Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA does essential 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 aim of the Zionist mainstream against any assistance to the occupied Palestinians.
During a recent parliamentary committee in Canberra, Liberal Senator Eric Abetz asked AusAIDwhat exactly it was backing in the Middle East.
There’s no problem with such questions in theory but the aim was twofold: do the Zionist lobby’s bidding and attempt to demonise any kind of support for Palestinians; and frame Israel as a benevolent power in Palestine.
A recent report from the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), stated:
At the October 2010 Estimates hearings, Senator Eric Abetz questioned AusAID on elements of its funding dispensed to APHEDA. Senator Abetz asked AusAID whether it funded organisations associated with BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] 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.”
APHEDA released a statement clearly explaining that, “no AusAID funds or resources are used to support campaigning by MA'AN or APHEDA.” AIJAC apparently doesn’t understand the concept of independent Palestinian organisers making independent decisions about policies without Australian NGO or government direction.
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.
Again, AIJAC fails to understand the realities in Palestine itself. Officially Australia claims to be opposed to the illegal colonies in the West Bank but also states its opposition to the BDS movement. These are inherently contradictory positions on the ground because there are no Palestinian groups of importance that aren’t engaged in some kind of political or economic opposition to creeping settlement expansion. In other words, AIJAC is calling for the severing of assistance to all Palestinian groups because they dare to protest against the illegal colonies.
The Gillard government has thus far avoided tackling this question, simply calling BDS “nuts” but offering no alternative to a non-existent peace process in the region.
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.”
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About the Author
Antony Loewenstein is a freelance journalist, author and blogger. He has written for the Sydney Morning Herald, Haaretz, The Guardian, Washington Post, Znet, Counterpunch and many other publications. He contributed a major chapter in the 2004 best seller, Not Happy, John!. He is author of the best-selling book My Israel Question, released in August 2006 by Melbourne University Publishing and re-published in 2009 in an updated edition. The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. His 2008 book is The Blogging Revolution on the internet in repressive regimes. His website is at http://antonyloewenstein.com/ and he can be contacted at email@example.com.