Monday, August 27, 2007

Charities: Politics by other means

Another high-profile NGO, another political controversy. This time its a charity, War on Want, long known for its ties to the British left. According to this week's Jewish Chronicle, WoW has 'unveiled plans for a worldwide anti-Israel boycott.' It continues:
'A document, described as “a guide for boycott, divestment and sanctions”, appears on the War on Want website, and as a booklet, laying out a strategy for those planning sanctions against the Jewish state. MPs have called on the Charity Commission to investigate the publication, described as “a handbook of hate” by Jewish Leadership Council chief executive Jeremy Newmark.It suggests that the boycott movement needs to “gain greater popular support” in order “to grow into a truly global movement”.'
Dolphinarium refrains from taking any position on the Middle East conflict except to say that the campaign for a boycott of Israeli academics seems wrong-headed and counterproductive.
But what this blog does find concerning is the growing trend for charities to involve themselves in overtly political matters.
There are a number of problems with this.
First and most obvious, it is not what charities are for. They are philanthropic organisations, not political pressures groups. This is how the general public perceives their purpose and that is how they justify their own existence; their good works. Money raised from the public which is then spent on political campaigning is arguably money raised on false pretences.
Second; charitable executives are unelected and unaccountable to the electorate.
Third; being perceived as philanthropic organisations, charities are the repositories of enormous public goodwill. This is being cynically abused when they use their privileged positions for political purposes.
Fourth; the suspicion arises that charities are only performing good works in exchange for political influence, that altruism is not their primary motivation.
Fifth; charities' influence in politics is not sufficiently transparent. They already have plenty of scope to exert their influence on public policy - there are some 2,800 NGOs with consultative status at the UN - with the added benefit that large sections of the electorate are ignorant of their activities.
Sixth; the are legitimate concerns that wealthy individuals and interests will buy political influence by means of charitable donation. This aquatic creature comments that we'd already had enough of this sort of thing in political parties.
Regretably this trend seems likely to increase. Ed Miliband, minister for the voluntary sector, recently proposed that the rules governing charities be relaxed to allow political campaigning to be their dominant activity.
Since there is remarkably little that can be done about this sort of thing, this blog suggests that people be a little bit more questioning before they slip their money into the collection tins.


Blogger Renegade Eye said...

I'm against an unfocused boycott of Israel. It potentially can hurt Israeli leftists and the working class.

I would regard differently, if a union refused to ship arms. That would be different.

An open ended boycott; No.

8/28/2007 10:43 PM  
Blogger ModernityBlog said...

well argued case Maria,

on the boycott, it is already has proven troublesome for the UCU, as it is weak when negotiating.

It is not fully represent academic staff, activists and Jewish academics who otherwise might have bolstered the UCU, when it is fighting on the issues of basic pay and conditions, have neither left the trade union or feel stigmatised over this issue and don't wish to participate.

Talk about an own goal.

so the boycott, apart from doing nothing for Palestinians, is a bit of gesture politics for white middle-class Europeans and it is weakening the UCU

the employers must be laughing about this,

it's very sad and necessary

if they had flipped it around and argued for direct solidarity between Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists then that would have been a positive move and beneficial to all, but as it is the boycott, or proposed boycott, is utterly divisive

8/30/2007 12:56 PM  
Blogger Red Maria said...

Yes, I think that's true, Modders. Of course the other obvious point is why isn't the UCU isn't calling for an academic boycott of say, China.

8/30/2007 4:42 PM  

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