Saturday, 16 August 2014

The JC, Gaza and Charities

The Jewish Chronicle this week has apologised for running a Gaza Appeal advert by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) after complaints from its readers. There is a fundamental problem with complaining about running an advert from a charity. It's a charity. We like charities, we think they do good work helping people who suffer for all manner of reasons. There is an even bigger problem when a Jewish newspaper receives complaints about an advert calling to help Gaza's children. It looks like the Jewish readership of the JC somehow fundamentally objects to helping Gaza's children, or at least objects to advertising an appeal for Gaza's children. It also strikes me as incredibly unlikely that one of these readers complained to The Guardian after they published arguably a far more controversial advert than the JC have and they probably responded to those who did by crying for free speech. There is a problem with the DEC however, which I will get to later.

The JC's apology, first off, is worth noting. They claim that the advert is "not an expression of the JC's view". What? An advert calling for money to go to the children suffering in Gaza? I would very much hope it was an expression of the JC's view, an expression of every decent human being's view. As I have repeated, you can support Israel vehemently (as I do) and still support the Palestinians, have sympathy for their plight (whoever you blame for it) and wish to help them. This idea that somehow publishing (=supporting?) anything that highlights the situation in Gaza is anti-Israel/pro-Hamas is ludicrous and needs to go. No, it does not even matter if the advert does not mention Hamas and just focuses on children suffering. The cause is irrelevant.

I have no doubt, for a minute, that some of those objecting to the JC's publication of the advert do so because they feel to have any support for Gaza or the plight of Palestinians in Gaza is somehow to support Hamas, the group that is undoubtedly (also) responsible for their suffering. If you have been reading my last few blogs, you will know that I am not interested in the blame game and frankly even if you had the most convincing arguments regarding Hamas' complicity in the plight of Gazans, that does not make any appeals on their [Gazans] behalf any less important. Just because you believe Hamas, and not Israel, is to blame for the situation Palestinians in Gaza find themselves in, you cannot object to organisations trying to alleviate that suffering. 'Hamas is to blame therefore we don't have to care'?

Nor do I buy this idea that any money going into Gaza somehow ends up in the hands of Hamas. I don't really want to have this argument, but it is incredibly lazy just to state 'Gaza = Hamas' and somehow any money donated to relieve the undoubted suffering of Palestinians in Gaza must be going to Hamas. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that you have to be careful with donations and charities have to be careful when working in areas with such immense corruption, but to simply dogmatically assert that money going to Gaza goes to Hamas will not do.

There is a small facebook group calling for a boycott of the JC until they apologise, which I suppose is unsurprising. Upon receiving the apology, the group's admin posted a status complaining that it was not good enough.  It commits an awful example of genuine 'whataboutery' (as opposed to those Owen Jones and Mehdi Hasan often like to complain about) asking why the JC chose to print a Gaza appeal and not one for an Israeli charity as if somehow the JC was faced with a direct choice. As if somehow advertising a Gaza appeal means you do not support the work of Israeli charities. It then asks if an Islamic paper would post a Magen David Adom appeal. I am inclined to agree that such a paper would not. Does this make an iota of difference? Of course not! Just because an Islamic paper may not publish a Magen David Adom advert does not mean a Jewish paper cannot publish a Gaza appeal advert. What a nonsense. It then tells me that the JC has chosen money over the sensitivity of the Jewish Community. I do not wish to be part of this Jewish Community then. Anyway, the group has fewer likes than my average per-post readership so I suppose I should leave them alone.

Inspite of all of that, there is reason to object to supporting the DEC (and by extension the JC's decision to run an advert by them). Obviously the JC do not support the organisation and were merely advertising a worthy message. Rather than object to the cause it supports, it is possible to object to the charities that collectively form the DEC. This idea that somehow charities are all saintly organisations is as much a nonsense as the idea that supporting the plight of Palestinians is anti-Semitic or pro-Hamas. Of the charities that form the DEC, three have been reported on by Stand For Peace an organisation that I have previously worked for, as having links to extremism. Those are Christian Aid, Oxfam and Islamic Relief. These are worrying reports and reports that do mean supporting the DEC should be approached with some caution - though it is worth noting there are 10 other charities that make up the organisation. We all have a right to know that our money going to Gaza to help children that need help right now will not end up in the hands of Hamas and be used to build terror tunnels or rockets. It is a great tragedy for the Israeli civilians that live at risk of these attacks but it is an even greater tragedy for the Palestinians who could so benefit from the money flooding into Gaza if it were all used correctly and to alleviate their suffering rather than to inflict it upon Israelis.

It is a tricky one for me. I do not think the DEC intends for its donations to be abused but it is a sorry fact that they will be. And it won't just mean the Palestinians continue to suffer, it will mean the money flows directly to terrorism. So we should be vigilant and careful and lobby hard to ensure the charities mentioned, and others, know exactly where their money goes but object to a Jewish Paper running an advert for Gaza? Do me a favour.