Oxfam works in Israel to ‘alter the balance’

By Jessica Elgot, November 2, 2010

Oxfam is to launch a new strategy to improve its image with Israel and British Jews, after concerns about pro-Palestinian bias within the organisation.

The charity has never actively publicised its work with Jewish Israelis. During Operation Cast Lead Oxfam released a statement saying Palestinians had “fewer rights than convicts”.

Oxfam’s director Barbara Stocking, and its regional director for the Middle East, Olga Ghazaryan, have been working with the Movement for Reform Judaism to “rebalance” Oxfam’s portrayal of Israel on its website, and to add perspective to the statements it releases about the country.

Only Gaza, the West Bank and Bedouin projects in the Negev are currently highlighted on the organisation’s website.

The Reform Movement is to work on a joint poverty relief project with Oxfam for both Jews and Palestinians in Israel.

Oxfam’s Middle East media manager, Jennifer Abrahamson, said: “I think there have been many misconceptions about Oxfam’s relationship with Israel.

“We have worked in the country with both Jewish and Arab people and our mission is always only to help those suffering from injustice and poverty.

“We are obviously delighted to forge this new relationship with the Reform Movement. We share similar values and I hope people will become more aware of the work we are doing with Israeli civil society.”

The head of the Reform Movement, Rabbi Tony Bayfield, said: “People have understandable concerns, but Oxfam is not an enemy. There will be people who will think this is unwise, who will want to say ‘I told you so’ and they are entitled to their opinions. I hope they are proved wrong.”

The partner organisation both Oxfam and the Reform Movement are supporting is Mahapach-Taghir, which gives educational opportunities for women in marginalised communities, including Ethiopian, Russian, Middle Eastern and Palestinian women.

As part of the project, women from the Kiryat Yovel neighbourhood in Jerusalem are educated about human rights.

Rabbi Bayfield said he hoped the joint initiative would work in Israel’s favour inside Oxfam. “Oxfam will never see Israel in the same way as most British Jews do. But there’s a virtue in building relationships, because they can try and stand in our shoes and see Israel a little better.

“This has taken a considerable amount of work and courage. Oxfam have given an enormous amount of time to responding to the anxieties of the Jewish community.”

Last updated: 3:32pm, January 5 2011