Where War on Want is itself found wanting

Respectable bodies are to be found among ‘usual suspect’ boycotters


By Dan Kosky, May 14, 2009
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Foreign Minister David Miliband’s recent announcement of a review of UK weapons exports to Israel in the wake of the Gaza conflict is unlikely to dent Israel’s military capability, given that the UK supplies less than one per cent of Israel’s arms imports. Nevertheless, it was seen as a significant victory by anti-Israel campaigners, a step towards a full-blown Israel boycott.

The Israel boycotters tend to be thought of as a motley crew of leftist agitators and veteran pro-Palestinian activists. But perhaps at least as dangerous are those prominent organisations with strong moral credentials, who lend respectability to the campaign. The motto of War on Want, for example — “Fighting Global Poverty” — is unimpeachable. But the organisation’s undoubted humanitarian concern elides into an anti-Israel stance. War on Want’s senior global justice campaigner welcomed Miliband’s announcement, admitting that “an arms embargo strategy is a key element of the wider sanctions call”. For War on Want, an arms review is a precursor to an arms embargo and consequent elimination of Israel’s right to self-defence.

War on Want’s July 2006 report, Profiting from the Occupation, called upon the public to “take action” against high-street names such as Tesco and Waitrose for their “complicity in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people”. War on Want marked Israel’s 60th anniversary by explaining how Israel’s creation in 1948 was the Palestinians’ Naqba or “catastrophe”, from which they “continue to be, shattered by the Israeli occupation”. In fact, “occupation” is how the state of Israel’s entire history is characterised by the humanitarian charity, one all-encompassing crime.

No wonder, then, that veteran War on Want supporter, Clare Short MP recently invited Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, a keen advocate of Israel’s destruction, to address MPs. Although technical difficulties eventually prevented the live link-up with Mashaal, the decision by parliamentary authorities to allow the cradle of democracy to promote such naked hatred is shameful.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds of UK taxpayers’ money are annually pumped into War on Want projects. These funds are granted by the Department for International Development for commendable efforts to improve the lives of farmers in Sri Lanka, Brazil and other places but they also enable War on Want to fund its anti-Israel tirades. Unsurprisingly, the public rarely distinguish between War on Want’s various projects, and so in the public mind government funding equates to a stamp of approval for the organisation as a whole.

If this were so, then the government would be granting money to an organisation campaigning against the Brown administration’s own policy. War on Want’s support of an Israel boycott, and its stand against the British presence in Iraq, is a classic case of biting the hand that feeds it. Like a helpless drug addict, the government finds itself paying for something which can only harm its interests. It is time it broke the habit and conducted a thorough review of the upside-down world of NGO funding. If not, the United Kingdom could find itself aiding an Israel boycott campaign.

Dan Kosky is Communications Director of NGO Monitor, www.ngo-monitor.org

Last updated: 11:23am, May 14 2009