Report accuses federal Gaza donor program of including charities with alleged terror links

Watchdog accuses charities included in the Canadian government’s donation-matching program of having links to proscribed terror organizations

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An Israel-based charity watchdog is accusing several charities included in the Canadian government’s recent donation-matching program for Palestinian relief of having links to proscribed terror organizations.

Announced Oct. 27, the program facilitated by Global Affairs Canada, matched donations to the Humanitarian Coalition’s Gaza Humanitarian Emergency Appeal made between Oct. 7 to Nov. 12, up to a maximum of $10 million. The coalition is a group comprising 12 separate Canadian aid agencies.

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“Canada has strong procedures and oversight in place to ensure aid reaches innocent civilians and prevent it from going into the hands of Hamas,” said a Global Affairs statement announcing the donation-matching program.

The Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, however, has released a report accusing four prominent charities included in the coalition of either having links to terror groups or of partnering locally with organizations linked to groups listed in Canada as terrorists.

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All four Canadian charities named in the report deny NGO Monitor’s allegations that they have direct or indirect links to terror groups. In addition, the Humanitarian Coalition said all its members must adhere to its core values of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence.

“It’s the obligation of the Government of Canada, before providing the funding, to make sure the due diligence is done, whether the government does it of the recipient does it,” said NGO Monitor president and founder Gerald Steinberg.

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“The government of Canada completely neglects, as has been the case for a number of years, the need for oversight and ensuring that mechanisms are not just on paper, but (are) implemented.”

Supporting humanitarian aid in Hamas-controlled Gaza, Steinberg said, is little different than supporting it in other parts of the world where terror groups are active.

“It’s not trivial to meet both objectives simultaneously — to provide humanitarian aid and also ensure it doesn’t go to terrorist groups,” he said.

“It requires a significant degree of due diligence, oversight mechanisms and frameworks.”

Last week, Humanitarian Coalition announced that $13.7 million had been raised from donors between Oct. 27 and Nov. 12, and that the government had matched that amount.

The four charities named in NGO Monitor’s report are World Vision, Islamic Relief Canada, Save The Children and CARE. They all refute NGO Monitor’s allegations. NGO Monitor’s work has in the past been criticized by some third parties who have said its research is politically driven.

In the case of World Vision, NGO Monitor highlighted the conviction last year in Israel of the charity’s former program manager, Mohammad El-Halabi, for diverting US$48 million of donations to Hamas. World Vision has maintained El-Halabi is innocent and has not been active in Gaza since his 2016 arrest, although it continues to operate in the West Bank. His case is currently under appeal.

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“Mohammad has not set foot in Gaza for nearly eight years, and World Vision has not worked in Gaza or funded work there since June 2016,” the statement read.

“Since Mohammad was first detained in 2016, we have seen no meaningful evidence that would cause us to question his innocence and outside observers, including the United Nations, agree.”

In naming Islamic Relief Canada (IR Canada), the NGO Monitor report notes that the charity is an affiliate of Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW), which was banned by Israel a decade ago for alleged ties to Hamas.

IRW, based in England, is not banned outside of Israel. However, a 2020 statement by the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism noted IRW leaders were spreading antisemitism and raised concerns about IRW’s charitable status.

“The consistent pattern of spreading the most vile anti-Semitic vitriol by IRW’s leadership causes us to question the core values of the organization,” it said.

Islamic Relief Canada said in a statement it has rigorous checks in place to ensure aid goes directly to people in need and denies any allegations that it has links to Hamas or other designated terrorist groups.

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“In the last 15 years, Islamic Relief projects globally have undergone 500+ internal and external audits of our global programmes in more than 40 countries — including more than 25 in the Occupied Palestinian Territory alone,” it said.

“Not one of these has found any evidence that Islamic Relief funds went to support any designated entities of any kind, and serve as a testament to the integrity and quality of the organization’s work.”

The group said it has been challenging Israel’s ban for nine years in Israeli courts and said it has not seen any credible evidence to justify the ban.

“Islamic Relief Canada believes the allegations put forth by NGO-Monitor are part and parcel of a wider problem of misinformation that legitimate organizations too often face in carrying out their vital humanitarian mission,” Islamic Relief Canada said in its statement.

“We believe these claims are opportunistic and are being amplified in the context of the current geopolitical climate.”

The NGO Monitor report also names the anti-poverty group CARE Canada as one of the groups that participated in the Humanitarian Coalition matching program assisted by Global Affairs Canada.

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The report said CARE provided funding to three local Palestinian organizations with alleged ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP): the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Health Work Committee, and Abdel Shafi Community Health Association. The first two are alleged by NGO Monitor to be arms of the PFLP, while it says the community health association was founded by senior PFLP members.

PFLP is banned in Canada as a terrorist group and its armed wing has taken credit for assisting in Hamas’s October attack in Israel. 

A CARE Canada spokesperson said all partner agencies in Gaza and the West Bank are subject to review.

“CARE is committed to meeting the significant humanitarian needs of the civilian populations in Gaza and the West Bank, while maintaining a robust compliance program to ensure adherence to relevant laws and the aims of our humanitarian activities,” CARE said in the statement.

“It is CARE International’s policy to not finance or support terrorism or terrorist acts.”

The NGO Monitor allegations against Save the Children rely on its links to sponsoring a 2018 teacher-training workshop at Dar al Huda kindergarten in Gaza. The kindergarten was later exposed for holding “graduation” ceremonies for children that included simulating attacks against Israelis.

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“Children wore headbands representing the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group,” the NGO Monitor report said.

The charity denies it supports the kindergarten and said its partner agencies undergo rigorous vetting and must submit to transparent accounting rules or they are suspended.

“Save the Children does not support the Dar al Huda kindergarten in any way, and as far as we are aware no teachers from this nursery have attended our teacher training sessions,” it said in a statement.

Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Geneviève Tremblay said established mechanisms are in place to ensure donated money doesn’t fall into the hands of terrorists, including Hamas and the PFLP.

“Given the inherent challenges in delivering humanitarian assistance, including (that) partners are working in dynamic, heightened risk environments such as Gaza and the West Bank, Canada only works with experienced humanitarian partners to deliver life-saving assistance,” she said.

These safeguards, she said, include screening, ongoing oversight including site visits, and funding agreements with strong anti-terrorism language.

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“This also extends to local implementers,” she added.

Richard Morgan, executive director of Humanitarian Coalition, said that its partners will only work with groups that ensure funds are used for relief.

“It must be emphasized that members of the Humanitarian Coalition do not provide aid directly to governments or the local authorities regardless of where they operate,” he said.

“They work with trusted humanitarian partners on the ground, United Nations agencies, and other multilateral partners to ensure that funds are spent solely on humanitarian initiatives and to avoid duplication of efforts.”

Aurel Braun, professor of international relations at the University of Toronto, told the National Post that the need for charities to remain transparent and clean of illegal connections is paramount.

“If you look at these four organizations, somebody might say the connection is not that straightforward, it’s a connection that seems to be tenuous or casual,” he said.

“But if you are a human rights organization, you have an obligation not to have casual contact with terrorist groups. You have to maintain your credibility.”

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“If you donate money, if you become engaged with an institution, then you also need to assume your responsibility.”

In 2014, Ottawa declared that the Palestinian-aid charity, the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy (IRFAN-Canada), was a terrorist group. In addition to revoking its status, the government declared the group illegal and banned it from raising money or operating in Canada.

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