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Friday, May 28, 2010

Summonsed by Bell: spinning against Israel in the name of Britain's Christians

'For the latest comments on Israel from Christian Aid see:

'Does Mr Grumpy have anything to say about this?'

- asks commenter David.

Well, David, due to the way the portfolios have been divvied up here I'm afraid you'll have to make do with the Nick Clegg to Grumpy's Cameron. Rest assured, though, that my remarks have been cleared by the big boss.

So, yes, meet William Bell, Christian Aid's "Advocacy Officer for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory". The man, in other words, who, with the blessing of my church (and forty others large and small), has a full-time job spinning against the Jewish state. David, I hardly know what to say (apart from everything I've been saying here for the past five years).

I'd just like to know what makes William Bell tick. Perhaps he will stumble on this and enlighten me. Does he ever turn on the radio in the morning and think "Gosh, those poor people in Tibet/Burma/Zimbabwe/Darfur... They could really do with a bit of advocacy. I'll have a word with the boss and see if I can talk him into broadening my job description."?

Or does he wake up every morning saying to himself, "What a dream of a job mine is. For if I wasn't able to speak out against the Most Evil State in the World, who else would?"?

And if that's the way it is, if it isn't about Jews, what is it about?

This particular effort from Mr Bell reveals quite a lot about the way he operates. Like any good lobbyist he can take any story and spin it on his clients' favour. Here the starting point is Israel's admission to the OECD. I'd say this accolade for the country's thriving economy was something to celebrate, on the whole. But for Mr Bell the Israeli glass is half empty at the very best. Not a proper democracy, he mutters. Unlike all those proper democracies for which the rest of the Middle East is famed. Again, I'd say it's little short of a miracle that Israel has stayed democratic through 60 years of staving off threats to its existence. No credit given by Mr Bell, though: "civil society [...] under threat [...] repression [...] intimidation [...] undermine human rights defenders [...]". Etc etc.

Does Christian Aid ever condemn Sudan, or any of the world's despotisms, in anything like these forthright terms?

I tried googling "Christian Aid Sudan repression". The first hit was the paid-for Christian Aid Week link. The second was an item on Ethiopia with a passing reference to Christian Aid. The third was a press release from the Disasters Emergency Committee, of which Christian Aid is of course a prominent member. It was issued in 2004. Of criticism of the Sudanese government there is not one word.

A little further down the list came Christian Aid's Sudan page. Still no word of criticism of the government. Maybe it's on the linked "Our work on conflict" page? Oh dear. We learn that they deliver urgent aid in Darfur, however:-

'But our experience has also told us that our response to conflict needs to be even more far-reaching than the delivery of humanitarian assistance, however important that may be.'

That's the lead in to a section headed "Speaking out". So this must be where they've put the hard-hitting criticism of the Sudanese regime, right? Wrong. Six paragraphs: one on Colombia, one general, four on... need I continue?

After this you won't be too surprised to learn that there is no Christian Aid Advocacy Officer for Sudan. And with that, back to William Bell.

What is it that has triggered Mr Bell's doom-laden pronouncements on the state of Israeli democracy? Simply this: there are moves afoot in the Knesset to limit the political activities of NGOs like, well, Christian Aid. Not, be it noted, that any laws have been passed; that it's even being talked about is enough.

NGOs in Israel enjoy freedoms which would be inconceivable under any dictatorship. That, of course, is one major reason why the BBC website tells us more about Israeli human rights abuses, real or otherwise, than those of any of the world's dictatorships (than all of the world's dictatorships put together, is the impression I often get). Every time anyone in B'Tselem blows their nose a BBC stringer is on hand with tape recorder running.

Israel is also remarkably tolerant of international NGOs coming to the country to pursue anti-Israel political agendas. Sometimes somebody is refused admission and headlines are made, but these are exceptions that prove the rule. I've written a lot about the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, a Christian Aid partner and in effect a training programme for anti-Israel propagandists. Their volunteers may face some hurdles in getting into Israel, but get in they do.

So whilst a retreat from this openness would certainly be cause for concern, it would also be comprehensible. It would be directly related to the way Israel's openness has been abused by NGOs like Christian Aid, the way they take the soft option of giving democratic Israel a hard time whilst mutely bending the knee to tyrants.

Here's a reminder of how much open scrutiny of their human rights Israel's enemies tolerate. Simple but effective: if you're going to do something unpleasant, make sure no journalists are watching. True, you might not be able to suppress the story completely. But there won't be any tear-jerking eyewitness accounts or any of those pictures that speak a thousand words. Obviously it also helps that because you're Hamas you can rely on the Beeb to insert a sideswipe at Israel by way of "balance".

So where was Christian Aid when Hamas were bulldozing poor people's shacks?

From just across the border comes another recent story, taking us back to that booming economy that's won Israel a seat at the OECD. A reminder of who's benefitting and who isn't - and why.

It's only a privileged minority of the human race that can afford to turn up its noses at a thousand dollars a month for picking coriander, even if it comes at the slight risk of falling victim to a rocket attack. It's good money in Thailand and it's good money in Gaza. It's certainly more than enough to ensure you won't need to look to Christian Aid to provide your next meal.

And it's money that used to flow into the Gazan economy. Until?

'But until the start of the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, in 2000 when Israel tightened the border, thousands of Gazans used to travel daily through Erez to work on Israeli farms.'

Those smooth euphemisms for the campaign of mass murder directed at Israel's civilian population. Of course Israel turned off the flow of potential suicide bombers. What country on earth would not have done so? And now the Thais are doing the jobs Israelis won't do while Gaza has 40% unemployment. It's called shooting yourself in the foot - or it is if you think that the foot and the finger on the trigger have the same owner. If, that is, you count Hamas as the legitimate democratic representatives of the people of Gaza. What do you say, Mr Bell?

1 comment:

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Well, of course in this case the finger on the trigger belongs to Hamas' fat cats, while the foot is that of Gazan unemployed.

Still, the unemployed seem to be in tune with the trigger handlers, so there is not a lot could be done and not a lot to be expected soon.