By Elliott Abrams, Israel Hayom—
I’ve written about a half dozen times in the past about UNRWA, the U.N. agency that deals with Palestinians. Simply put, UNRWA has long employed individuals who are sympathetic to Hamas, and who engage in acts of anti-Semitism, but the organization has overlooked their actions and indeed often protected them. That appears to be the culture of the place.
But over the last week we learned something new: Employees of other leading charitable and development agencies, such as World Vision and the United Nations Development Program, may also be diverting funds to Hamas. Israel recently arrested a high-ranking World Vision employee as well as a UNDP staffer on suspicion of diverting money and assistance to Hamas. Australia has frozen contributions to World Vision’s Gaza programs until the matter is sorted out, and the German offices of World Vision have frozen their own programs in Gaza.
The accused are innocent until proven guilty, although they are said to have confessed. But what we can now see clearly is that none of these organizations — UNDP, World Vision, or UNRWA — was ever going to investigate the facts, fire people, clean out the Hamas agents or solve these problems. That will require the intervention of donors, and those steps in Germany and Australia are remarkable only in that they have not been mimicked universally.
Australia’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Department reportedly called the allegations “deeply troubling” and said it was “urgently seeking more information” from World Vision and the Israeli authorities, and was suspending further funding to World Vision in the region until the investigation is complete. Quite right, but what about all the other donors?
The larger question is the culture of foreign aid to the Palestinians, much of which falls under what President George W. Bush once called (in an entirely different context) “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” and some of which falls under the category of terrorism, threats, and plain fear.
About the last factor, plain fear, the last line of a news story about the UNDP affair is revealing. The accused man “is also alleged to have last year persuaded UNDP managers to focus home rebuilding efforts in areas where Hamas members lived, after pressure from the group.” Perhaps Hamas made him an offer he could not refuse. “Pressure from the group” in this context may well mean his life was in danger.
The “soft bigotry” is the failure to hold the Palestinians to global standards. We see this, for example, in the toleration — by every government, including the American and the Israeli governments — of the way the Palestinian Authority glorifies terrorism and terrorists, naming parks and schools after murderers and broadcasting all kinds of anti-Semitic hate on official media stations. We see it in the failure to reform UNRWA.
In these cases, World Vision and UNDP, we probably see both support for terrorism and plain fear. It’s likely that some percentage of local employees in Gaza are sympathetic to Hamas, and it seems likely to me that administrators don’t want to know it. If they came face to face with it, what would they do? Fire them? Turn them in to the Israelis? Start difficult and likely very long back-and-forth communications with headquarters, which likely doesn’t want to know and won’t thank the employee who insists on revealing the truth? Simpler to be blind to what is happening.
Attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of Israeli legal advocacy group Shurat Hadin, said her organization warned World Vision four years ago its funding was being diverted to fund armed militant groups in Gaza. She said she discovered this while her group researched a lawsuit against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which in the past was involved in attacking Israelis. She said the PFLP used front organizations that appeared as beneficiaries on the World Vision web site. Darshan-Leitner said she was exploring suing World Vision in the U.S. for aiding and abetting terrorism. “Foreign NGOs want to give money to Gaza,” Darshan-Leitner said, even as they “ignore all the signs that their money is diverted to terrorism.”
Allegations are not proof and these cases need to go to trial. The sensible thing for donors to do is to freeze suspect programs immediately, as World Vision Germany and the government of Australia have done. The only way to solve this problem is for donors to withhold funding unless and until the independence of their programs can be assured. Yes, the people of Gaza would suffer, but they would know why: because Hamas is more interested in its own terrorist actions than in the welfare of Gazans. Aid donors have turned a blind eye for far too long.
From “Pressure Points” by Elliott Abrams. Reprinted with permission from the Council on Foreign Relations.