by Yonah Jeremy Bob
“If Australian money was spent on building [Hamas attack] tunnels, that is beyond the pale,” Australian MP Michael Danby said Sunday with reference to the recent World Vision scandal at a Jerusalem Press Club and NGO Monitor-sponsored event.
“Hamas is a terror group and should not get tax funds," says Australian MP.
When Danby, a senior member of the opposition Labor party on foreign affairs and with 18 years in parliament under his belt, weighs in on an issue, he often draws attention, including from top governmental ministers.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) announced in August that Hamas had infiltrated World Vision and redirected tens of millions of dollars – 60 percent – of the organization’s budget to its “military” wing.
The World Vision organization, which operates in 100 countries and employs 46,000 people, fell victim to a complex Hamas takeover scheme, a senior Shin Bet source said, adding that Hamas’s armed wing stole $7.2 million a year from the budget, which was supposed to pay for food, humanitarian assistance, and aid programs for disabled children, and channeled the funds to buy weapons, build attack tunnels and direct toward other preparations for war with Israel.
The Shin Bet source named Gazan civil engineer Muhammad Halabi, who has been heading World Vision’s Gaza branch, as the terrorist group’s operative who infiltrated the charity in 2005, and is now under indictment at the Beersheba District Court.
Danby stressed that “we support foreign aid,” and that there are many well-meaning people at World Vision, “but we need transparency and openness.”
“If the allegations are true, it would be terrible not just against the Palestinian recipients of aid, but also against donor countries – we want the aid to get to the people that matter,” he stated.
He also noted that: “Hamas is a terror group and should not get tax funds” with Australia’s parliament having, on a bipartisan basis, officially designated Hamas’s military wing as a terrorist organization.
He said he “found the indictment as publicly reported troubling,” citing one-third of payments going to the armed wing of Hamas, including naval and attack tunnel capabilities.
Danby did say that he had “good discussions in Israel and with World Vision,” who he said showed “good signs” by expressing concern and openly repudiating such actions if they turn out to be true.
Noting World Vision would be starting a forensic audit on Monday, he said he expected the organization would ask hard questions, especially concerning the fishermen aid project: “are there boats or are there Hamas outfits and frogmen outfits? Is there fishing gear?” NGO Monitor President Gerald Steinberg also discussed the implications of the World Vision scandal, saying “the indictment raises major questions about World Vision, but the problems are not unique; it’s generic, it happens” in many other aid organizations.
He implied that UNDP (which also has an employee under indictment for aiding Hamas), UNRWA, and private humanitarian aid organizations like Oxfam and Save the Children also do not do sufficient homework on how much of their aid is taken by Hamas.
Steinberg said the aid groups do not ask the hard questions about their aid, or how to assess what happens to it once projects are implemented. They “close their eyes to the other half of the equation here [rockets and attack tunnels]” and instead focus solely on “the suffering of the people of Gaza.”
He also slammed a World Vision critique of accusations against it in which the group said that its total budget was lower than the amount of money it was accused of having allowed to slip to Hamas.
Pressed about whether the organization would prevent Hamas from taking its aid if it spent more time and resources on trying to police how the aid is directed, both Danby and Steinberg admitted this was not necessarily realistic.
However, Steinberg said that he wanted to see World Vision’s level of concern over these issues move from “zero” to “fifty/fifty.” And Danby said that after a potential indictment “the bar has to be lifted.”
Yonah Jeremy Bob
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