group of NGOs, called on the EU to implement a boycott of goods from Judea and Samaria. The report (“Trading Away Peace” ) was written and distributed by Crisis Action. It bears the logos of 22 members of Crisis Action. While Oxfam is not one, it is a “Core Partner” and one of 19 “Current Funders” of Crisis Action and when we asked it to distance itself from the boycott recommendation, it refused . And as recently as 2009 when Oxfam ended its contract with the actress Kristin Davis – who had been an Oxfam Ambassador – it explicitly endorsed a partial boycott, saying “Oxfam remains opposed to settlement trade.” So much for the statement you received from the Board on 24 December (“Oxfam has never called for a boycott of any Israeli goods, including settlement goods”).
July 2012: Oxfam itself produced a report (On the Brink) recommending that NGOs should engage in explicit violations of international law by “initiat[ing] and support[ing] development projects in the Jordan Valley and other parts ...of Area C...even if they have not been approved by the Israeli Civil Administration” (Area C is the part of Judea and Samaria where, under the Oslo Accords, Israel has full civil and security control (except over Palestinian civilians)).
A spokesman at the Embassy of Israel in London, Amir Ofek, commented :
Oxfam's latest report on the situation in the Palestinian territories puts a clearly political agenda above any humanitarian concern. Its call to the international community and to NGOs to initiate projects which clearly violate existing agreements is irresponsible and inflammatory. Far from advancing peace, such an approach undermines the prospects of reaching a negotiated resolution to the conflict
The report also demonises Israel for allegedly depriving the Palestinians of water: “In 1967, there were 209 active Palestinian wells in the Jordan Valley; today there are just 89. This is mainly due to Israeli restrictions on Palestinian well and water resource development.” This is simply untrue. The truth is that Palestinians’ share of aquifers increased dramatically once control of Judea/Samaria passed from Jordan to Israel in 1967, despite Israel’s limited water supply. Most of the water problems in the Palestinian territories are caused by the failure of the Palestinian Authority to implement Israeli-approved projects. Over half of the wells approved for exploitation of the territory’s Eastern aquifer, for instance, have still not been drilled, though Israel approved permits for the project in 2000.
December 2009: It was lobbying by Oxfam which led the UK government to introduce guidelines on voluntary labelling of goods and produce originating from Judea and Samaria. This only served to encourage the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) lobby. Note that Oxfam had lobbied for compulsory labelling.
October 2009: Oxfam was accused by an Israeli NGO, Regavim, of being involved in constructing a water-siphoning system, which illegally diverted water from the “main authorised Palestinian water supply.”
August 2009: Oxfam severed ties with actress Kristin Davis (who had been an Oxfam Ambassador) due to her work endorsing the Israeli Ahava cosmetics company. In its statement Oxfam explicitly endorsed a partial boycott, saying “Oxfam remains opposed to settlement trade.”
January 2009: In a comment about Gaza after Operation Cast Lead, Oxfam International’s Director Jeremy Hobbs said: “The people of Gaza are living in the world’s largest prison but have fewer rights than convicts’ . This comment demonised Israel. Hobbs made no reference to the truckloads of goods entering Gaza every day nor did he mention why security measures were necessary – namely, because of the thousand of missiles being fired by Hamas terrorists at civilians in Israel’s south.
2003: Oxfam’s Belgian Office produced a poster of an “Israeli orange” dripping with blood to promote boycotts. The caption read: “Israeli fruits have a bitter taste...reject the occupation of Palestine, don't buy Israeli fruits and vegetables.”
Oxfam consistently paints a highly misleading picture of the Arab-Israeli conflict , departing from its humanitarian mission focused on poverty. Most Oxfam statements erase all complexity and blame Israel exclusively for the situation, and these distortions and their impacts contribute significantly to conflict. Further examples were provided by Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director, Oxfam International, who said of Operation Cast Lead: “It has been a form of collective punishment illegal under international humanitarian law yet tolerated by the international community.” And in an Oxfam Press Release (29 December 2008) John Prideaux-Brune, Oxfam’s country programme manager in Jerusalem, said “The international community must not stand aside and allow Israeli leaders to commit massive and disproportionate violence against Gazan civilians in violation of international law .”
Oxfam also distorts economic analyses of the West Bank and Gaza, repeatedly arguing that that the sole impediment to Palestinian development is Israeli policy, ignoring intra-Palestinian limitations and factors.
(d) Because Oxfam partners with some deeply questionable organisations
A paper published this week by Stand For Peace demonstrates that Oxfam has no qualms in partnering with some very unpleasant organisations.
The Executive of the Board has said it will discontinue the Grow Tatzmiach project if Oxfam “partners with or supports any organisation that promotes or condones violence or partners with or supports any organisation that calls for the destruction of the State of Israel.” The ‘Stand For Peace’ paper demonstrates that Oxfam’s links with such organisations are so numerous and so deep that even if the project goes ahead, it would need to be abandoned within days. Anyone who thinks that Oxfam is going to drop all these relationships simply in order to maintain the Grow Tatzmiach project is living in cloud-cuckoo land.
(e) Because the Oxfam project violates the Constitution
The Oxfam tieup violates one of the Board’s aims under its Constitution. The fourth of the Board’s nine aims in the Constitution is to "Take such appropriate action as lies within its power to advance Israel's security, welfare and standing". It has a second Constitutional responsibility to: "Support and seek to protect Jews and Jewish communities outside the UK" That includes Jews in Israel and in the Disputed Territories.
Cooperating with Oxfam (with the exception of persuading them to change their anti-Israel discourse and policies) runs directly counter to these constitutional obligations.
2. What damage does an Oxfam tieup do to the Jewish Community?
The Oxfam tieup sends entirely the wrong message to the worldwide Jewish Community and to the many non-Jewish supporters of Israel throughout the world. It gives a seal of approval (a hecksher) to Oxfam from the UK Jewish Community. There is little doubt that this is Oxfam’s agenda and the reason why they are willing to put £8000 into this project. They clearly want to sanitise Oxfam for those who on principle do not donate to anti-Israel charities.
We emphasise that we are NOT trying to ‘boycott’ Oxfam. To the extent that dialogue with Oxfam is aimed at moderating its anti-Israel discourse and policies, we welcome it and indeed would welcome being part of it.
3. What message does the Oxfam tieup send about the Board’s attitude to Israel?
Particularly to Israelis, the Oxfam tieup sends entirely the wrong message about the Board’s attitude to Israel. Here is a message received from an Israeli resident, Hadar Sela:
The traditionally warm ties between the British Jewish community and Israel make the decision by representatives of that community to partner an organisation with a rich history of delegitimisation of Israelis especially perplexing and demoralising to those of us committed to the two-state solution which the BDS movement - of which Oxfam is part - rejects
The Board will rightly be accused of inconsistency. The Oxfam tie-up is diametrically at odds with the Board’s stance on the Co-Op’s partial boycott. How can activists trying to change the Co-Op’s policy carry any credibility, when the Board is seen to be happy to cooperate with Oxfam? The same applies to those attempting to change the stance of the Methodists, the Quakers, the University and College Union and many others. This Oxfam tieup effectively pulls the rug from under the feet of anti-boycott campaigners. It emboldens Israel’s enemies – they will say “If even the Jewish community accepts Oxfam’s anti-Israel discourse and policies, then Israel must unquestionably be in the wrong.”
In summary ….
VOTE ‘NO’ ON SUNDAY TO THE OXFAM TIE-UP!
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