UK charity warned about anti-Israel campaign

War on Want, a London-based charity focused on "fighting global poverty," chastized for abusing its status with highly politicized campaigns that demonize Israel.

war on want 224.88 (photo credit: Screenshot)
war on want 224.88
(photo credit: Screenshot)
The British NGO War on Want has been warned by the Charity Commission for deviating from its mission in a pro-Palestinian campaign. In the last few years, War on Want, a London-based charity focused on "fighting global poverty," has campaigned to remove the West Bank security barrier; called for sanctions against Israel and the annulment of the Jewish state's trade deal with European Union, the EU-Israel Association Agreement; and accused Israel of carrying out a "campaign of apartheid." The registered charity also blames Israel for the poverty in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and calls for a boycott of organizations that "profit from the occupation." Following a number of complaints to the commission, including one from Teresa Villiers, the Conservative Party's shadow secretary of state for transport, alleging the charity was abusing its status with highly politicized campaigns that demonize Israel, the regulatory body said it had reminded War on Want about its obligations as a registered charity. "The Charity Commission has taken these concerns very seriously and we have addressed these issues with the trustees of War on Want," the commission wrote to a London-based lawyer who had complained about the pro-Palestinian campaign. The commission said it had received assurances from the NGO's trustees that they would review their strategy and not violate their remit as a charity. "We have reminded the trustees that a charity may only engage in campaigning and political activity which is directly related to its charitable purposes. In addition, the Charity Commission has gained written assurances from the trustees that they will review their strategy on a political campaigning and consult with us before pursuing further controversial campaigns, in order to ensure that they do not exceed the restrictions on political activity by charities," the letter read. The Charity Commission also promised to continue to monitor War on Want's work. The London-based lawyer, who preferred to remain anonymous, told The Jerusalem Post: "If anything there is a move to liberalize the extent to which charities can engage in political activity, provided it is in furtherance of legitimate charitable aims. This response by the Charity Commission suggests that they share the serious concerns conveyed to them by a number of complainants." Gavin Gross, a London Jewish community member who also complained to the commission, said: "While it's encouraging that the Charity Commission has warned War on Want about its controversial campaigns, it remains to be seen whether they will change their actions in future. War on Want bills itself as 'fighting global poverty' but much of their efforts are spent on anti-Israeli political campaigns. Potential donors who actually care about eradicating poverty should contemplate this before giving them any money." Speaking to the Post, John Hilary, executive director of War on Want, denied that the charity's trustees had provided written assurances that they would review their strategy and consult with the commission on future campaigns. "We are fully aware of the Charity Commission guidelines on campaigning and political activity and will continue to keep complying with the guidelines and will continue to work to end the poverty and humanitarian crisis facing the Palestinian people," he said. "The Charity Commission has issued an unprecedented warning, and this an important step towards ending War on Want's central role in spreading hatred of Israel and exploiting humanitarian objectives," said Gerald Steinberg, executive director of Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor. "The use of charitable funds to actively promote racism and discriminatory boycotts, as in the case of the UCU [University and College Union], is fundamentally immoral, and fuels the Arab-Israeli conflict. Perhaps now, the contributors to this charity will encourage the leaders to use this money for positive goals, rather than for private radical ideologies." War on Want is supporting the "60 years of Nakba" demonstration calling for "an end of the siege on Gaza, the right of return and an end to Israeli occupation" in central London next month. In the charity's April mailing, War on Want asked its members to "mark 60 years of injustice, poverty and the abuse of Palestinian rights" by joining them in London's Trafalgar Square on May 10. "This year marks not only the 60th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel, but also the violent removal of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes that made it possible. Over the course of 1948 and 1949, 13,000 Palestinians were murdered and 400 villages were destroyed," the mailing said.