War on Want is cleared by charity watchdog

By Marcus Dysch, September 10, 2009
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The Charity Commission has cleared War on Want of wrongdoing after the anti-poverty charity hosted an event which accused Israel of human rights abuses and called for a worldwide boycott of the Jewish state.

Zionist Federation president Eric Moonman, who had complained to the commission about WoW’s actions, will now put together a panel of academics to scrutinise the commission’s work.

The commission said this week it was satisfied that the anti-poverty group had worked within the rules and not breached charitable guidelines by hosting the event.

But the JC can reveal that the commission’s board will now also investigate factual inaccuracies in a separate leaflet published by War on Want, entitled Up front: 60 years, which discusses the creation of Israel.

The Palestinians are not victims of a natural disaster. The poverty they are suffering is an acknowledged product of the Israeli occupation.

War on Want leaflet

This states: “The Palestinians are not victims of a natural disaster. The poverty they are suffering is an acknowledged product of the Israeli occupation.”

In July, Professor Moonman, along with others including Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, complained to the commission after the charity launched journalist Ben White’s book, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide.

A small group of pro-Israel participants were shouted down during heated exchanges at the launch meeting, and WoW campaigns officer Yasmin Khan called for a cultural and economic boycott of Israel. She supported the specific targeting of consumer products so that individuals could join the boycott.

The commission admitted that the book was “controversial” and that its “focus and scope” was wider than WoW’s charitable purposes.

It said the charity had been told it must not make the same statements or reach the same conclusions as Mr White as this would fall outside its purposes.

But the commission ruled that WoW had acted within its purposes in assessing “the policies of Israel in the context of human rights and relief of poverty”.

Responding to Prof Moonman’s complaint, Jacqueline Seatle, head of the commission’s assessment unit, wrote: “As a general principle, campaigning and political activity are legitimate and valuable activities for a charity to undertake in the context of supporting or furthering the delivery of their stated purposes.”

City University lecturer Prof Moonman said the commission’s handling of complaints must be “looked at closely”.

He said: “The commission has reiterated its original objectives with which all complaints are addressed.

“However several colleagues and I from City feel it would be more appropriate, and just, if they took account of contemporary circumstances whereby a charity like WoW has far more freedom to engage in political issues than was ever intended.”

Last year the commission backed War on Want’s involvement in a pro-Palestinian demonstration.

    Last updated: 3:32pm, January 5 2011