Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Week - Distorted Vision

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The indictment of Mohammed El-Halabi, the Gaza head of aid organisation World Vision, on charges of funnelling millions of dollars to Hamas, used to build terror tunnels and buy weapons, was widely reported in the Australian media.

SBS TV "World News" report (Aug. 5) included footage of heavily armed and hooded Hamas fighters in terror tunnels and marching down Gaza's streets. Reporter Gareth Boreham noted that Hamas is "considered the de facto government in Gaza" and "is designated a terrorist organisation by many countries, including Australia."

In contrast and as per usual, Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill's report on ABC TV (Aug. 5) avoided showing Hamas and implied it was just another group in Gaza. She did, however, remind viewers that, "more than two-thirds of Gazans rely on aid as they struggle to recover from three recent wars and a crippling Israeli blockade," showing footage of destroyed buildings and a World Vision advert. Nice.

McNeill didn't even bother paying lip service to the fact that Egypt enforces a blockade on Gaza also. Moreover, the actual number of Palestinians relying on aid is unknown. A recent SBS TV "Dateline" report on Gaza claimed it was 50 per cent, while NGO Oxfam says it is 80 per cent.

Herald Sun columnist Rita Panahi (Aug. 8) wrote of the allegations that Hamas members "abduct, torture and execute their political rivals and condemn the Palestinian people to a life of misery, oppression and economic disadvantage. The terrorist group executes men in the street, sometimes in front of crowds including children, on trumped-up charges of collaborating with Israel. The group is committed to the destruction of Israel."

She noted that the arrest came only days after the New York Times had reported that images of children on the West Bank were used for World Vision fund raising purposes but the children themselves did not actually receive any aid.

In an opinion piece on the Australian's website (Aug. 6), AIJAC's Colin Rubenstein wrote, "Hamas is notorious for taking building materials meant for hospitals, schools and civilian infrastructure and using them to construct underground tunnel networks extending into Israeli population centres for the sole purpose of launching attacks."

He noted that in May, Israeli spokesperson Dore Gold claimed that only five or six sacks of cement "out of every 100...are transferred to civilians", with the rest being diverted by Hamas for military purposes.

The Australian editorialised (Aug. 8) that "it would be hard to imagine a more egregious betrayal of trust than for money donated to a charity in good faith to end up serving the cause of murderous terrorists who concentrate on killing innocent civilians."

World Vision Australia CEO Tim Costello was widely quoted backing the organisation's independent auditors who have previously found no discrepancies.

Of course World Vision's auditors wouldn't be the first to have been duped. In February, Victorian Liberal Party State Director Damian Mantach pled guilty to embezzling approximately $1.5 million from the party. The accounting firm KPMG had looked at over-spending during Liberal campaigns and failed to uncover the fraud.

- Allon Lee