TEL AVIV – “If Australian money was spent on building [Hamas terror] tunnels, that is beyond the pale,” Australian MP Michael Danby said Sunday.
Danby, a veteran of the opposition Labor party, was invited by NGO Monitor to Jerusalem to address the recent World Vision scandal.
Australia recently suspended aid to the humanitarian evangelical Christian group World Vision, amid charges by Israel that the charity’s head in Gaza, Muhammad Halabi, was an undercover Hamas operative who had diverted millions of dollars of funds to the terror group for the purposes of attacks against Israel.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said in August that the allegations were “deeply troubling” and it was halting all funds to the charity “for programs in the Palestinian Territories until the investigation is complete.”
The DFAT spokesman said that the charity received approximately $4.35 million over the past three fiscal years for the provision of aid in the Palestinian territories “intended for humanitarian and development assistance to the Palestinian community.”
“Any diversion of the generous support of the Australian and international community for military or terrorist purposes by Hamas is to be deplored and can only harm the Palestinian people,” the spokesman said.
Danby stressed that while “we support foreign aid,” there is a need for “transparency and openness” by aid groups like World Vision. He added that the indictment was troubling in that one-third of funds was being funneled directly to Hamas’ armed wing.
“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 told the Jerusalem Press Club.
The Labor MP quoted German parliamentarian Volker Beck who told the German Bundestag that if World Vision money had been re-siphoned by Hamas this “massively damages the trust necessary for aid work for the people of Gaza.”
In August, Germany also indefinitely suspended funding to World Vision pending the investigation.
Danby noted that Australia designated Hamas as a terror group and therefore it “should not get tax funds.”
Danby added that he had held encouraging discussions with World Vision which demonstrated “good signs” that it would renounce the actions if Israel’s allegations turned out to be true.
The aid group is expected to begin a forensic investigation on Monday.
President of NGO Monitor Gerald Steinberg said that while “the indictment raises major questions about World Vision” the scandal is not unique and happens in many other aid organizations.
Steinberg charged that UN programs including its development arm UNDP and the Palestinian refugee agency UNWRA were guilty of not doing enough due diligence to find out whether aid money was being siphoned by Hamas.
Steinberg said the same was true for private humanitarian aid groups like Oxfam and Save the Children.
According to Steinberg, aid organizations “close their eyes to the other half of the equation here [rockets and attack tunnels]” and instead focus exclusively on “the suffering of the people of Gaza.”