Board of Deputies’ amateurish spinning of “dialogue” with Oxfam

In their ‘Community Briefing’ dated 15 August, the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) led with an item titled “Board takes Oxfam to task”. The wording was later changed for the website, after I had pointed out that the original version (still viewable here) hardly sounded conducive to ‘dialogue’.

In their account of the meeting, the BoD said that with regards to Israel’s “security concerns” and the Gaza blockade, Oxfam GB had made “significant efforts” to “clarify its position” on its website since the last meeting with the Board.

Claiming that Oxfam “pledged to work with the community on clarifying the set of parameters that are used to make partnership decisions”, the BoD said they hope to work with the charity to turn “receptiveness” into “concrete changes”.

I asked Oxfam’s Regional Director for Middle East, Eastern Europe, Commonwealth of Independent States Olga Ghazaryan, one of the meeting’s participants, for clarification on some of the points made by BoD in their account.

Ghazaryan told me that in the last meeting with the BoD, they “discovered that there are ‘myths’ and misconceptions about Oxfam’s views on a number of issues”, and that they had subsequently published a statement on “peace, the Gaza blockade, settlements”, and how the charity works.

The BoD did not link to this statement, in which Oxfam stated it sees Israel’s blockade of Gaza as an illegal policy of “collective punishment”, and West Bank settlements as “causing poverty and suffering” for Palestinians through the confiscation of “land for housing, roads, infrastructure and cultivation” – all “under the protection of the Israeli army”. Oxfam also support the “recommendations of the 2004 ICJ Advisory Opinion” which deemed the Separation Wall illegal.

I also asked Ghazaryan about this apparent ‘pledge’ to work with the BoD on clarifying parameters for partnership decisions. Affirming that Oxfam partner “with organisations that share our values even if we do not have to agree on everything”, Ghazaryan said that “the ‘pledge’ as it was described was to clarify how partnership decisions are made so that they are better understood”. She added that “no changes or consultations on this are planned”.

Coincidentally, the BoD met with Oxfam GB just a few days after right-wing pressure group NGO Monitor – an organisation happy to smear human rights defenders with incorrect translations – renewed its attacks on Oxfam for helping to “demonize Israel”. That’s the same NGO Monitor cited by Israel’s supporters during their failed attempts to pressure the Church of England to reject support for EAPPI.

All of which makes one wonder whether Britain’s Ambassador Matthew Gould had the BoD in mind when he recently took a side-swipe at those who think Israel’s image problem is down to ineffective hasbara, as opposed to policies that breach human rights and international law.


Ben White

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Ben White is a freelance journalist, writer and activist, specialising in Palestine/Israel. His articles have been widely published in the likes of The Guardian‘s Comment is free, Al Jazeera, Electronic Intifada, New Statesman, and many others. He is the author of ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ (2009, Pluto Press) and ‘Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination & Democracy’ (2012, Pluto Press). Ben is a researcher/writer for the Journal of Palestine Studies.