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Friday, June 7, 2002
AUSTRALIA FINANCIAL REV: NGOs -- Propaganda vs. humanitarianism


Propaganda has taken over from humanitarianism


The term “non-governmental organization” (NGO) usually evokes images
of altruism and compassion, particularly among the anti-globalization crowd
that believes that states, and the politicians who run them, are flawed and
their actions need to be tempered. NGOs are supposed to speak up for the
weak and drowntrodden, and to promote the rights of individual and

In this spirit, tens of thousands of NGOs have sprung up,
concentrating on environmental issues, human rights, humanitarian relief,
and campaigns against dangerous weapons such as landmines and small arms.
These groups are well funded, and use their generous budgets to promote
themselves and their causes. The largest and richest NGOs, such as
Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam have
become well-known brand names, and the major figures in these groups are
more powerful than many government officials.

At the same time, in many cases, these organizations have
themselves added to injustice and duplicity, particularly in the Middle
East. Like the United Nations and its affiliate, UNRWA, prominent NGOs
have become captured by the pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel lobby. These
organizations played a major role in last year’s infamous Durban
conference last year that was supposed to fight racism but ended up
contributing to hatred of Israel and anti-Semitism. Similarly, the myths
of the “Jenin massacre” were propelled by NGOs such as Human Rights Watch,
Amnesty International, Oxfam, Physicians for Human Rights (the list is
much longer) and their biased and unverified reports were picked up and
repeated by the media.

To make matters worse, much of the funding for these
“non-governmental” organizations actually comes from governments. Large
allocations from income generated by government taxes is provided to NGOs,
supposedly for “humanitarian” projects, allowing politicians and officials
to promote their private agendas through the back door. The practice is
widespread in Europe, Australia and Canada as a means of increasing
visibility and impact in the UN and international organizations, while
also advancing the careers of the politicians involved. The European
Union spends as much as fifteen percent of its total budget in support for
NGOs, and prominent organizations have budgets of hundreds of millions of

Most of these groups operate with an even more appalling lack of
transparency and accountability than the governments that they criticize
for precisely these failings. The tens of millions of dollars spent on
projects funneled through NGOs and labeled simply and ambiguously as
“humanitarian aid projects” or “peace support” do not receive the scrutiny
of direct spending by government ministries. The results are rarely
subject to external evaluation, and the annual allocations keep flowing,
regardless of whether there is any impact. In the Middle East, huge
amounts of international humanitarian aid to the Palestinian refugees has
failed to provide any change in the situation, and most of the money has

In addition, this generous government funding supports numerous
anti-Israel propaganda groups that masquerade as NGOs, including Human
Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Oxfam International, with an
annual budget of $AU720 million, has launched a massive campaign urging
condemnation of Israel for “gross violations of international humanitarian
law”. The Australian affiliate, known as Community Aid Abroad, receives
21 percent of its funding from the Australian government for projects in
the Palestinian refugee camps. While claiming to be a “humanitarian
organization”, CAA, like other groups working under Arafat’s jurisdiction,
turned a blind eye to the recruitment, training, and dispatch of suicide

In their emotional appeal, Oxfam’s leaders note that “Our partners …in
Ramallah and other towns have confirmed the horrific situation we are all
witnessing on our televisions: grave breaches of humanitarian law,
including: the targeting of medical personnel, denial of medical care to
the injured and chronically ill; actual and threatened violence against
clearly-identified staff of the Red Cross, Palestinian Red Crescent
Society and the UN..” etc. The list is quite long, and filled with many
eyewitness reports.

A cursory examination reveals that CAA’s eager propagandists have chosen
to ignore the long history of entirely unreliable (i.e., false) reports
designed to delegitimate Israel, as well as the background of the brutal
Palestinian terrorist campaign that led to the Israeli response. To
refer to Oxfam and its partners in trendy Israel-bashing as “humanitarian”
organizations makes a mockery of the term. These false claims also
undermine those apolitical and less publicized groups that actually
provide humanitarian services instead of politics and ideology.

These examples serve to illustrate the hidden political and ideological
agendas of the NGOs. Their halos are growing very thin, and their
activities around the world are coming under greater scrutiny,
particularly in the highly propagandized realm of Middle East politics.
Like the entire United Nations system, with which these organizations work
very closely to promote and protect each other, the role of NGOs needs
urgent and total reform.

Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg
Director, Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation
Political Studies, Bar Ilan University
Ramat Gan, Israel
Tel: 972-54890445, Fax: 972-3-5357931,

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