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Expert: World Vision/Hamas Scandal Shows Need for NGOs to Have Greater Transparency

The announcement last week by Israeli authorities that the top Gaza official of the Christian charity World Vision was being charged with funneling aid money to the terrorist group Hamas has highlighted the need for NGOs operating in terror-controlled areas to have “transparency, accountability and detailed guidelines,” Gerald Steinberg argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed (Google link) on Thursday.

Steinberg, the president of NGO Monitor, a watchdog group that documents the behavior of NGOs operating in Israel and the Palestinian territories, pointed out that there is no way to independently verify World Vision’s claims of innocence or bamboozlement. “The annual reports of the Jerusalem-West Bank-Gaza (JWG) branch of World Vision fail to specify a separate budget for operations in Gaza alone,” Steinberg wrote, “making it impossible to independently verify these assertions.” And even though the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers audits World Vision’s books annually, “no international auditing firm can independently track funds in terror enclaves,” Steinberg argued. For example, cash transactions would likely not have receipts, and even if receipts existed, there would be no way to ascertain their authenticity. It is for this reason that the governments of Australia and Germany have frozen their contributions to World Vision after the allegations emerged.

World Vision and other NGOs must ensure that they are “detaching [themselves] from the pressures and sympathies of the local environment,” Steinberg wrote. World Vision has often “promoted the Palestinian cause” while funding groups “active in demonizing Israel and promoting boycotts.”

This is reflected in the charity’s fundraising literature, in which “the brutality of Palestinian terrorism is erased while images of victimization are highlighted.” Inconvenient facts such as Palestinian corruption, or even Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, are omitted.

“World Vision’s troubles in Gaza reflect the broader moral failures of the humanitarian-aid industry,” he wrote.

The narrow vision of aid workers contribute to a willful blindness to terrorism. The competition for publicity and donations results in alliances with brutal regimes and corrupt warlords. But thanks to the NGO “halo effect,” many donors also neglect due diligence, instead relying on the pure reputation of the recipient organization.

Steinberg offered several solutions, including stronger vetting of local employees, better cooperation with Israeli security organizations, and forbidding cash payments, which are a “direct path to corruption and diversion to terror.” And if NGOs don’t adopt the necessary measures to ensure that donations don’t end up in the hands of terrorists, then the governments that fund the NGOs fund them must take action.

Since the World Vision scandal came to light last week, two more aid organizations operating in Gaza—Save the Children and UNRWA—have been accused of having employees who diverted resources to Hamas.

[Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90 ]