NGO Monitor Analysis (Vol. 1 No. 11) 4 August 2003
Israeli goods produced in the Occupied Territories: The position of Oxfam-Solidarity in Belgium
NGO Monitor, Vol.1 No. 9, exposed a poster produced by Oxfam Belgium, in both Flemish and French, calling on Belgium consumers to boycott Israeli products, declaring 'Israeli fruits have a bitter taste.' Blood was featured dripping from an Israeli fruit.
Following publication in NGO Monitor, and the active involvement of the Simon Weisenthal Center and a number of other organizations, Oxfam Belgium issued an apology for the offensive poster and withdrew it from circulation.
On July 22, 2003, however, a new call appeared as the main item on Oxfam Belgium's website, together with 15 other Belgian NGO's, 'not to stock products from the Occupied Territories and on consumers also not to buy these goods…. our call concerns only agricultural products grown by Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories and exported by Israel to the European Union…. our aim is to express our opposition to the policy of the Israeli Government towards the Palestinians which upholds occupation of their territory.'
Not much has changed. The highly politicized tone of the poster has remained in place, only in a watered-down form in a letter. Oxfam is continuing its deliberate policy of presenting an unbalanced picture of the Arab-Israeli conflict and displays a large degree of 'selective morality.' Although the letter includes a condemnation of Palestinian suicide bombings against Israeli citizens, Oxfam only deems fit to recommend sanctions against Israel. Israel's counter-terror operations led Oxfam to lobby the European Union to change the status of its diplomatic relations with Israel. On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority's support of terror, in Oxfam's point of view, warrants no such sanctions. Furthermore, the use of a boycott is highly unusual, and suggests that Oxfam, like other NGOs, has singled out Israel for special and entirely disproportionate treatment.
Most importantly, there is no accountability mechanism that can stop an organization such as Oxfam to repeat such a politicized and ideological campaign. This is despite the fact that it is clear that an economic campaign to prevent the export of Israeli fruits is well beyond the scope and mandate of an organization that was founded and is funded to ease worldwide poverty.