BBC News report on Hamas infiltration of a charity downplays UK angle

The story of an international charity allegedly having been infiltrated by a terrorist organisation was covered by the BBC News website in a rather short-lived report which appeared on its Middle East page on August 4th and 5th under the headline “Israel: World Vision Gaza boss diverted cash to Hamas“.World Vision art

The report opens: [emphasis added]

“Israel has charged the Gaza head of an international charity with diverting millions of dollars of foreign funds to the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The Shin Bet security service said about 60% of all funds sent to Gaza by the World Vision charity was being diverted to the Islamist movement.

It said Hamas recruited the charity’s head of Gaza operations, Mohammed Halabi, more than a decade ago.”

Readers have to proceed to paragraph seven in order to learn about the obviously very relevant topic of Hamas’ terrorist designation and readers of the original version of the report were told that:

“Israel and a number of other countries consider Hamas a terrorist group.”

Some three hours later that sentence was amended:

“Hamas is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US, EU, and UK among other countries.”

The BBC report states:

“World Vision said it had no reason to believe the allegations were true.

It said it carried out regular audits of its Gaza programmes and was “shocked” by the charges.

“We will carefully review any evidence presented to us and will take appropriate actions based on that evidence,” a statement said.”

Readers are not informed that World Vision International has been registered as a church in the US since 2007 meaning that its reporting obligations to the tax authorities there are different from those of 501 c 3 registered non-profit organisations.

The BBC report goes on to amplify a predictable statement from the terrorist organization concerned:

“A Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said the group had “no connection to [Mr Halabi] and therefore, all Israeli accusations are void and aim to suppress our people,” Reuters news agency reported.”

From the point of view of the BBC’s funding public, perhaps the most remarkable feature of this report is its downplaying of the story’s British angle. Readers are informed that:

“The security service said these funds were used, amongst other things, for the digging of tunnels intended to be used for attacks on Israeli civilian communities, the building of military bases and for the purchase of weapons.

It said one base costing $80,000 was paid for in cash from UK donations.”DEC appeal on BBC

World Vision is one of the thirteen charities which make up the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). The DEC’s Gaza Crisis Appeal (which raised some £19 million) was broadcast on BBC channels in 2014 and the British government pledged matched funding for the first £2m raised. Whether or not the $80,000 used to construct Hamas’ military facility in Jabaliya came from donations to that DEC appeal is unclear but as Sir Eric Pickles recently noted:

“Worryingly, the UK – via the Department for International Development – reportedly gave £2 million to groups in Gaza in 2014, including World Vision, when they matched charitable contributions pound for pound made by well-meaning Brits to a Disaster Emergency Committee appeal. The Department has conceded that it cannot guarantee that British taxpayers money has not been given to Hamas.” 

Obviously this story will be of considerable interest to any media organisation intending to serve the British public interest by carrying out investigative reporting into the question of why legal safeguards appear to have failed the donating public and taxpayers – especially as the problem shows signs of being by no means limited to one NGO alone.

However, seeing as the BBC has over the last two years put considerable effort into persuading its audiences that the dire economic and social conditions in the Gaza Strip are primarily attributable to Israel – while serially ignoring Hamas’ abuse of its civilian population and misappropriation of resources intended to better their lives – it is perhaps unlikely that it will be found at the forefront of such investigative reporting. 

Related Articles:

BBC’s Matthew Price produces superficial report on charity audit

BBC amends article on DEC Gaza appeal concerns

BBC’s Matthew Price produces superficial report on charity audit

On December 12th the BBC News website published an article titled “Audit ‘clears Islamic Relief’ of terror funding claim” by Matthew Price; the chief correspondent for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. In addition to appearing on the website’s UK page, the article was also posted on the Middle East page where it remained for three consecutive days.Islamic Relief art

The article opens by informing readers that:

“Britain’s biggest Islamic charity says an audit of its activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has found no evidence to support accusations it has funded terrorism.”

In the next paragraph readers learn that the audit was commissioned by the organization itself.

“Islamic Relief Worldwide denied claims made first by Israel and later the United Arab Emirates and hired leading auditors to review its West Bank work.”

Further along readers also learn that the public is not being informed which company carried out the audit, although it is obviously a very efficient one because it managed to carry out the work “in a few days”.

“It [Islamic Relief] says the audit, carried out over a few days in September this year, shows “absolutely no evidence” of any link to terrorism.” […]

“The charity is not publicly saying which company they paid to do the audit – but they do say it is a leading global audit firm.

Islamic Relief says because of what it calls the “sensitivities in the region” it has agreed with that firm not to identify it.”

Although the BBC report does not relate to the topic of the publication of the report, we learn from Reuters that it too will be kept from the public view.

“Islamic Relief has not named the ‘leading global audit firm’ which carried out the investigation or published the audit because of what it calls “sensitivities in the region” and the need to ensure people’s safety.”

Via the charity itself we also discover that “a number of major stakeholders” have been given access to the audit, one of which we can conclude from the BBC’s report is the DEC

“The Disasters Emergency Committee, which brings together 13 leading UK charities to deal with acute crises, said in a written statement that it “has considered the independent audit report which reviewed Islamic Relief’s operations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.

It added: “We are satisfied that Islamic Relief has robust systems in place to ensure aid money is properly accounted for and spent appropriately. The DEC is not aware of any evidence that Islamic Relief has used aid funds inappropriately in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” “

Matthew Price refrains from informing readers that the chief executive of Islamic Relief Worldwide, Mohammed Ashmawey, also sits on the DEC board of trustees.

Price does however inform BBC audiences that:

“Israel has not responded so far.” […]

“Neither the Ministry of Defence in Israel nor the Israeli embassy in London would comment on the report.”

Reuters journalists apparently put a little more effort into getting an official Israeli response:  

“A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London said on Friday that Israel stood by its designation of Islamic Relief as an “unlawful association” and repeated a previous statement that the charity funnelled millions of dollars a year to Hamas.”

So, to recap the story so far: a charity banned in Israel because of Hamas ties commissions and pays for an audit by an unidentified company which produces a report not made accessible to anyone other than a selected few chosen by the charity itself and, on the basis of the charity’s own interpretation of the unpublished findings, the BBC rushes to inform its audiences (on the same day that the charity puts out its press release) that the organization is above-board, implying that Israel’s reasoning for banning the charity is invalid.  

Clearly the BBC is remarkably unperturbed by the blatant lack of transparency displayed by Islamic Relief Worldwide. It also apparently lacks any journalistic curiosity with regard to the methodology used in this audit such as, for example, the critical questions of how the auditors chose to define “links to terrorism” and “funding terrorism”. As John Ware explained in an article from August of this year, the answers to those questions are far from obvious, but very important: an issue which clearly Matthew Price did not find cause for concern.

Related Articles:

BBC amends article on DEC Gaza appeal concerns