The decision taken in April 2011 by British members of the Religious Society of Friends – or Quakers, as they are perhaps better known – to officially join the BDS movement and engage in the boycotting of goods originating in certain parts of Israel brought the need for examination of this group’s activities into clearer focus. For several years, some British bloggers have been publicly asking for explanations regarding repeated incidents of the hiring out of Quaker-owned facilities in London and elsewhere in the UK to extremist groups with a less than pacifist ethos. Others have wondered at some of the funding decisions made by Quaker charities such as the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. A look inside the world of the Friends is, therefore, perhaps long overdue.
Several of the organisations which have received funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust over the last few years are familiar actors in the assault upon Israel’s legitimacy. They include ‘War on Want‘ (which actively promoted Ben White’s book “Israeli Apartheid- a Beginner’s Guide), the Oxford Research Group and its offshoot organisation the Oxford Peace Research Trust (which feature such figures as Tony Klug, Azzam Tamimi and Gabrielle Rifkind), the Nobel Women’s Initiative (which includes flotilla participant Mairead Maguire), Christian Peacemaker Teams (at least one member of which took part in the recent ‘flytilla’) and the Network of Christian Peace Organisations which includes Pax Christi, the Methodist Peace fellowship and Ekklesia. The Israeli organisation ‘New Profile’, which solicits and encourages Israeli youth to break the law of their country by encouraging and enabling draft dodging supposedly on the grounds of ‘conscientious objection’ was also a Rowntree grantee in 2007 and has further ties to both UK and US Quaker organisations.
Perhaps one of the more dubious funding decisions taken by the Rowntree Trust was its June 2007 award of a £45,000 grant spread over three years to Alastair Crooke’s ‘Conflicts Forum’, which includes on its board Ismail Patel of ‘Friends of Al Aqsa’, Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi and Moazzam Begg of ‘Cageprisoners’. In July 2010 a second grant of £40,000 over 24 months was awarded and in addition to that, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust appeared to be very proud to announce that ‘Conflicts Forum’ had been selected as the recipient of a “special peace grant”.
Conflicts Forum’s director Alastair Crooke is a staunch supporter of the current Iranian and Syrian regimes as well as a supporter of and mouthpiece for Hizbollah and Hamas. In 2007 – perhaps with the aid of the Rowntree funding, although it was also being funded by the EU at the time – ‘Conflicts Forum’ produced a report (worth reading in full) detailing a public relations campaign to rebrand the proscribed terrorist groups Hamas and Hizbollah in the West as proponents of “social justice”.
At first glance it may appear incongruous for a Quaker charity to be involved in the generous funding of an organisation which supports and legitimises some of the world’s most repressive regimes. Logic would seemingly dictate that the pacifist Quakers would be among the first to express horror at the indiscriminate murder of unarmed Iranian and Syrian civilians seeking political change by the armed forces of their own governments. It may also appear difficult to reconcile Quaker pacifism with the giving of repeated grants to an organisation such as Conflicts Forum which openly supports heavily armed terrorist groups which have murdered hundreds of unarmed civilians.
So how did these repeated grants make their way from the Rowntree Trust to a selection of organisations engaged in lending material or moral support to such obviously non-pacifist causes?
Whilst the inner workings of the grant-giving Trustees of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust remain an enigma, a clue may lie in the fact that one member of the five person (four of whom are also Trustees) “Peace Committee” which awarded the “special peace grant” to Conflicts Forum is a Quaker named Michael Eccles. Mr Eccles currently works at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham where he is a tutor, particularly of young adult Quakers, and is involved in the Quaker Peace and Social Witness programme. He also worked with an organisation called ‘Responding to Conflict’ as its Middle East programme coordinator. Prior to that, however, Eccles held a fairly senior role as regional coordinator at the charity ‘Islamic Relief Worldwide’ (IRW). In May 2006 his colleague and subordinate, the IRW representative in Gaza, Iyaz Ali of Shipley, near Bradford, was deported from Israel.
“Incriminating files were found on Ali’s computer, including documents that attested to the organization’s ties with illegal Hamas funds abroad (in the UK and in Saudi Arabia) and in Nablus. Also found were photographs of swastikas superimposed on IDF symbols, of senior Nazi German officials, of Osama Bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as well as many photographs of Hamas military activities.”
“The IRW was established in 1984 in the British city of Birmingham. It has branches in Gaza and Ramallah. The IRW provides support and assistance to Hamas’s infrastructure. The IRW’s activities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip are carried out by social welfare organizations controlled and staffed by Hamas operatives. The intensive activities of these associations are designed to further Hamas’s ideology among the Palestinian population.”
IRW has been identified as a member of the ‘Union of Good’ – the Muslim Brotherhood’s umbrella organization involved in fundraising for Hamas and its terrorist activities which is headed by the notoriously homophobic and anti-Semitic cleric Yussuf Qaradawi and which was banned in Israel in 2002 and designated a terrorist organization by the USA in 2008. Some of the IRW’s British Trustees are known members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Strangely, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust appears to have seen fit to make a man who worked for such a controversial body for five years partly responsible for the allocation of large sums of money to so-called ‘peace’ organizations. Not so strange is the resulting fact that a supposedly pacifist Quaker charity then repeatedly allocates grants to an outfit such as Conflicts Forum which supports terrorist organizations and whitewashes repressive human rights-abusing regimes.
However, the Quakers’ selective pacifism and terrorist denial does not end with the granting of financial gifts. The Quaker Council for European Affairs, which sits in Brussels, produced a frankly stunning report in 2007 entitled “Effective Counter-Terrorism”. This report really does need to be read in full for the magnitude of its dangerous mix of naivety combined with unquestioned faux axioms to be appreciated.
One might assume that such a report would be compiled by some sort of expert in the field, seeing as it proffers recommendations to the EU on subjects such as intelligence and security. But no; it was in fact written by one of the QCEA’s program assistants (interns) and edited by the joint representative (co-director) of the organization, Liz Scurfield. Ms Scurfield is actually an expert in Chinese language by profession and the intern, Matthew Taylor, was barely a couple of years out of university when he penned this report. Nevertheless, apparently both consider themselves adequately informed and the opinions of lay persons of the Quaker faith across Europe ( with whom they consulted in the preparation of the report) sufficiently weighty to be able to produce a document issuing recommendations to the security services and the EU parliament.
This act of rather barefaced self-aggrandizement takes on even more worrying proportions when one takes into account that one of the activities of the QCEA is to lobby EU MEPs – something Ms Scurfield engages in herself – and that reports and papers emanating from the QCEA are instrumental in forming policy for Quaker groups throughout Europe. Liz Scurfield and her colleague Martina Weitch also attend events such as United Nations meetings in their capacity as QCEA representatives and issue briefings designed to influence EU decision-making on the subject of the Middle East.