Oxfam bends the rules

At the end of September, a two-day conference was held in Tel Aviv’s Eretz Israel Museum. Entitled, Realising the Return of Palestinian Refugees, the theme was the alleged “dispossession” suffered by Palestinian Arabs at the time of Israel’s re-establishment, and the remedies that might even now be offered in atonement, as it were, for this supposed injustice.
One of the presentations, by a PhD student, Roi Silberberg from Haifa University, focused on “the approach that is needed to end the colonial nature of Israel and in order to achieve justice and return.”

If all the so-called Palestinian refugees and their descendants (who are not in fact refugees, but we’ll let that pass for now) were to be permitted to settle in Israel, this would spell the end of the Jewish state. Proponents of “the return” argue that Israel would become a multinational, secular state (in the words of the conference blurb, “an egalitarian civil society serving the interest of all its members”), in which Jewish and Christian minorities would live alongside a Muslim majority.

In my view, anyone who seriously believes in the reality of such a scenario needs to have her or his head examined. “The right of return” is coded language for the end of Israel as a Jewish state, and those who promote this “right” are as wedded to this end as are the practitioners of boycott and disinvestment.

Actually, I support in principle the right of academics and activists to hold conferences on more or less whatever they wish, provided there is no incitement to violence, and no matter how delusional their ultimate ambitions might be. The conference was held under the auspices of Zochrot, an organisation that seeks to create, within Israel, “the conditions for the return of Palestinian refugees and a shared life in this country.”

The Charities Commission says ‘a charity cannot exist for a political purpose’

Although it denies having provided specific money for this particular conference, one of the most prominent general funders of Zochrot is Oxfam. In the words of its press office (October 4), Oxfam supports the efforts of Zochrot “to bring different elements of Israeli civil society together to discuss important issues.”

Earlier this year, there was much public discussion of a proposal brought before the Board of Deputies here in the UK to partner Oxfam in the Grow Tatzmiach leadership project. Board president Vivian Wineman declared that this controversial collaboration would be discontinued if Oxfam partnered or supported “any organisation that calls for the destruction of the state of Israel.”

Mercifully, the Grow Tatzmiach partnership with Oxfam has now ended. But in view of Oxfam’s support for an organisation — Zochrot — dedicated to designing a road-map for the demise of the Jewish state, I would have thought it out of the question that the Board would ever again be a party to any venture in which Oxfam was implicated.

While we wait for Wineman to do the right thing and make such an announcement, we might also ponder the fact that, here in the UK, Oxfam enjoys charitable status.

The law relating to charities in England and Wales was reformed in 2006. The Charities Act passed that year lists 13 purposes in respect of which an organisation may claim charitable status — and the considerable financial advantages that accrue therefrom.

One of these relates to the advancement of human rights. Oxfam might well claim that its support of Zochrot falls within this charitable purpose. But, on its website, the Charities Commission makes clear that “a charity cannot exist for a political purpose, which is any purpose directed at furthering the interests of any political party, or securing or opposing a change in the law, policy or decisions either in this country or abroad.”

In view of this, it seem to me inescapable that, in sponsoring Zochrot, Oxfam has breached the terms of its charitable status.

I wonder if it is really asking too much of the Board of Deputies to expect it, without delay, to demand a meeting with the Charities Commission for the purpose of persuading it to remove Oxfam from its register and so ensure that its overt, anti-Israeli political activities are no longer carried out at the expense of the British taxpayer.

Last updated: 11:45am, October 18 2013