Every year since 1985, the British charity Comic Relief has held a high-profile fundraising telethon called Red Nose Day. Since its creation, Comic Relief has raised £800 million from mass public donations and corporate sponsors, which has gone to over 15,000 different charitable projects based both in the UK and abroad. On 15th March, the 2013 Red Nose Day telethon will distribute more millions of pounds. Does all this money go to reputable causes?
The most serious problem with Red Nose Day is that the public, whose donations are then matched by the UK government, have no idea where the money will go. Donations are kept by Comic Relief and then distributed, in the form of grants, to a list of charities not finalized until months after the event. At the time of the telethon, most of the public donate in the name of charitable good, and not to any particular project. We can, however, get some idea of where the money goes by looking at the past recipients of Comic Relief funds.
War on Want, for example, is a leading British charity that has received just under £1.5 million of Comic Relief's funds. It has also obtained just under half a million pounds from the European Commission and about £160,000 from the British Government. The stated aims of War on Want include the promise "to relieve global poverty however caused through working in partnership with people throughout the world." Such a claim suggests a forward-thinking organization that acts in the interest of progress and prosperity; regrettably, the opposite is true.
War on Want is known for its stridently anti-Israel views. The charity has been criticized by many individuals and organisations, including British cabinet minister Teresa Villiers MP as well as the watchdog group NGO Monitor, which issued a report that concluded:
War on Want is an extremely politicised NGO which actively promotes the Durban Strategy and uses anti-Semitic themes to attack Israel. Given WoW's extensive political campaigning and lobbying efforts, its one-sided approach to the conflict that ignores Palestinian terrorism, and the recurring investigations by the Charity Commission, funding from the EU and UK to this NGO is highly problematic.
In 2010, War on Want produced a list of recommended books for its supporters. War on Want's Executive Director, John Hilary, explained:
One of our volunteers asked us the other day to recommend key books for someone wanting to learn more about Palestine. For anyone seeking a first guide, Ben White's Israeli Apartheid (Pluto Press, 2009) gives a good overview and set of sources.
Ben White is the author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide. He has previously written in defence of Iranian President Ahmedinejad against claims of Holocaust Denial and anti-Semitism. Further, in an article entitled, Is It "Possible" to Understand the Rise in "Anti-Semitism"?, published on extremist website CounterPunch, White linked the rise of anti-Semitism with "the widespread bias and subservience to the Israeli cause in the Western media." He concluded, "I do not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are."
Hilary also encouraged campaigners to read Shlomo Sand's book, The Invention of the Jewish People, which posits that the Jews, as a single collectivity, do not exist.
Further, War on Want openly supported a tour organized by the British Committee for Universities for Palestine, which brought extremist Bongani Masuku to speak at a number of British Universities. The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) found Masuku to have wilfully incited violence between different student groups on campus.
Hilary has blamed Jews for criticizing War on Want, claiming that investigations into War on Want's activities were "part of an ongoing strategy by an organised pro-Israeli lobby and the Jewish press." In the past, Hilary has been happy to work with the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC), an extremist Islamist group that was condemned by both the National Union of Students and a Parliamentary committee for publishing anti-Semitic materials. The founder of MPAC, Asghar Bukhari, notoriously provided financial support to the Holocaust denier David Irving.
The misuse of Comic Relief funds is not limited just to War on Want. For grants under £10,000 there is another layer of separation between the public and the charities. With this extra layer of separation comes an extra layer of unaccountability. Comic Relief entrusts another charity, the Community Foundation Network, to distribute the smaller grants.
In 2012, just under £10,000 was given to the Muslim Women's Association of Edinburgh [MWAE], an Islamist group that has supported the jihadist Syed Talha Ahsan, who was extradited to the USA in 2012 on charges of providing material support to the Taliban and the Chechen Mujahideen.
The MWAE has organized an "Islamophobia Awareness Conference" for next month, which it is promoting on its website. The proposed speakers include:
- Inayat Banglawala, a radical Islamist who circulated the writings of the "freedom fighter" Osama bin Laden a few months before 9/11, and who described Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, a jihadist imprisoned for planning to set off bombs in New York, as "courageous";
- Yvonne Ridley, an Islamist convert who founded the pro-Hamas group Viva Palestina with pro-Assad politician, George Galloway MP. Viva Palestina notoriously handed over bundles of cash to Palestinian terror group Hamas on a Viva Palestina convoy to Gaza;
- Eddi Truman, the co-founder of Islamophobia Watch, an organization with a long history of attacking anti-Islamist Muslims and defending extremist groups;
Comic Relief has also given £4,500 to Worthing Islamic Social and Welfare Society, a local community organization whose website promotes the works of Abul Ala Maududi, founder of the violent Bangladeshi Islamist group Jamaat-e-Islami. The Society also promotes publications of the Muslim Education Trust, including a pamphlet written by Ibrahim Hewitt, entitled What Does Islam Say?, which advocates the death penalty for apostates and adulterers and demands that homosexuals suffer "severe punishments" for their "great sin." Further, the Society offers books by Turkish cult leader and Holocaust Denier Harun Yahya as well as Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf Al Qaradawi.
Many other charities, such as the Irish Catholic anti-Israel charity, Trocaire, receive millions of pounds from the well-meaning public, who are unaware that their funds will be used for highly politicized activities. Trocaire has been accused of an anti-Semitic obsession because of its long-standing demonization of Israel. The charity's Palestine co-ordinator, Gary Walsh, is the former National Coordinator of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC). The IPSC has a long history of supporting Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah -- Raymond Deane, IPSC chairman, described Hezbollah's murderous and unprovoked attack on Israeli soldiers in 2006 as "perfectly legitimate".
Comic Relief's Red Nose Day is the most high profile of all the fundraising events in Britain. Almost everyone, from the Prime Minister to leading television actors, is involved. There is a basic assumption of trust between a generous public and the receiving charitable projects, especially when the British government matches the donations. The exploitation of good-intentions by politicized charities should be investigated, exposed and stopped so that those charitable projects of genuine benefit will not be sacrificed for those with extremist agendas.