AusAid, Apheda and BDS – Part 2

AusAid
Senator Eric Abetz

Sharyn Mittelman

An article in last month’s AIR entitled “Are Australian Tax Dollars indirectly funding BDS?” looked at revelations from the October 2010 Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee – Budget Supplementary Estimates Committee hearings which suggested that it was possible that Australian tax dollars were funding elements of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel through the federal government’s international aid agency, AusAID.

The Committee hearing revealed that AusAID provides funding to Union Aid Abroad APHEDA. APHEDA is the overseas humanitarian aid agency of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and is known for promoting an anti-Israel agenda through its websites, one-sided ‘study tours’ of the Middle East, and its substantial funding of the Ma’an Development Centre, a Palestinian NGO which promotes BDS against Israel.

At the October 2010 Estimates hearings, Senator Eric Abetz (Tas. Lib) questioned AusAID on elements of its funding dispensed to APHEDA. Senator Abetz asked AusAID whether it funded organisations associated with BDS or the APHEDA ‘study tours’ to the Middle East. AusAID responded that “no AusAID or other Australian Development Assistance funds are provided to any groups for the BDS campaign” and that “AusAID does not provide any funding for the [APHEDA] study trips.” However, regarding Ma’an Development Centre AusAID conceded that while “AusAID does not directly fund Ma’an Development Centre… under the Australian Middle East NGO Cooperation Agreement (AMENCA) AusAID provides funding to Union Aid Abroad APHEDA.”

Senator Abetz returned to these issues at the 2 June 2011 Estimates hearings, eliciting yet more revelations. Abetz asked AusAID: “What are the safeguards in place that prevent AusAID funding being used by APHEDA or any of the other in a manner that contravenes Australian government policy on Israel? Let us just pluck an example out of the air like BDS?” AusAID replied simply: “We have no information that any of the NGOs we are supporting…are involved with that program.”

But Senator Abetz then pointed out to AusAID that “According to APHEDA’s annual reports all of APHEDA’s funds for Middle East projects originate from AusAID,” which would seem to imply that it must be AusAID’s tax dollars being given to the Ma’an Development Centre by APHEDA. In response, AusAID did not contest this claim, merely re-stating its position that no AusAID funds are contributed towards organisations that support BDS. The AusAID representative offered no concrete assurances that the Australian taxpayer money apparently being given to the Ma’an Development Centre via APHEDA is not being used for BDS activities.

As a result of Senator Abetz’s efforts, it now seems established as fact that AusAID is indirectly supporting the Ma’an Development Centre via APHEDA. Further, AusAID is apparently unable, to date, to provide concrete assurances that these monies are not going to fund the Ma’an Development Centre’s efforts to promote BDS.

When Senator Abetz asked: “if it established that APHEDA’s official position is to support the BDS campaign, would AusAID reconsider its funding of APHEDA?” AusAID replied “it would be the decision of the Minister to make if there were information that caused us to question the way in which Australian aid funds are being used.”

Given the information revealed in these hearings, there now seems ample reason to raise such questions about the AusAID funding to APHEDA. Given AusAID’s inability to provide adequate answers to Senator Abetz’s questions, the ball must now move to the court of Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, as AusAID implied. There is now a good basis for expecting a review of his department’s funding of APHEDA in light of these revelations and the fact that on 1 April 2011, Mr. Rudd assured Australians that his government “did not condone nor support any boycotts or sanctions against the Jewish state.”