Australian Zionist lobby wants no aid money for Palestinians

Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA does wonderful work in many corners of the globe. But its focus in Palestine has caused the local Israel lobby to pressure the Australian government to sever ties to the group. This isn’t likely but once again highlights the toxic nature of the Zionist mainstream on decency and morality.

During a recent parliamentary committee in Canberra, Liberal Senator Eric Abetz – who sees to love Israel more than his own children – asked AusAID what exactly it is backing in the Middle East. There’s no problem with such questions in theory but the aim is to a) do the Zionist lobby’s bidding and attempt to demonise any kind of support for Palestinians and b) frame Israel as a benevolent power in Palestine. Here’s the lobby’s AIJAC report:

At the October 2010 Estimates hearings, Senator Eric Abetz (Tas. Lib) questioned AusAID on elements of its funding dispensed to APHEDA. Senator Abetz asked AusAID whether it funded organisations associated with BDS or the APHEDA ”˜study tours’ to the Middle East. AusAID responded that “no AusAID or other Australian Development Assistance funds are provided to any groups for the BDS campaign” and that “AusAID does not provide any funding for the [APHEDA] study trips.” However, regarding Ma’an Development Centre AusAID conceded that while “AusAID does not directly fund Ma’an Development Centre… under the Australian Middle East NGO Cooperation Agreement (AMENCA) AusAID provides funding to Union Aid Abroad APHEDA.”

Senator Abetz returned to these issues at the 2 June 2011 Estimates hearings, eliciting yet more revelations. Abetz asked AusAID: “What are the safeguards in place that prevent AusAID funding being used by APHEDA or any of the other in a manner that contravenes Australian government policy on Israel? Let us just pluck an example out of the air like BDS?” AusAID replied simply: “We have no information that any of the NGOs we are supporting…are involved with that program.”

But Senator Abetz then pointed out to AusAID that “According to APHEDA’s annual reports all of APHEDA’s funds for Middle East projects originate from AusAID,” which would seem to imply that it must be AusAID’s tax dollars being given to the Ma’an Development Centre by APHEDA. In response, AusAID did not contest this claim, merely re-stating its position that no AusAID funds are contributed towards organisations that support BDS. The AusAID representative offered no concrete assurances that the Australian taxpayer money apparently being given to the Ma’an Development Centre via APHEDA is not being used for BDS activities.

As a result of Senator Abetz’s efforts, it now seems established as fact that AusAID is indirectly supporting the Ma’an Development Centre via APHEDA. Further, AusAID is apparently unable, to date, to provide concrete assurances that these monies are not going to fund the Ma’an Development Centre’s efforts to promote BDS.

When Senator Abetz asked: “if it established that APHEDA’s official position is to support the BDS campaign, would AusAID reconsider its funding of APHEDA?” AusAID replied “it would be the decision of the Minister to make if there were information that caused us to question the way in which Australian aid funds are being used.”

Given the information revealed in these hearings, there now seems ample reason to raise such questions about the AusAID funding to APHEDA. Given AusAID’s inability to provide adequate answers to Senator Abetz’s questions, the ball must now move to the court of Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, as AusAID implied. There is now a good basis for expecting a review of his department’s funding of APHEDA in light of these revelations and the fact that on 1 April 2011, Mr. Rudd assured Australians that his government “did not condone nor support any boycotts or sanctions against the Jewish state.”

Where to begin? It is interesting how the other three Australian NGOs (CARE, World Vision and Actionaid) did not get questioned and odd also how their Palestinian partner NGOs – like just about every Palestinian… NGO – have equally… signed up to the 2005 BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] call, yet it is the APHEDA partner that gets singled out.

I’ve been told for years by APHEDA staff that the Australian Workers Union’s Paul Howes and his Zionist lieutenants are upset that any major union would seriously challenge Israel and they work continuously to bully both APHEDA and its Labor Party-aligned backers to stop campaigning so strongly for Palestine. In this they have failed. But it won’t stop them trying. It is ironic in the extreme that a union that claims to care for workers and human rights spends time defending Israel, a nation that actively oppresses Palestinian workers under occupation. Principle has nothing to do with this position.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd is always… quoting the fact that Australia has “greatly” increased aid to the Palestinians to $56m in 2011-12 and the important activities the aid is doing. However, he uses this “fact” to erroneously answer questions about Australia’s support of Palestinian aspirations (statehood, refugee right of return, end the occupation, human rights etc)… for peace. In a political conflict such as this, providing aid is only half the answer; it must also be coupled with… the insistence that Israel comply with relevant international, humanitarian law. The Australian government is silent on law enforcement against its great friend and ally.

Following the ripple effect of the Marrickville BDS campaign and the success of APHEDA study tours (which take unionists and others across the West Bank and Gaza and not just hear Zionist talking points), there is growing scrutiny in Parliament on AusAID’s Palestine program. It’s tragic that Palestine, with the least resources available to it and under siege, has to answer for the world’s ills and people’s petty prejudices.

APHEDA’s Middle East project officer Lisa Arnold tells me: “Gaza is a man-made disaster of more than five times the scale of the Indian Ocean tsunami; it’s just that the deaths… and… destruction… occur over the course of decades, not minutes.”

The reality remains that APHEDA operates vitally important programs across Palestine – a few years ago I visited one of its programs at Gaza’s only rehabilitation hospital – and the Zionist lobby with its corporate and media mates should not be allowed to threaten this life-line to a people under occupation.