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Sunday Telegraph attack on anti-poverty charity a 'complete fabrication'

April 4, 2016 at 1:34 pm

Claims published over the weekend by the Sunday Telegraph that the UK government “pulled” funding for War on Want (WoW) in response to its Palestine solidarity activities have been described as a “complete fabrication” by the anti-poverty charity.

The article, ‘Charity backing anti-Israel rallies has state cash pulled’, reported that the government had “ceased funding” WoW. According to correspondent Andrew Gilligan, the charity has “sponsored events accused of promoting hatred and violence against Jews.”

The report claims that WoW received £260,000 from the Department for International Development (DFID) over the last two years. According to a DFID spokesperson cited by Gilligan, the department “has ceased funding of War on Want.” Tellingly, there was no mention of timing or causality.

On Sunday morning, the charity issued a statement, dismissing the story as a “complete fabrication”, in the words of executive director John Hilary.

War on Want has not sought any UK government support for its operations for a number of years now, so it is absurd to suggest that we have had our funding ‘pulled’. The insinuation that we have been criticised by the government for standing up for the rights of the Palestinian people is equally bogus. We will be contacting the Telegraph to help it set the record straight.

I spoke to Hilary, who elaborated on the public statement. “War on Want used to apply for DFID grants to support partners in various countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America”, he told me. “The grants came from the Civil Society Challenge Fund, which was closed to new applications in 2012.”

“We haven’t submitted any grant applications to DFID for several years now, which is why it is absurd to suggest that we have had our funding ‘pulled’ by the government.”

Hilary added: “It’s like saying that we have been turned down from racing in the Grand National, when we haven’t asked to be in it.”

WoW’s annual report and accounts for 2014-‘15, openly available on its website, shows £65,380 of DFID grant money in 2015, and £196,101 in 2014. This reflects the fact that the funding WoW received was for multiple years at a time, with the charity progressively spending down the final parts of the grants awarded prior to the Civil Society Challenge Fund’s closure in 2012.

In other words, the core contention of the article is a complete fiction.

But that’s not all. While much of the piece is taken with accounts of a single Israeli Apartheid Week event in February, Gilligan shoehorns into his report a recording of American journalist and author Max Blumenthal speaking at the LSE Student Union on March 5.

This, however, was not a WoW event at all, but a conference on Palestine organised by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS); Gilligan does not clarify this (despite the fact that FOSIS is a past target of Gilligan’s ‘investigations’).

According to Gilligan, Blumenthal “praised a 2014 massacre carried out by ‘commandos’ of Hamas’s armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, against Nahal Oz, a kibbutz and army base near the Gaza border.” The Jewish Chronicle yesterday reduced this to Blumenthal having “praised a massacre at a kibbutz carried out by Hamas.”

This so-called ‘massacre’ refers to an attack on an army guard tower during ‘Operation Protective Edge’ that killed five Israeli soldiers. In the words of Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, it was “clear” that the Hamas fighters “had planned to storm the position from the start and were not en route to the nearby kibbutz to massacre civilians.”

Asked for comment, Max Blumenthal told me: “Andrew Gilligan’s claim that I ‘praised a massacre’ is completely false. I have contacted lawyers in London to investigate potential claims for defamation.”

Gilligan clearly takes his readers for idiots, and it’s not just the breathless talk of “undercover recordings” – at a public meeting. The central claim, that the UK government had cut funding to WoW in response to events two months ago, is untenable for anyone who knows anything about how central government works, or how charities apply for and receive major grants.

Despite the fact that the Sunday Telegraph piece was complete nonsense, it was too hard to resist for many. Those gleefully sharing it on Sunday included the Israeli ambassador to Colombia, UK-based lobby groups Conservative Friends of Israel and We Believe in Israel, as well as Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Jonathan Schanzer and Oren Kessler.

Some went further, drawing conclusions that even the article, clumsy as it was, did not make. Journalist Matthew Kalman claimed that Max Blumenthal had helped WoW lose funding, while the chief spokesperson for the Israeli embassy in London, Yiftah Curiel, took the prize for his tweet, which literally got everything wrong (it has not yet been deleted or corrected).

Israeli news site Ynet also misrepresented the article, claiming that the UK government “officially ended its funding after the Telegraph, a British newspaper, released secret recordings of the group’s activities”; if only, many will think, the wheels of a Whitehall department turned that efficiently.

Pro-Israel advocacy groups could not resist the opportunity; NGO Monitor hailed the news as “an important first step”, while the UK-based Israel Advocacy Movement took credit for the non-existent victory that had struck “a huge blow to War on Want.”

This farcical episode comes in the context of a recent upsurge in attacks on Palestine solidarity campaigners in the UK. Note also that Gilligan links his article’s subject matter to Israeli Apartheid Week at Oxford University and “the row about anti-Semitism within Labour.”

Presumably, Gilligan does not just go on Google and find random subjects for his ‘exposes’. The only suggestion in the article itself about who might have provided the (duff) information is a reference to Jewish Human Rights Watch, a pro-Israel group that began life by targeting WoW.

Meanwhile, a pro-Israel blogger, David Collier, stated in a Facebook discussion Sunday that he had “got wind” of Gilligan’s piece two days prior to publication. Collier himself was at the WoW-sponsored Israeli Apartheid Week event at SOAS, and he also attended another WoW event in Kent.

Whatever combination of Gilligan’s imagination and pro-Israel activists’ ‘secret recordings’ produced the Sunday Telegraph article, it serves as a helpful illustration of the lengths to which apologists for Israel will go to undermine the work of those, including charities and human rights groups, who support the Palestinian people’s rights.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.