The NGO campaign against Israel

Western NGOs routinely violate all pretense of neutrality when they get into Israel-bashing mode. Why do they do it? Old fashioned bigotry is part of it, but it may also be a psychological release related to the real tyrannies whose crimes they ignore

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Dexter Van Zile
On 25 November 2015 06:44

What is it with the staffers of humanitarian aid organizations who work on issues related to the Middle East? Do they really care about their ability to work effectively and maintain good relations with Israeli officials?

Or are they so hostile toward the Jewish state that they cannot maintain even a façade of politesse and neutrality? It’s been a problem for years. 

The most obvious example of this phenomenon is UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness. Gunness recently attacked UN Watch for highlighting the antisemitic internet postings of Palestinians who work for UNRWA. After UN Watch drew attention to the problem, Gunness asked his supporters for information about the organization’s funding.

Eventually UNRWA was forced to admit that some of their employees had in fact violated the diplomatic neutrality rules imposed on UN employees. UN Watch was right, Gunness was wrong.

If Gunness was a true professional, he would have done his job, looked into the accusations right away and then reported his findings. Instead, he tried to shoot the messenger. This sends a terrible message to Israeli citizens who are the targets of antisemitic Facebook rants of UNRWA employees.

Another example of the tendency of humanitarian officials harassing the Jewish state is Tom Getman, a former official with World Vision, a Christian charity. A few years back Getman referred to Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, a violent and antisemitic terrorist organization, as “a friend.” This is an odd word to use to describe a guy who has stated that he someday wants to destroy all the Jews in the world once they all gather in Israel.

Getman called Nasrallah a “friend” years after he left the payroll of World Vision, but when Getman worked as policy director for the organization he once submitted written testimony in court over a custody battle between a woman who took her children out of Israel (without her ex-husband’s permission), and the ex-husband who still lived in Israel.

In the case, which took place during the Second Intifada, Getman told the court that Israel was an unsafe place for children to grow up. “I believe it would be unwise for Jewish children to return to Israel at this time if they have an alternative option,” he wrote. It’s a pretty astonishing propaganda stunt for a World Vision official to engage in.

Also, during the Second Intifada, Getman penned a reflection in which he wrote: “It is being suggested by several journalists that a purposed ethnic cleansing is the last gasping effort of a dying Zionist vision in order to sign a death warrant to a parallel viable Palestinian state.” Here was a guy working for a child welfare charity assailing the legitimacy of the one state in the Middle East where children are the safest.

Getman had no problem exhibiting his contempt for Israel, which is kind of odd given that he worked for a public charity that ostensibly needed good relations with the Jewish state to do its job in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Apparently, humanitarian officials can dump on Israel without damaging the effectiveness of the organizations they lead.

Jeremy Moodey, leader of the British charity Embrace the Middle East is another example of this phenomenon of humanitarian officials beating up on Israel. Moodey’s organization operates in Israel and the West Bank, but that doesn’t stop him from suggesting that Jews should be chided and condemned for rejecting Jesus as the Messiah.

Attitudes like this got Harvard scholar John Strugnell removed from his post as a translator of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1990, but Moodey’s polemics against Israel, which indicate that only God’s curses and not His promises to the Jews endure, have not seemed to have hindered his ability to work in the Jewish state.

Another recent example of the phenomenon of NGO humanitarian staffers dumping on Israel with no pretense of neutrality is Blake Selzer.

I first became aware of Selzer’s existence when he sent a nasty tweet my way. I had said something on Twitter about the BDS movement painting a target on the backs of Jews and he said my logic was asinine. It was a pretty disagreeable introduction to Selzer.

It did not take much effort to discover that Selzer works for CARE International in Jordan. He is charged with helping refugees who are fleeing Syria’s civil war. For its part, CARE’s press office says Selzer’s public statements do no necessarily reflect the opinions of the organization.

Interestingly enough, if you look at Selzer’s Twitter feed and Facebook page you will find very little criticism of the terrible acts of violence that have forced millions of people to leave Syria. He wrote an article about his work here.

Judging from his social media profiles, Slelzer is no critic of ISIS or the Assad regime, the two actors responsible for the refugee crisis he was hired to ameliorate. Maybe Selzer has to stay quiet about human rights abusers in Syria, no matter how badly they behave.

There’s a phrase to describe this type of behavior on the part of humanitarian officials. It’s called “fieldcraft.”

In a landmark essay titled “Humanitarianism Unbound,” published in 1994, Alex de Waal revealed that oftentimes aid officials make compromises with abusive governments and regimes just to maintain access to the populations they are trying to help. De Waal writes: “A field officer will be required to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in order to protect the agency’s program, becoming a silent witness.”

The problem is that behaving in such a manner disqualifies one from engaging in true human rights activism, where consistency is required for credibility. Fieldcraft, de Waal writes, “makes a mockery of any avowal of human rights.”

Selzer, who is so quiet when it comes to abuses in Syria, is a ferocious critic of, you guessed, Israel. Again, take a look at his Twitter feed and Facebook page for yourself to find out. He really has it in for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Selzer once gave an interview about the evils of Israel to Iran’s PressTV. Iran, most readers know, is a patron of the Assad regime that has perpetrated so many evil acts against the Syrian people.

“Field craft” goes along way toward explaining why humanitarian aid officials stay quiet about Assad and ISIS.

But why the vitriol toward Israel?

Here’s my guess: Seeing, but not being able to talk about the people who are ultimately responsible for all that suffering in Muslim and Arab countries in the Middle East takes a toll on people emotionally. Israel bashing helps take the heat off.

Rene Girard has written extensively on how people who are confronted with a crisis they cannot fix will direct their rage at a convenient scapegoat to achieve some measure of peace. For humanitarian staffers confronted with the intractable problems of Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East, Israel fits the bill.

So the next time you bang your thumb with a hammer, blame Israel. All the cool kids do it...

Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA)

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