by Ted Honderich

This is a story of the carry-on of the charity Oxfam Great Britain and myself about a donation of £5,000 in royalties from a new book. That it involved various opinions in newspapers and the like has led me as the author of the book to want to tell the story according to my own lights, and of course the inside story. Do I go on too long and too personally? Indeed I do. Reading it again leaves me in no doubt at all.

So here is a brisk summary.

Philosopher publishes book about the moral state of the world after 9/11. In passing it asserts the moral right of the Palestinians to their terrorism against the ethnic cleansing of their homeland. Arrangement made with Oxfam GB about donation of £5,000 royalties from the book. Canadian newspaper with neo-Zionist inclination threatens Oxfam GB with story to the effect that it is taking money from a terrorist-sympathizer. After internal dispute in the charity, partly concerning the threatened loss of other donations if the £5,000 is accepted, the deputy director of the charity announces the donation will not be accepted. Another charity makes good use of the money. In Britain, newspaper comment is adverse to Oxfam, continuing into 2005 in The Times.

If the story below is a good deal longer, I have an excuse. It isn't every day that one is mauled by a sacred cow. Also, it is a story that issues in some judgements and questions about Oxfam G.B. that need a good basis. It is also a story exemplifies complexities in life, its fortuitousness. It ends happily, with the good sense of Medical Aid for Palestinians -- or happily except for the judgements and questions having to do with Oxfam G.B.

For another brisk summary, by the way, go to the very end of the long story here, to a report in The Guardian called 'Morals Maze'.



My book After the Terror is applied moral philosophy. It is moral philosophy applied to the world of which September 11 gave all of us new views. Some of these views, the commoner ones, are of a changed world. There are new possibilities of horrible events in it, maybe the beginning of an age of terrorism. America is now more vulnerable. Anyway Americans are. Other new views after September 11, different only in being sharper or more troubling or in giving rise to more apprehension, are of the same world as before, with certain old facts in it. After the Terror has more new views of the second kind in it.
The book's first chapter is one of several things mentioned in this story to which you can turn immediately by way of the link. As you will see if you want, the chapter is mainly a comparison between good lives in certain well-off countries, including  America and Britain,  and bad lives in four African countries, those of Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra  Leone and Zambia. The  comparison   has much to do with average lifetimes or  life-expectancies. Thus it has to do with half-lives, quarter-lives, children  dying under five, and a sample loss of 20,000,000 years of living time. These   are   all owed most relevantly to a lack of material means. In a word,   money  and the lack of it.

The differences between good lives and bad lives give rise to the book's main concern, which is our omissions as distinct from our acts -- our omissions as against our commissions, the first being in ways less intentional than the second. September 11 prompted the whole book. But it prompted thinking about more than the attack of that day and about our acts that were claimed by Osama bin Ladin to have given rise to it.

This larger concern was partly owed to the need to see the relative size of September 11 itself, and of any originating acts of ours. More importantly, the larger concern was owed to a desire to arrive at what you can call, if grandly, a true moral view of the world, and of our part in it, and of what to do now.

The given differences between good lives and bad lives and thus our omissions seemed the larger subject, and also less attended to and in a way more tractable than the subject of our acts or commissions. But our acts could not simply be left out. If they are recorded by the great moral judge of our age, Professor Noam Chomsky, and also by other acute judges, an example of them was needed in After the Terror . So the first chapter has a few pages at its end about our commissions as against omissions. The case of commission given is that of our support, particularly America's, for the violation of Palestine by neo-Zionism, the latter being intrusion into Palestine after 1967, beyond the previous borders of Israel. That this is a moral crime, as it is called, is supported in the main by population figures in different years for Jews and Palestinians.

Not all omissions are wrong or can possibly be. That we have omitted to improve life-expectancies in the African countries does not necessarily constitute a wrong. The second chapter of the book moves toward a consideration of the question. It does so by considering the natural fact and practice of morality. It is also the question of what clarified or worked-out morality should be brought to bear on the matter of our omissions. It defends what is called a morality of humanity, to the effect that we are obliged to take rational steps to save people from bad lives.

The third chapter asks, in terms of this morality, if we have in fact done wrong in our omissions, or to what extent we have done wrong. It concludes we have done awful wrong. The chapter proceeds in terms of the specific example of not contributing money to the charity Oxfam to save people from starvation, but instead going on a holiday in Venice. It considers and rejects ideas to the effect that omissions with the same effect or consequence as commissions or positive actions are less wrong.

The fourth chapter of the book condemns as a hideous and monstrous wrong the killings of September 11. It says, among other things, that not to have this reaction to the killings as wrong is to be disqualified from thinking about terrorism. The chapter sets out to explain this indubitable wrong, and does so not in terms of it being an attack on democracy or the like, our hirarchic democracy. It explains the wrong, rather, in terms of the morality of humanity, which includes a policy against violence, necessarily a qualified one, and a commitment to rationality.

The fifth and last chapter assigns us a share of moral responsibility for 11 September. The bad lives and our wrongful omissions, it says, were a necessary context for September 11. "For the 3,000 deaths there are lines of responsibility into the past, as real as chains of command, containing early and later perpetrators. ... We have to escape the long illusion that those of us who are ordinary are innocent." However, the chapter tends to excuse or justify our counter-attack in Afghanistan. It concludes that we must change our own awful societies, and their leaderships, as a first step to helping the badly-off elsewhere. It advocates mass civil disobedience.

There is also a page at the end of the last chapter that is given over to the lesser matter of our commissions as against our omissions.  It is  the page that gave rise to the history you are now reading. This page qualifies the book's strong and general condemnation of terrorism. It asserts, as a conclusion of the reasoning of the whole book, the moral right of the Palestinians to their particular campaigns of terrorism.        
It asserts this moral right partly by way of the consideration that it  is their only means of resisting ethnic cleansing and securing the great good of freedom in a homeland,  a good secured for itself by their enemy and struggled for by most of the  human race at some time or other. The right can also be asserted as a consistent  or   entailed response to Israel's assertion of a moral rights in its killings,  indeed in its state-terrorism by an uncontentious definition.

For a fuller summary of the book, you can turn to After the Terror: A Book and Further Thoughts, the current  version of a paper that has been read out in various places. The further thoughts have to do with argument left out of the book for the moral right of the Palestinians.

After the Terror was written quickly, and is as much of a moral and political act as a philosophy book. It would have been different and better, in terms of philosophy, if it had taken longer. But I have not the slightest inclination to retract or qualify its substantial propositions, most certainly not the secondary one about Palestine.

So much for the content of After the Terror. For  the purposes of this story and the judgements in which it issues, I now need to recount something else.


For much of my later life I have been a contributor to good causes. Monthly sums to Oxfam, if I remember rightly, and certainly to Amnesty, and to what was also a good cause once, the Labour Party. I have also responded to special appeals of Oxfam and the like, and surprised myself by giving £750 for a special Indian charity after a man came to the door. On selling my London flat a couple of years ago, I gave £5,000 to Amnesty International. Also, as had better be added, £5,000 to Ken Livingstone to encourage him to stand as a candidate for mayor of London.

I mention these facts not to improve my moral standing, for which they do very little, but for another purpose that will emerge. There  was nothing unprecedented about the idea of giving the royalties of After the Terror , starting with the advance of £5,000, to  Oxfam. I had been doing  that sort of thing. There was that general explanation. You do not have  much need of the addition of special explanations. Still, no doubt these do exist.

One is that the idea came to mind because of the example made so much of in the third and main chapter of the book -- the example of omitting to contribute to Oxfam and going on holiday to Venice instead. Spending money that way when Oxfam keeps making clear by appeals that keep coming through the door that human lives can actually be saved by a very little donation, just a fraction of the air fare to Venice.

It can probably be added, secondly, by way of special explanation, that it crossed my mind that the donation might save me from the full force of someone's suggestion that I was not living up to my book. I would have to admit the truth of the suggestion, of course, but I would have a little something to say for myself. It would not be so much as a fig leaf, but maybe a passing distraction.

Also, thirdly, my making a sizeable donation, sizeable in terms of my financial situation, might help to indicate that the argument of the book in my mind was a real one, that the judgements in it were serious, not more philosophical stuff to contend about in a seminar or chat about at a party. Rather, it was stuff on which to act.

It was very agreeable that Edinburgh University Press made itself my chosen publisher by proposing to join me in a way. Jackie Jones, ideal editor, said that Edinburgh University Press would contribute 1% of its net receipts on the hardback edition of the book to Oxfam. This was written into our contract. I am sorry if it has embarrassed them.

It occurred to me momentarily that we might follow a known practice and say on the book that the royalties were going to Oxfam. Might somebody buy one for that reason, think about its contents more? In fact the thought of putting the donation onto the book was rejected more or less immediately as something that could be regarded as authorially commercial or self-serving or pious or something of the sort. There is no indication at all about royalties in or on the book. I wish they had not been mentioned in a press release.
In August I got in touch with Oxfam, or more particularly Oxfam Great Britain. There are 12 national Oxfams, another of them being Oxfam Canada, that pretty much make up the reality of Oxfam International. It was arranged with Ms Helen O'Neill of Oxfam Great Britain that the £5,000 would be paid under the familiar arrangement whereby the charity also gets back the tax that has been paid by the donor on the income of £5,000 -- in this case roughly another £1,400. Ms O'Neill sent me my Confirmation of Gift Aid Declaration.

Edinburgh University Press would be sending the money straight to Oxfam Great Britain in the Banbury Road in Oxford. The emails from Oxfam about the matter carried an automatic line at the bottom. "We have the chance to lift millions out of poverty. Only one thing is missing -- you." Well, I wasn't covering myself with moral glory, but I wasn't actually missing.


After the Terror got off to a good start with reviewers. Saying so is not   preening, or not only preening, but also of definite relevance to what follows.

Erica Wagner of The Times wrote: "There are many kinds of books about September 11 ... picture books ... narrative ... the why rather than the what ... Then there is the problem of how to think about these things in the first place. How do we measure this atrocity against others? Is it a question of scale? Of the difference between war and peace? Does such a difference exist any more? To get to the heart of the questions you could do worse than read the philosopher Ted Honderich's essay After the Terror . 'My moral confidence, my confidence in my moral feelings and judgements, is not so firm now as it was back at the beginning of these reflections,' he writes. 'Is your confidence made of sterner stuff? Maybe it shouldn't be.' Honderich doesn't lecture, he enquires."

The Times was not alone in this line of thought. ABC News in America, a main broadcasting network, in a survey of the very many books pertaining to September 11, described it as "unusual and unusually enlightening and provocative".
The authoritative diplomatic editor of The Guardian, Martin Woollacott, discussed the book in his column, comparing it with The Spirit of Terrorism by the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. "It is a   relief to turn...to Honderich, whose strength  is a careful, dogged  probing of injustice, inequality and moral responsibility. ... If he seems  sometimes to  be going over old ground,  he makes...the reader see it anew by the way he keeps his   inquiry open, not  letting himself or the reader leap  ahead, by  his concentration  of the  moral issue and by his sharp eye for the  constant inclination of the  privileged to prefer those theories which let them off the hook."

The Sydney Morning Herald, under the heading "Wake Up and Wonder Why", supported the book for dangerously opening large questions. Geoff Kitney repeated my reminder that on September 11, along with the awful death toll we all know about, there were also 24,000 people around the world who died of hunger. The review concluded with the aid of the book that "a year after September 11 what we don't know still appears to greatly exceed what we do about how to deal with the terrorism threat, other than by military action and civil defence. And for as long as the bigger questions remain taboo, the answers are unlikely to be found."

In the Toronto newspaper The National Post , the strong son of a famous father, the son Noah of the Jewish novelist Mordechai Richler, included my 9/11 book among those he distinguished from the dross. It provided moral distance from September 11. Its author, he said, is mainly concerned with bad lives and our omissions, but "condemns 'Israeli state-terrorism', in passing, and entertains 'no serious doubt..that the Palestinians have exercised a moral right in their terrorism against the Israelis' -- news that will please a considerable number of University of Toronto professors. This is an unpalatable but rigorously argued view. Even its detractors will readily take it on after reading such an erudite, urgently written volume." Maybe there is a typing error in there somewhere, but you get the general idea.

Quite as satisfactory after a weak moment of discomfiture was what could on reflection be taken as another reassurance. It is a good thing, a certification, to have disapproval in some quarters. It is necessary not to be loved in some places. I refer to The Sunday Telegraph , that repository of right thinking of the rural kind. More particularly, to the thoughts of Noel Malcolm, who has also added a little to his income from his own diverse books in Oxbridge Grub Street by reviewing me in The Sunday Telegraph in the past. This jobbing academic, I remember, did not greatly like my autobiography either, for much the same reasons. He knew how to please the owner of The Sunday Telegraph, not yet finally disgraced, Conrad Black.

After the Terror is compared by him to a book by Mark Hersgaard, said to be bad, on why America fascinates and infuriates the world. "Professor Honderich has tried to stick closer to the really big issues. ... As a result, this book is able to be bad in a really serious way. Indeed, I think it is one of the worst books I have ever read. ... readers may be wondering whether Osama bin Laden, in attacking the World Trade Centre, was trying to persuade the West to feed Africans. The answer seems to be 'yes'."

There was also The Wall Street Journal , where again my discomfiture was brief.  Tunku Varadarajan qualified his contentedness with publishers making a profit from 9/11 by taking another view of my book.  "...antiwar cant that abounds especially on the academic left. ... Mr. Honderich, a fossil of the European armchair gauche... ...a book that is sweeping and stodgy...."

But enough of the trivial thing of authorial pique, into which  I have drifted a little. The main point is that the book is at least respectable.  Its reception makes it unsurprising that it comes with the endorsements on  the jacket of all of Noam Chomsky, the Baroness Warnock, and Tariq Ali.


From 12 to 22 September I was in Canada and America with my partner Ingrid Coggin Purkiss in connection with the publication of After the Terror , giving papers at four universities, being on television and radio, and being interviewed by newspapers and magazines.

To an interviewer who suggested a little airily that the book was futile or hypocritical or something of the sort, it did indeed come to mind to reply, as jocularly I did, that my life was indeed open to the general objection against all of us, about our omissions, and that all I could  say for myself was that the royalties of the book were going to Oxfam -- and might the interviewer like to do some contributing himself?
Maybe something of the sort was said by me to Mr. Evan Solomon. Mr. Solomon was a rising presenter of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's television programme Hot Type. He has a kind of intellectual  reputation. We had about an hour's recorded discussion, if that is  the word, none of  it jocular. It mainly consisted, as I recall, in Mr. Solomon's "obsessing", as the CBC producer of the programme later remarked, on the subject  of my line about Palestine. How could anyone apparently human conceivably say that the Palestinians had a moral right to their terrorism against  the state of  Israel?  It was more a vulgar row than a discussion. I did not cover myself with the glory of self-restraint.

If we forget about the certainty that Mr. Noel Malcolm, mentioned  above, did in his book-reviewing keep in mind Lord Black, at that time also the publisher of The Jerusalem Post, and if we forget about a related thought in connection with Mr. Varadarajan and The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Solomon was  my personal introduction to what can be called the passion of neo-.

It  seems to me to be an inflamed self-concern, not much constrained by justice and indeed often remote from it. It goes far beyond Zionism, where that was and is the movement, widely and rightly supported, supported by me, for the establishing and the ongoing secure existence of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. Neo-Zionism, as remarked above, supports and holds to the enlargement of Israel beyond its 1967 borders, necessarily by way of the further rapacity with respect to the homeland of the Palestinians. Or, nearly as importantly, neo-Zionism consists in actual toleration of this enlargement while quietly deploring this or that excess of the Israeli army or whatever. There are neo-Zionists, therefore, who officially do not support the Sharon government. You will notice, to whatever effect, that for good reason I distinguish Zionism and neo-Zionism from Jewishness. Indeed you can be a Zionist or a neo-Zionist without being a Jew.

On this occasion neo-Zionism was a passion that issued in Mr. Solomon's blunders about the book. You might glance at p. 151,  on which he concentrated, and see if you can give him a hand in making the words  "the  outstanding case" prove that the book is preeminently   concerned  with Israel  and Palestine. I gave as good as I got, and wondered what half-hour programme  would eventually be produced by the editing  of the stuff recorded. Did I say to Mr. Solomon that there was some doubt of his having the capability  to conduct the interview? Possibly. Having not seen the recording, I don't know if the line turns up. No one will, I take it, since the discussion was a little too hot for Hot Type and was never transmitted by Canada's national broadcasting network.

In the absence of a good deal more information, it would be innocent to suppose that neo-Zionist pressure, however articulated, was no part of the explanation of the CBC's inaction. But I played my part too.
Pity there wasn't a recording of the occasion when my  paper  touching on the matter was read to the Philosophy Department of the University of Toronto. That  meeting was decorous and useful. A discussion  in which I  learned things, notably from a redoutable Marxist, Professor Danny Goldstick, and Professor Ronald de Sousa. I was a little taken aback, though, by being told afterwards that the meeting  would have been different if the day hadn't been a Jewish holiday and the audience of philosophers had been larger. As already mentioned, you can if   you want look through the piece After the Terror: A Book and Further Thoughts in its current version.      

In New York, having passed on there in order to read the paper at Columbia University and The New School, I received a phone call from Ms Janet Roberts of the appeals section of Oxfam Great Britain in Oxford. The gist of it was that someone had raised some question about the royalties of the book going to Oxfam. It would, or so I understood from her, be easy to deal with the matter.

Her inquiry to me was whether the £5,000 was just a private donation, just a personal donation. I said that of course it was -- and pressed the exasperated question of what else it could be taken to be. It was not easy to guess. She said she could not quite see. Not being much experienced in the waters in which I was finding myself, I had the vague thought that someone had floated the general idea that I had some serious hidden affiliation or agenda in giving the money to Oxfam -- maybe some hidden political or such-like membership or motive. Maybe Mr. Solomon, who had reason not to love me, had got someone to ring up Oxford to convey something or other.

Nothing whatever was said by Ms Roberts of a newspaper's being involved in the matter. The possibility, if I remember rightly, never occurred to me. Ms Roberts said she would ring me back if there was anything more to be said. I didn't think much more about the matter. Not so worldly a philosopher after all.

It is true that my apprehensions in advance of my reading of  the paper in the Philosophy Department at Columbia were considerable. It has a very considerable Jewish side to it and no doubt has some Zionists in it. My paper to an overflow audience was indeed followed by a prolonged speech about my historical errors about Palestine by an Israeli logician. I noticed  he did not correct my population figures over time for Palestinians and Jews. Still, the discussion thereafter was in good part a good one, thanks principally to Professors David Albert, Akeel Bilgami, and Philip Kitcher.

Not much happened when the paper was read at the New School, since somehow it transpired, so far as I could see, that no notices at all of the meeting had been put up. It was very small indeed. It is true that I wondered if this was not an oversight, but a good way of avoiding trouble. One gent did walk out decorously when my feelings about Palestine were first indicated. Professor Robin Blackburn and Professor Nancy Fraser made up for his absence. A good session. Again I learned things.

So too was the discussion in the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University in Rhode Island a proper academic occasion. It was excellent. One of a number of acute contributors to my thinking was Professor James der Derian. He also restrained a member of the audience by a small tutorial on the need for free speech. As he said, had the balanced conference to which I was giving the closing paper not also heard from a U.S. rear admiral from the Naval War College, a man of definitely conservative views? Things were learned by me in Brown too.

On the evening before flying back to London, I got a message to ring Ms. Roberts at Oxfam in Oxford. An email also arrived at Brown from Ms Catherine Eldridge, an Oxfam media officer. I was to get in touch. Having tried for a while to struggle through the American telephone system, as I had earlier, I gave up and we set off for home.

It was a tour, you could say, in which in general there was at least respect for my book.


On getting to England on 22 September, I received by email from Canada a leader or editorial reprinted from the newspaper The Globe and Mail of Toronto of 20 September, the day we had arrived in Rhode Island. It was as follows.


The horrifying scene yesterday was one Israelis have come to know well. The Palestinian suicide attacker set off his shrapnel-studded bomb on a bus in downtown Tel Aviv. The five other people killed included the bus driver, his body blackened and slumped at the wheel. Torn bodies lay in the seats.

The bombing was the second in two days and broke a respite of sorts -- there had been no such attacks since early August. Israel, during that time, has maintained its harsh grip on the occupied territories, resulting in the deaths of more Palestinians. Israeli tanks moved yesterday into Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah.

The Palestinian Authority has condemned the terror attacks, saying they give the Israeli government "the pretext" to continue occupying Palestinian land.

In that, at least, the PA is accurate. The intifada has made a peace treaty so much more difficult because Israelis are so fearful about their security. Some Palestinian leaders recognize the obvious -- that the bloody attacks are both morally repugnant and tactically disastrous.

One wonders, then, how anyone anywhere could excuse such actions, much less praise them. Yet, many do so, including some Western academics.

Ted Honderich, for instance. Mr. Honderich is a Canadian-born philosopher who has spent decades teaching at University College London. His new book, After the Terror , lays much of the blame for Sept. 11 on the Western world, particularly the United States.

Mr. Honderich says, in essence, that Western citizens are guilty -- if not of acts of commission against the world's poor, then of acts of omission. Money spent on a car is money that could have been spent to better effect. Not doing so, he suggests, is morally wrong.

There is no evidence that Osama bin Laden or the 19 hijackers meant to make a statement about global poverty. And Mr. Honderich denounces their actions as hideous. Yet he does endorse violence in the case of Palestinian suicide bombers

"Those Palestinians who have resorted to necessary killing have been right to try to free their people, and those who have killed themselves in the cause of their people have indeed sanctified themselves," he writes. "This seems to me a terrible truth. . . ."

Mr. Honderich planned to donate to Oxfam Great Britain his advance and royalties from the book. Oxfam has major Canadian operations and is one of the most effective international organizations combating Third World poverty. It does development work in the West Bank, related to health care and education.

We wondered why this organization would accept such funds, considering its humanitarian mission and Mr. Honderich's odious viewpoint. Oxfam officials have now reviewed the book. They have refused Mr. Honderich's offer.

Good for them.

I rang Janet Roberts in Oxford and we had two conversations. She was distraught, as I was, and kept saying how very sorry she was. She conveyed various things to me.

The Globe and Mail had openly or in effect threatened that if Oxfam did not   publicly turn away the money, The Globe and Mail would run a piece saying   Oxfam was taking money from a terrorist-sympathizer. Oxfam, however necessary   it was to do so, had given in to the threat of The Globe and Mail's. If it had not, she herself said, Oxfam would have been pilloried. It was possible to wonder about that. Still, the word "blackmail" was mentioned,   perhaps by me, certainly without dissent from Ms Roberts.

Ms Roberts also conveyed, I am sure, that she herself and others in Oxfam in Oxford had been against the decision. It had been taken, she said, by the senior management team of Oxfam in Oxford and now she was, so to speak, loyal to it. She had not thought the matter was escalating when she talked to me when she rang me in New York, but it had escalated. I gathered that Oxfam Canada was part of what happened, having itself been approached, if that is the word, by The Globe and Mail , and then passed on the news to Oxfam in Oxford.

Nor was that the end of the story, as I was given to understand. Not only the newspaper had brought pressure to bear. Other persons or organizations had done so. She did not identify these persons or organizations.

The decision had been taken, Ms Roberts repeatedly said, to preserve Oxfam's neutrality. Oxfam could not look like it was taking sides. She chose not to say anything when I wondered if Oxfam took money from neo-Zionists -- whether it took money from individuals or companies who explicitly or implicitly, but in any case indubitably, take it that the Israelis have exactly a moral right to their state-terrorism and war against the Palestinians. She did say Oxfam was in general aware of how the neo-Zionist lobby operates.

Another canvassed reason for not taking the £5,000 was mentioned. It had been argued in Oxford that Oxfam's taking the money would actually endanger its workers in the field in Palestine. The danger, presumably, would be from Israel or Israelis. The Palestinian regional office of Oxfam had been consulted. It had in fact been in favour of rather than against taking the money.

I expressed the conviction to Ms Roberts that I had been badly or carelessly treated by an institution of which better could be expected. A harm had been   done to me. It was relevant that she was not trying to get me on the telephone in Rhode Island to take my view on giving into a newspaper's   threat, or to hear from me of any related matters. Rather she was ringing to tell me of the fait accompli that Oxfam had already announced that it would not be taking the money and perhaps that The Globe and Mai l had already published its leader.

But I would of course not be taking any action against Oxfam. A mistake had been made, to my mind, but a mistake by a bit of an organization that was a very good organization. My attitude was hurt, sadness and resignation.

It is relevant to having a sense of a claim, or of the nature of a threat, to know something, a good deal, about who is making the claim or threat. Their situation in the world, and how they stand to any other relevant party. They may of course have a private interest that you should take into account in considering what they say. It may lead you to look differently on the worth of what they say. It can stiffen you up. If somebody says please do X because it would be morally or otherwise a bad idea not to, your view of the worth of his reasons may change if you find out that X   will also make him some money or help him get a better share of a market or promote some self-interested cause of his.

The Globe and Mail has traditionally been the voice of conservatism and the Progressive Conservative Party in Toronto and wherever else it is read in Canada. There is another newspaper in the city, The Toronto Star. It is a liberal newspaper, in the North American sense, and has almost always supported the Liberal Party. It is the largest newspaper in Canada, a good broadsheet in British parlance. What is commonly said of it, with some reason, is that for 40 years it has been run by the Honderich family. More particularly, my brother Beland Honderich was its Publisher for decades. He had been succeeded by my nephew, his son John.

There is no love lost between these two newspapers. They fight, not only for circulation and in politics, but with feeling. It is in The Globe and Mail's  perceived interest to attempt to condescend to The Star, which was a newspaper of sensationalism until it was reformed by my brother and in my view made into the newspaper of greatest value to its country. It is not too much to say that anyone bearing the unusual name of "Honderich" is in danger of a mauling in The Globe and Mail if an opportunity arises. My nephew forced a public retraction from it with respect to some matter not long ago.
It is worth noting, here, that The Star carried a large story and picture on   me and my book on 14 September. There was   the  excuse, so to speak, that the television and radio wings of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (the BBC of Canada), and the national magazine Macleans , and other such authorities, were also welcoming back an ex-Canadian and discussing his book. The Star's good writer Leslie Scrivener was one  interviewer who elicited from me my small piece of self-excuse having  to do with Oxfam. The Globe and Mail 's leader, as remarked, appeared  on 20 September.

So, to be brief, there was a motivation on the part of  the personnel doing the complaining to Oxfam, one motivation, that had nothing substantial to do with Palestine, terrorism, moral rights, moral philosophers, Oxfam's obligations with respect to non-violence or any like  thing. Oxfam, whatever else has to be said, was made use of in an old newspaper  war and  attendant personal feelings.

I cannot resist recording a second thing that may also have made some contribution to the zeal of The Globe and Mail . This had to do with a passing moment of Canadian politics. When I arrived in Canada, it was as if the Canadian prime minister, Mr. Chretien of the Liberal Party, had read my book and decided to go further. At the anniversary of September 11, newspaper headlines rightly reported him as explaining the attack partly by our policies in the well-off world. "PM TIES 9/11 TERROR TO WESTERN `GREED'"

He is a politician somewhat disdained, for whatever reason, and he was savaged for his thought on September 11 by The Globe and Mail . It was natural enough in this context for the paper to set out to cry him down further by crying down someone momentarily associated with his view. I had applauded Mr. Chretien in my radio and television interviews.

It may not matter much, but I suppose Oxfam in Oxford might have been less ready to give in to a threat, however irresistible or resistible that threat, if it had taken time to find out that it was also being made some use of in competition between newspapers and the ordinary day-to-day altercation of Canadian politics.

It is in fact conceivable that Oxfam might never have got a telephone call from Canada if my name was other than it is and Mr. Chretien had not taken up his own inflammatory position.

A third thing is larger, and indeed my main concern. What led to Oxfam's decision was in another part Zionist pressure. The pressure was in part Zionist and anti-Palestinian pressure of the supporters in one degree or way or another of the likes of Mr. Sharon, the Israeli prime minister. The threat of the newspaper was in part a Zionist threat.

The Globe and Mail brought its pressure, in  part, as remarked already, by way of Oxfam Canada. Should Oxfam Great  Britain  wish  to verify a certain fact of neo-Zionism, it could do worse than  ask Oxfam  Canada. It could ring them up.The fact in question is that The Globe has lately  got a new editor, Mr. Ed Greenspon, who is  Jewish and presumably  inclined  to neo-Zionism, no doubt subject to ready journalistic qualififications. What is indubitable is that the newspaper's line of support with respect to the Israeli government has hardened since his appointment. The Toronto Star's position,  an independence, is by contrast made to seem pro-Palestinian.

It is the case, then, that in deciding not to take my donation, Oxfam Great Britain was not only responding to innocent moral outrage, so to speak, about a claim as to a moral right, which was the official story. It was not only responding to a newspaper's expression of offence to conventional moral feelings. Nor was Oxfam only getting into a newspaper battle and in fact being made use of in day-to-day politics in Canada. Oxfam was threatened, dangerously or not, as part of some international politics, particularly dirty international politics. It was conscripted in the cause of what is to me and very many others the further violation of Palestine by the government of Israel and its supporters elsewhere. Did Oxfam know about that?

Maybe it did. I presume in some way it did. It is not made up of innocents. There were the other people or organizations in addition to The Globe and Mail that got in touch with it, and presumably gave their names. The international charity business is not filled up with amateurs out of touch with reality.

It was said to me by another of Oxfam's workers, despite the worker's never having heard of its turning away a donation before, which fact did indeed catch my attention, that Oxfam has "quotas" in connection with the accepting of donations. Presumably that has something to do with an awareness of special pressures and the neutrality of which you have heard.


To return to my story and my conversations with Ms Roberts, my resignation about what had happened did not last. This had something to do with certain subsequent responses to my paper read out in America, and particularly the occasion at Brown University. Neo-Zionist students at the university wrote a dozen or so letters about my view to the student newspaper The Brown Daily Herald. One theme was my alleged anti-Semitism. In a letter to the organizers of the Brown conference, Rabbi Amy Scheinerman found my anti-Semitism "obvious and unequivocal".

The student letters led to a piece in Conrad Black's The Jerusalem Post of September 27, as follows.

UK Prof: Suicide Attacks Can Be "Rationalized"
by Michael Freund

Students at America's prestigious Brown University are in an uproar after a British philosopher lecturing at the school said Palestinian suicide bombings can be "morally rationalized".

In an address delivered last Friday at Brown, Professor Ted Honderich, Professor of Philosophy of Mind and Logic at University College of London, said that while there was no moral justification  for last September's terror attacks on the United States, it might be possible to "morally rationalize" Palestinians terror attacks against Israelis.

"Palestinians have bad lives and little other recourse", the campus newspaper quoted Honderich as saying. Denied a reasonable path to secure "freedom and power in their homeland", he asserted, "humans will resort to almost anything."

Jewish and non-Jewish students alike reacted strongly to Honderich's remarks. Raffi Bilek, head of the campus group Friends of Israel, said "I'm just ashamed to think that such a speaker would make an appearance at our school. I know that people exist out there with disgusting opinions like that -- I just always thought our school was better than that."

Senior Naomi Reinharz was equally emphatic, stating "I was pretty shocked by it. I don't understand how anyone could ever justify acts of terrorism on civilians that continuously take away civilian lives."

A letter to the editor appearing in the Brown Daily Herald by graduate student Bill Dilworth said "It is incomprehensible that a university professor would seek to rationalize murder, and grotestque that Brown would bring him to campus."

Honderich's lecture was part of a two-week colloquium entitled "9/11+1" organized by the school's Watson Institute for International Studies

Mr. Freund would have done better, but perhaps not pleased the owner of the newspaper if he had also attended to the many letters on the other side, or at any rate in   condemnation  of Israel or support of free speech. The "uproar" of a  dozen  more or less  organized letters to the editor and their  replies was of course  more a pretext  than a story.

Another piece of journalism came to my attention a little belatedly. This appeared on September 25 in the third Toronto newspaper of note, The National Post, of which you have heard already in connection with the independent view of Noah Richler. The paper was recently founded by but is no longer owned by Lord Black. It is now owned by Mr. Izzy Asper, and it is about as Zionist as The Globe and Mail . This piece was under the heading "Hating Israel is Part of Campus Culture", and it turned out that its writer, the editorials page editor of the newspaper, Mr. Jonathan Kay, had been present for my paper at the University of Toronto.

Mr. Kay, like his colleague at The Globe and Mail, described graphically the Palestinian suicide attack on an Israeli bus of the day before, and went on as follows about academic and other anti-Semitism as well as additional failings.

...on his Canadian tour, Honderich was greeted warmly. Following his lecture at the University of Toronto, audience members lined up to respectfully parse the fine points of his philosophical theories. And since Honderich blames the West and Israel for what happened on Sept. 11, the CBC naturally regards him as star material. ...

Honderich is a symptom of a poisonous, unapologetic hatred of Israel that is now part of mainstream campus culture. ...

Do all of these pronouncements rise to a sort of soft anti-Semitism -- as Harvard University President Lawrence Summers argued last week? It's an attractive theory. ...

But anti-Semitism -- even the indirect variety Summers talks about -- can't be the only culprit. ...

By the deluded lights of warmed-over Marxists, it all comes down to class struggle. Apocalyptic Islam and anti-Semitism are just clever cover stories for liberating the masses..

It was at about this time that my morning emails began to increase in number. They did so because of the number of "spam" messages among them, which is to say junk mail offering you sex, relief from your debts, an immediate mortage, longer hair, a longer penis and so on. They had quickly got up to about 50 a morning when I learned of what is well-known to other academic defenders of Palestine in America and Britain.

What it comes to, in brief, is that Zionist activists arrange to for you to be sent the stuff, getting the total up to a thousand messages a day, in order to make your computer more or less inoperable. I hope I was not also the victim of "spoofing". This is the practice by Zionists of making it appear that you have sent anti-Semitic emails to other people. Your Jewish friends may get copies of them. Maybe everybody on your address list. The aim presumably is not so much actual deception as unpleasantness, confusion, suspicion and the like.

There were also ordinary as against spam or junk emails, usually anonymous, of which the following are three examples.
If you support terrorism that much why don't you  just go to the West Bank, strap a bomb on yourself, and see how many innocent civilians you can kill (hopefully all Palestinians) you stupid mother fucker! I hope you die and burn in hell!


If you are stupid, lazy, poor and do not want to work  for a living, you can then blame the reason and the fault of your miserable  life on someone who works hard, is creative, and so is more financially secured? Is that basically the crutch of your "blame the West" theory?


I hope a suicide bomber visits you and your loved ones!   Have a great day Jew-Hater!

Other emails were also not spam, but they were not so  ordinary as the three above. They were emails sent not to me, but to the Philosophy Department at University College London, where it was presumed I was still employed. Sometimes they were sent under what I suspect was the pretext that my own email address was unknown. In fact my own email address was as readily available as that of the Philosophy Department or indeed moreso. Two examples:

Professor Honderich's ability to "morally rationalize" the murder of innocent civilians should cast doubt on his appropriateness as a molder of values of your students.


Please pass this to Prof. Ted Honderich -- he has made   a choice not to mind his own business therefore I think has a duty to read about the people who are being morally and rationally murdered.

Such stuff is well-known in the case of academic and journalistic critics of Israel. It is well-known in the case of milder critics than me. The use of it can plainly be effective in an academic or other atmosphere already one of rivalries, uncertainty as to promotion, and the like. It can at least make a colleague more careful about what he says in future. It can in fact threaten to lose a colleague her job, as in the case of Dr. Mona Baker of the Institute of Science and Technology in Manchester, who acted on a proposed boycott of Israeli academics.

For some details available on the worldwide web with respect to spamming and the like, go to the survey by Paul de Rooij at http://www.counterpunch.org/rooij0924.html or one by Abby Aguirre at http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20021028&s=aguirre.

These various experiences of mine, of the letters to the student newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, The National Post , the "spamming" and the other emails, let alone the discovery of my anti-Semitism, were put up with pretty easily. Nor, indeed, do I object to them in the way of some other people. Why indeed should neo-Zionists not argue their cases? If they stray into coarse invective, abuse and obscenity, so entirely unlike Jewishness as previously it has been known to some of us, they are not the first to do so. No doubt other zealots, including many anti-Semites, have tried to lose people their jobs.

The experiences are recorded here for a particular purpose. That is to make it yet clearer that what Oxfam was caught up in. This was indeed the unique and one-sided conflict for the hearing of ideas and feelings between Zionists outside and inside Israel and Palestine and their adversaries who defend the Palestinians. It was caught up in something quite different from the prevention of suffering and the saving of lives.

My experiences, as I have remarked, did not increase my sense of resignation about the Oxfam matter. Nor was my resignation increased by having heard nothing back in some days from Oxfam in answer to a long letter of mine of September 30. It had set out a good part of what you have already read and asked a number of questions of interest. It also requested again a written statement of Oxfam's grounds for refusing the £5,000, first requested in the phone conversations of which you have heard. My longer letter went to the relevant officers and all the trustees of Oxfam.


Certainly I was not reluctant to go along with The Guardian in bringing to the attention of English readers what had already had the attention of Canadian and Israeli ones. The following story appeared in the newspaper's national news section on October 9.

Oxfam Shuns £5,000 in Row Over Book

by Owen Bowcott

Oxfam has turned down a £5,000 donation from a distinguished professor of philosophy because it is linked to his latest book which defends the Palestinians' right to carry out suicide bombings and terrorist attacks.
Ted Honderich, formerly Professor of Mind and Logic at  University College, London, offered to give the charity his advance against  royalties for After the Terror , his recently published examination of the  moral dimension of the September 11 attacks.

The book, published by Edinburgh University Press, generated controversy in his native Canada but was favourably reviewed in Britain. The Guardian and The Times praised its thoughtful probing of the implications of the events; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a minor theme of the work.

After finishing the book this year, Professor Honderich, a long-time contributor to Oxfam, decided he would like to make a gift, but was told last month that objections had been raised.

Meanwhile a leading Canadian paper, the Toronto Globe and Mail, published an editorial condemning the book because of its comments about the Middle East. "There is one page at the end of the last chapter that gave rise to the [controversy]," it said. "This page qualifies the book's strong and general condemnation of terrorism, by asserting the moral right of the Palestinians to their terrorism."

After the Terror declares: "Those Palestinians who have resorted to violence have been right to try to free their people, and those who have killed themselves in the cause of their people have indeed sanctified themselves. This seems to me a terrible truth, a truth that overcomes what we must remember about all terrorism, and also overcomes the thought of hideousness and monstrosity."

Prof Honderich, who was born in Canada and whose family owns the rival paper, The Toronto Star , believes the row influenced Oxfam's decision to decline the £5,000. "I readily grant that my view...that the Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism is unconventional and may be offensive to many ordinary people of no particular political or other attachments." But those views should not be relevant to the donation, he said.

The charity said in a statement: "The decision to decline Prof Honderich's donation was taken for one reason alone, that Oxfam cannot accept, endorse or benefit from certain opinions given in the book.

"Oxfam's purpose is to overcome poverty and suffering. We believe that the lives of all human beings are of equal value.We do not endorse acts of violence ... No other facts were considered in taking the decision."

Prof Honderich believes his rejection sets an awkward precedent and raises broader issues. "It's very obscure who they will have to turn away now if they keep to this line. Oxfam used to say that a few pounds would save a life. How many lives would £5,000 save?"

On the next day the columnist Tim Lott of The Evening Standard added his view of things. He did not point out that my purpose in giving the £5,000 was to overcome poverty and suffering, and that I gave it because I take all lives to be of equal value. But he had something definite to say.

Dirty Money is Still Money

The news that Oxfam has turned down a £5,000 donation because the donor, the academic Ted Honderichy, defends the right of Palestinians to carry out suicide bombings strikes me as morally bizarre and muddled.

Although by linking his donation to his book advance, Honderich has tried to generate publicity, I don't see the problem.

From the point of view of a starving child in Africa, I don't think it matters if the person handing over the money is a Nazi, a child molester or a murderer.

Dirty money is exactly the same as clean money. Hold your nose if you like, but take it nonetheless.


On October 12, there were a number of letters to the editor published in The Guardian. They were as follows.


It is a shame that Oxfam appears not to have noted that Professor Honderich's use of the word terrorism is quite specific (Oxfam shuns £5,000 in row over book, October 9). His book, After the Terror, defines terrorism as: "violence with a political and social end, whether or not intended to put people in general in fear, and necessarily raising a question of' its moral justification because it is violence — either such violence as is against the law within a society or else violence between states or societies, against what there is of international law and smaller-scale than war."

So, when the same book says that the Palestinians are "entitled to their terror", the implication is that they are entitled to their resistance.

Nothing in the above definition sanctions or encourages attacks on non-combatants. The other 99% of the book is an extended discussion of how the suffering and low life expectancies of millions of the world's poor, perceived as less urgent than spending on missiles and self-interested foreign policy, breeds violent responses.

One would think Oxfam would appreciate money to alleviate that suffering.

Dr S Meckled-Garcia


• I normally make substantial donations to Oxfam: they have totalled £3,500 since 1999, and after my mother's death I ensured that they received £10,000 from her estate. I am inclined to believe that when a country is living under a foreign occupying force, so that voting can do nothing to achieve an effective change, individuals and groups have a moral right, and indeed a duty, to resist in any way they can.

Would Oxfam prefer me to cease making donations, and to change my will so that it ceases to be a beneficiary? There are other charities that share Oxfam's aims of overcoming poverty and suffering, so it won't cause me much inconvenience.

E J Evans


• I do not see how Oxfam, as a charity, can lawfully decline  any gift to it for its proper purposes. Is Oxfam willing to  lose its charitable status and forego all charitable privileges, especially tax privileges,  on such an important point of principle: the suppression of free speech.

Andrew Robinson


• Is Oxfam going to vet the political opinions of all donors; and should donors consider Oxfam to be a politically biased organisation that only accepts donations from those who conform to its views?

Amir EI-Agabani
Welwyn, Herts

Then, on October 21, there was Robert Fisk, the distinguished columnist of The Independent. He said you could find out things from the Israeli press, where criticism of Israeli policies was possible. You could hear criticism of the Israeli chief of staff's likening of the Palestinian opposition to a "cancer", and of an Israeli political party chairman's declaring that "for every victim of ours there must be 1,000 dead Palestinians". In much of the Western world, by contrast, there was a campaign of slander against any critic of Israel. The all-purpose slander of "anti-Semitism" was used with ever-increasing promiscuity. It included McCarthyite lists of academics. He went on:

Ted Honderich, a Canadian-born philosopher who teaches at Unviersity College London, tells me that Oxfam has refused to accept £5,000 plus other royaltites from his new book After the Terror following a campaign against him in the Toronto-based Globe and Mail. Now I happen to take issue with some of Professor Honderich's conclusions and I think his book -- praised by the American-Jewish scholar Noam Chomsky -- meanders. I especially don't like his assertion that Palestinians, in trying to free themselves from occupation, have a 'moral right to terrorism'. Blowing up children in pizzerias -- and Professor Honderich's book is not an endorsement of such atrocities -- is a crime against humanity. There is no moral right to do this. But what in God's name is Oxfam doing refusing Professor Honderich's money for its humanitarian work? Who was behind this?


I did receive a reply from Oxfam, apparently delayed in the post. It was from Mr. John Whitaker, the Deputy Director of Oxfam Great Britain. Its relevant paragraphs include the statement from which The Guardian quoted.

I am responding to your letter...since it was my decision, taken on Oxfam's behalf, to decline your offer of a donation....

The decision to decline your decision was taken for one reason alone -- that Oxfam cannot accept, endorse or benefit from certain opinions given in your book and repeated in your letter. Your public references to Oxfam could be taken to imply endorsement of your opinions -- an implication that is untrue.

Oxfam's purpose is to overcome poverty and suffering. We believe that the lives of all human beings are of equal value. We do not endorse acts of violence. Therefore, Oxfam cannot and will not accept or endorse the opinion stated in your book and repeated in your letter that the Palestinians have a moral right to terrorism. No other factors were considered when taking the decision.

BBC Radio Scotland took an interest in the matter after the story in The Guardian. As a result of taking Oxfam's views, it reported that Oxfam was against any acts of violence, had to maintain its impartiality, couldn't accept the £5,000 because some people would  find it too difficult to bear, and because it might lose other donations  that might amount to significantly more than mine. 
For my part, I repeated some points from my paper about the Palestinians' moral right, and pointed out that Oxfam is not a pacifist organization -- that it does not oppose all violence. It has not opposed all wars, and  it has not let President Bush know it is against his going to war in Iraq.  Oxfam would have to think a bit more about questions that are not easy but  hard, and to which conventional morality gives no consistent answer at all. I also said that Oxfam could have responded to The Globe and Mail by explicitly disavowing my view, by explicitly not endorsing it, and then  going on to say that nonetheless they were obliged to take  a large donation  that would save many lives. Maybe 500 or 1,000 according  to some of their  past literature.

The interviewer then put the latter point to Mr. Whitaker:
Could you respond to that?
You could have taken the money and specifically not accepted his views

Mr. Whitaker replied:

Well, I think that would be quite unacceptable. And you've reflected in the report already the reason that we've refused the money. We cannot endorse views that espouse terrorism. And we've seen the consequences of terrorism in this country. You cannot draw a line between some terrorism is good, some terrorism is bad. And we're against violence on both sides. ... What we do feel is that it is not something that we can accept. It's beyond our values.

Subsequently, the magazine Third Sector , whose subject includes international aid agencies such as Oxfam, took up the matter. Its contribution was as follows. It consists in answers to the question it poses from four people involved in charities.


Oxfam has turned down a £5,000 donation from Professor Ted Honderich, part of   the advance against royalties for his book After the Terror , which defends   the right of Palestinians to resort to violence and suicide bombings. Is the charity undermining free speech or simply acting correctly to protect its reputation?

Rosie Chapman, director of policy, Charity Commission


A charity may refuse a donation if the trustees believe that the source is in serious conflict with the charity's objects.

In Oxfam's case, these are the relief of global poverty, distress and suffering including situations arising from war or civil disturbances.

Also, trustees may decide that the acceptance of a donation could alienate supporters or users and lead to loss of support, because it would damage the reputation of the charity. Trustees must always consider the interests of the charity when they make these decisions and not their personal views.

The Charity Commission is always glad to discuss the issue of donations with any charity and recommends that trustees seek advice if a charity wishes to decline a donation.

Andrew Watt, policy and standards officer, Institute of Fundraising


The most important consideration in deciding whether to accept or refuse a donation must be the charity's best interest. A holistic approach should be taken which judges both practical and ethical factors against a clear policy agreed by the charity's trustees, who hold the ultimate responsibility for all decisions.

The question here is not whether Oxfam should refuse a particular donation, but whether it acted in the charity's best interests.

I do not know the full details of the agreement but I understand that Oxfam does have a clear policy that has been drawn up in accordance with both the Charity Commission's guide-lines and the Institute of Fundraising's Code of Fundraising Practice.

I am also aware that one of Oxfam's aims is to reduce the suffering caused by conflict. It would therefore seem to me that aligning themselves with a donor who has controversial political views might not be in the charity's best interests.

Apart from potentially conflicting with the charity's mission therefore running the risk of reputational damage, accepting this donation might damage their efforts to bring aid to other areas of the region.

Nick Cater, director, Words & Pictures media consultancy


Having once worked for a cause that accepted a donation from moors murderer Myra Hindley yet refused bullfight profits, I agree this is tough territory.

Charities can be astonishingly pompous about whose money they abhor. Company money may well worry those who welcome grants from governments whose policies directly damage charities and harm beneficiaries.

Oxfam's web sites offer no guidance for unwanted would-be donors. Charities need principles, yet how many formally bar cash from crime or activities against their mission?

Private, personal opinions cannot  be a reason for refusing donations, and even disagreeable public opinions should not be grounds for barring private donations, just as the test for beneficiaries should be need, not their politics or religion.

Yet this was a public donation of profits from a controversial book now given greater publicity. Not to an unknown Palestinian charity,  for which £5,000 might be a fortune and the source acceptable, but to a high-profile aid agency guaranteed to reject the offer.

Rob Cartridge, head of campaigns, War on Want


It is absolutely legitimate to question the sources of donations particularly when they are associated with business or (in this case) a business deal. Accepting a donation implies a degree of endorsement.

But in this case I suspect Oxfam has reacted to a vocal pro-Israeli minority and concerns about potential damage to its future fundraising. All NGOs working in Palestine are well aware of this lobby, which complains on a daily basis about any support given to the opposition.

Professor Honderich's book deals with terrorism only as a minor issue. He discusses whether Palestinians have a moral right to use terror tactics, which is a valid debate. The book does not support terrorism but seeks to understand it. The links between poverty and terrorism are clear and stark. Even the Israeli military has admitted that more than 80 per cent of Palestinians in Gaza are living below the poverty line.

In these circumstances, Oxfam's decision not to accept the donation seems a strange one.

Having digested these various views, I thought it might be worth spending a little time on the English law pertaining to charities. In order to have their legal rights, including not paying taxes, they are of course under strict legal duties.

Oxfam's governing document, lodged with the Charity Commission, as you might expect, limits its activities to the objects of which we all know: to relieve poverty, distress and suffering in any part of the world, primarily when arising from any public calamity or the want of resources or the means of developing them. Its powers, as you might also expect, raising money and so on, extend only to promoting the mentioned objects.

Well then, as the writer of one of those letters to The Guardian had asked, didn't Oxfam actually have an obligation to take the £5,000? Wasn't it under a legal obligation to try to maximize its means of doing good? Might I have a case against it at law?  The question was asked of a good lawyer, at Farrer & Co., and the answer was not surprising in either of its parts.
(i) Oxfam is indeed limited to pursuing its stated objects, to the best of its abilities, and it can have no other objects than the one stated. If it has lurched or drifted into pursuing some other object with money, or, most relevantly, into reducing its income by pursuing some other object, I or anyone else do indeed have a case against it. But that is not the end of the matter.
(ii) As my good lawyer said, he would, if he himself were advising Oxfam at the moment, advise them to make a minute in their record of proceedings to the effect that they turned away the £5,000 only because this would in their judgement have reduced their ability to serve their objects. That is to say, they turned away the £5,000 because  if they took it, they would in the end get less money because other people would donate less.

You can wonder about several things there, about which there is more to be said, but I took the view that among my various good reasons for not taking Oxfam to court there was the one having to do with what lawyers call, understandably, the inescapable hazards of litigation. I would have something to say a judge, as you will be hearing in a moment, but he might still be inclined to go along with Oxfam's judgement rather than mine as to how they could get most money in the foreseeable future -- by taking the £5,000 or turning it away.

Anyway, I see the trustees wouldn't be too alarmed by the prospect of a law suit. Their governing document requires them to insure the trustees against breach of trust or duty on their part.


1. There is no doubt that Oxfam Great Britain was subjected to and affected by neo-Zionist pressure in refusing the donation. It was subjected to and gave in to a neo-Zionist threat of whatever force. This is part of the explanation of what happened. It is no easy matter to judge whether the Oxfam statements about endorsements and the like deny this. If they are so taken, they are untruths.

2. This is not an ordinary matter of a pressure that is counteracted by other contrary pressures. It is unique pressure, whose general nature is of course clearest in its unconcealed manifestations. It is a group's passionate activity on behalf of its self-interest. It is effective and persistent activity that has no counterpart. There is nothing remotely like it on the Palestinian  side.

In its action, Oxfam gave in to the stronger pressure group, in fact the only group bringing pressure on it. There was less neutrality in this, whatever the importance of neutrality, than if they had accepted the donation. Certainly and beyond question there was less neutrality given a certain possible way of accepting the money, to which I shall come below.

3. The effect of what Oxfam did in publicly rejecting the £5,000 was to make a contribution to the neo-Zionist side of the conflict. It was to make a contribution to more Palestinian land for Israelis, against, incidentally, the resolutions and morality of that other large institution, the United Nations, and, moreover, the official policy of Oxfam International.

Oxfam Great Britain allowed itself to be used in a propaganda campaign, certainly a dirty propaganda campaign. The effect of its decision was to damn or diminish a critic of neo-Zionism. What it did was precisely not maintain neutrality in the effects of its action. It did more to abandon neutrality in not taking the money than it would have done in accepting it -- partly for the reason to which I shall come in a moment.

4. It is no part of the objects of the charity Oxfam Great Britain to engage in moral or political dispute between Palestinians and some or many Israelis, to support a side. It is no part of its objects to join a propaganda campaign, to allow itself to be used in one. Nor, still more to the point, was it necessary for it to do so.

5. I come now towards the proposition anticipated above and to some degree depended on. Do you remember and say that the threat was in fact the threat that neo-Zionist and conceivably other Jewish contributors would stop donating money to Oxfam? That what some neo-Zionists do with emails others do with money? And that Oxfam would thus end up with less money as a result of taking my £5,000? That it was therefore justified in abandoning its neutrality and siding against the Palestinians?

Plainly there are complexities here. The most important neutrality to which Oxfam must be committed, implicit in its stated objects, is neutrality with respect to people suffering and dying, and of course the prevention of suffering and dying. By its contribution to the neo-Zionist side of the conflict, it increased the probability of suffering and death among Palestinians. It also reduced its own moral standing with certain possible contributors and to that extent reduced its income and thus its ability to help with suffering and death. But there are many such considerations, in both directions. There is something different and stronger. You do not have to get bogged down here.

6. To come finally to the anticipated proposition, noticed earlier in connection with BBC Scotland, it is clear Oxfam did not have to give in to the threat. It did not have to give in to the threat in order to serve its objects and the implicit need for neutralities of several kinds.

It is clear that Oxfam could have said to The Globe and Mail , as must   indeed have occurred to it, and been argued by people in its building, that Oxfam was required by its very objects, its raison d'etre, to  take the money,  but that Oxfam absolutely did not   thereby  accept or endorse  my view, to which  in fact it was opposed. You  can indeed cancel any degree  of endorsement that  is involved in taking a gift. That is one of the things that words are for. The statement of dissociation could have been as condemnatory as a good press officer could make it. It might have said Oxfam   accepted  the money with the greatest reluctance. It might have said Oxfam   abhorred my view -- but, of  course, it had to keep   in mind all those children starving  to death. £5,000 saves 500 or 1,000   of them, all real, all with names.

This course of action might conceivably have resulted in The Globe and Mail's not writing any leader at all. That is indeed conceivable. The leader that appeared was written for its satisfying punchline, the piece of real news, Oxfam's action, maybe unprecedented.

However, what is certain is that the newspaper could not have subjected Oxfam to a serious attack. It could not have "pilloried" Oxfam. It might have tut-tutted about what is certainly one of our great holy cows, rightly so, but it could not do much more.

In either case, there would have been no reduction of donations to Oxfam. If nothing is quite cast-iron in matters such as this, there must  at the very least be a very strong presumption to this effect. That it may be airily denied, if it is, is of no significance.

In short then, there was no real or sufficient reason for Oxfam to to give in to a threat, to join in a propaganda campaign, in effect to go against  a struggle of a people for what they can get back of their own homeland. No bluff stuff from Mr. Whitaker about its being "unacceptable" to take the money and disavow the author will begin to deal with the proposition.      

Quite as obviously, it is nonsense to put aside the proposition of taking  the money and disavowing the author as somehow merely "philosophical" or  "just a logical possibility" or "a contradiction" or "not practical" or whatever.  It is plainly not a contradiction in the literal sense, and to half-imply  otherwise is merely to engage in useful sophistry.

There are innumerable cases in practical politics and day-to-day life where somebody or a political party or whatever supports something that cuts in one direction, so to speak, and also something else that cuts in the other direction. We disagree with an opinion absolutely but defend the right to express it, we offer equal but different education provision, we love the sinner but not the sin, we are tough on crime but also tough on the causes of crime, we are for tax avoidance but not tax evasion.

7. It pretty well follows from these considerations, and is also about as good as proved by other considerations, that Oxfam was also moved by some other consideration than the threat in not taking the £5,000. The threat was part and not all of the explanation of its action. Oxfam is not made up of simpletons. Its awareness that it did not have to give in was accompanied by something else that did lead it to give in, something that completed the motivation.

8. There can be hardly any doubt whatever as to what this thing was. It was some persons in Oxfam, certainly including Mr. Whitaker, being upset, appalled or revolted by my statement that in the present circumstance the Palestinians have a moral right to kill Israelis. This feeling on their part may have to do with some conventional morality, maybe conventional politics, maybe conservatism or liberalism, or indeed Conservatism or New Labour. It may have to do with what are called Establishment attitudes, maybe, as the unkind would say, attitudes that fit in well with running a chain of shops that have a very large annual turnover. In any case, as I say, this fact of moral feeling pretty well follows from the plain fact that the threat could have been resisted consistently with Oxfam's objects.

9. That is not all. The fact of moral feeling is not only a deduction. Consider Oxfam's statements. The fact of this feeling about terrorism does not merely shine through but is the principal content of the official statement of its ground for refusing the money. It is the sole content of Mr. Whitaker's statement on the radio. You might like to look back. Nowhere in any line of these declarations is it said that Oxfam's objects will not be served by taking the money. It is not said that taking the money would associate Oxfam with an offensive opinion and thus reduce its income. Anyone can now say this is an oversight or implicit. I do not. The lines convey a truth.

10. Objecting to moral opinions that it finds offensive is not among Oxfam's objects. That is not what it is empowered by law to do, however conventionally. The Charity Commission does not licence it to go in for moral philosophy or moralizing or to refute and convict moral philosophers it does not like. It empowers it to get money to help out people in suffering, people who might otherwise die.

11. Further, whatever a judge might say, and however useful it would be for Oxfam to write a minute to the effect that it judged such and such, it could be argued in a court that in turning away the money on grounds of its morality Oxfam was in breach of its legal duty.

Does it need to be pointed out that if it is said Oxfam's own publicly-perceived morality affects donations to it, there is a conclusive reply? It could have maintained its morality in the eyes of the public, perfectly, by taking the money and publicly abhorring my morality.

12. There is another matter, not about legality but as important. Many people give money to Oxfam. Most of them do it to serve the official objects of Oxfam. They want to reduce suffering and so on. They do not give their money to Oxfam to licence it to moralize, however tolerant they may be of it. That is not what they support it for. Nor do its volunteer workers support it for that purpose. Oxfam Great Britain has failed not only in its legal obligation, to my mind, but also in its moral obligation to its supporters.

13. Mr. Whitaker, who in his letter honourably takes personal responsibility for the decision not to take the donation, should of course give an account of himself to the trustees of the charity, those who have authority with respect to it. It is my own view that the trustees should consider the question of relieving him of his duties.

So much for some conclusions.

What remains are some remarks and reminders pertaining to the above      conclusions, and then in the next section one last larger matter, and then the end of the story.

Remembering sections 1, 3 and 5 above, it is not irrelevant to Oxfam's words having to do with endorsement that the book in question has had the reception it has had, in The Times and so on, on the BBC of Canada, and in principal universities, some additional ones being Oxford, Durham and Edinburgh. It is not Mein Kampf, however much its neo-Zionist critics wish to suppose so.

Both sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict believe and in effect assert that they have a moral right to engage in their actions. This   is  certainly true of the Israelis with respect to their state-terrorism, which by a plain and uncontentious definition it is. It remains true,  if you wish to join  them in a self-serving definition of terrorism, of what is certainly their  killing, including killing of many innocents or non-combatants.  It is as true that the Palestinians claim  a moral right to their killing.      

Throughout the whole of known history, furthermore, including the founding of the Israeli state partly by way of terrorism, peoples have in effect claimed this moral right in order to secure freedom and power in a homeland. They have usually done so with reason, as in the case of the Jews in order to found the Israeli state after the Holocaust.

What distinguishes me from these groups, in part, is a philosophical and indeed a moral aversion to inexplicitness and cant, the convention of cant in which it sometimes seems our age is submerged. I shall not say I "understand" Palestinian terrorism, or whatever else along these lines, or convey that it is "necessary to them in a just cause", or avoid the question of their justification, or of course say that both sides are in the wrong, but the Israelis especially.

But not to give in to the convention is not only to resist inexplicitness and cant.

More importantly, it is also to resist a convention that is being used as another pressure by the enemy of the Palestinians in that enemy's wholly unjust cause. Not to speak plainly and openly of the justification of the Palestinians in their wholly just cause, to be coerced by a campaign of their enemy into mildness of speech, does not serve truth and it does not serve humanity. It does not serve the end of the greatest of moralities.

Another thing that distinguishes me and many others from a good deal of unreflective feeling and thinking is that I do not suppose that what an army does, say kill civilians, is not intended despite being a foreseeable consequence of what they purport to be doing. There is no overwhelming difference between tank fire that kills children and suicide bombing that does. In fact, that is more cant.

But I must leave the matter of the question of the moral right, and return to Oxfam.

It was implied or in the air, notably in connection with the question of whether my donation was an ordinary private donation, that I had some other motive in giving the donation. I find this obcure. You have heard in section 2 what seems to me true in this connection.

A good deal of what is said by several of the four contributors to the page in the magazine Third Sector requires further reflection. Some is to my mind truistic and indecisive. Have a look again  if you would like.

Also, Ms Chapman of the Charity Commission, her position notwithstanding, cannot be right in saying that any charity's governors are entitled in law to turn down a donation if they think a donation is in conflict with the charity's objects. Governors can make mistakes, as judges have no doubt determined before now. By way of one other thought on Ms Chapman's submission, it cannot be to the point that Oxfam has a policy. Of course it has a policy. The question is the rightness of that policy or the application of it in the present case.


To move towards a larger matter, and indeed the policy, I do not much  complain  of the haste with which the decision to turn down my donation  was taken, and   the fact that it was therefore taken in ignorance of some  relevant matters.   However, that a donation was turned down in the press, without the donor's having been informed of this possibility and given an opportunity to say a   word, suggests an attitude in need of some examination.

This attitude, or rather collection of attitudes, has in it a certain moral confidence, a certain want of moral self-doubt, a kind of complacency if not an arrogance of piety. This runs together with what is of greater importance, noted already in paragraph 8 above. This is the morality and politics, taking security from its orthodoxy, that to say the least is not so reflective as it might be.

Some emails of support sent to me by workers in other charities go further. They suggest that Oxfam Great Britain, in what appears to be a kind of conventionality and conformism true to our society as it is, may not be open to question only in its accepting and rejecting of donations. It is possible that its attitudes make it open to question with what it does with the donations, the other end of the operation.

Is its distribution of aid exactly in accordance with its proper objects? Are its related policies in various countries, say with respect to its relations to armies and occupying powers, exactly in accordance with those objects and no others? Does it stray into moralizing that affects its operations and is not necessary for its objects?  I cannot do what others who are better informed may do, which is to contemplate answers to these particular questions. I can see that the present episode may allow the questions to be raised.

However, there is something on which such an under-informed person  as  myself  can hazard a bit more. Oxfam, some say belatedly, has followed  other  international  charities, notably War on Want, in what approximates to political campaigning.  It has come to see, with its past president Professor Amartya  Sen, that famines  cannot possibly be regarded simply as the results of food shortages.      

Indeed I see that Oxfam Great Britain, in some of its literature, says it seeks to overcome poverty and suffering by the three particular activities of responding to emergencies, giving long-term aid, and campaigning to change the injustices that keep people in bad lives. No doubt this third aim, like the other two, at least as it might be understood, is in accord with its legal objects.

Oxfam Great Britain sent me a report by Oxfam International about Palestine. It is Oxfam Briefing Paper 28, called "Forgotten Villages: Struggling to Survive Under Closure in the West Bank". The report is what is called balanced . It would be unfair to say that it forgets that is is not a good idea to try to strike a balance between the rapist and the woman he is raping. But it is a quiet document. Still, the thing exists, and definitely aligns Oxfam International and presumably Oxfam Great Britain with the United Nations condemnation of what it is proper to call the rape of Palestine. 

It leads to a thought. Like everybody else, as already remarked, I have been getting a lot of stuff through the door from Oxfam for quite a while, and also seeing its adverts. I don't remember anything much of a moral and political kind about Palestine. Maybe there was something, but it certainly wasn't such as to stick in the mind. There was no professionally-produced leaflet or advert, with good photos,   about what has been happening in Palestine.

Why has there been no very public and well-done stuff, effective mass communication, on this tragic and consequential subject? Oxfam would be very good at it. Why does Oxfam Great Britain's campaign to change the injustices in Palestine seem to limit itself to such items as a briefing paper in a plain green cover that relatively few people outside the organization have ever seen?

Does that have anything to do with the moral attitude of which I have been   speaking? Does it have to do in turn with its policy on the accepting of donations? Not to mince words much, does it accept a lot of money from large shops with something like neo-Zionist sympathies?

Charities are not in general obliged to make public the identities of their donors or categories of donors. However, it is taken to be appropriate to do something general along these lines. Given the questions raised by the story you have heard, might it be appropriate for Oxfam Great Britain to go further than, so far as I know, it has been going? A kind and degree of particular disclosure of contributors or classes of contributors that would suit its questioners rather than what seems to be its own considerable sense of probity would be desirable.

It might, as in the case of political parties, reveal donors who give it £5,000 or more.


Indeed it definitely should. No doubt there is some decorum or the like in concealing these identities. But there is obviously a need to give up this secrecy. What large loss would there be? It could hardly be that there would actually be fewer donations if donations were public.

This is the moment to say something more of a matter passed by above: Oxfam's policy on donations. Many people have been interested in this. I have been pretty interested myself.

It is not reassuring, by the way, that what is supplied to those who ask for   this policy is very brief and also unenlightening in the extreme. Here is the policy, supplied to me by Oxfam's in-house solicitor, Mr. Joss Saunders:

I have been asked to let you know what our policy on donations is. It is Oxfam's policy to accept donations from any source, but to reject any single donation that risks causing significant damage to Oxfam's integrity, public image or professional reputation.

Mr. Saunders subsequently said, in another letter, that this is indeed Oxfam's full statement of policy. He added:

There are internal guidelines for staff to use, but we do not share them with the public.

He declined to clarify the policy by answering plain questions about terms  in the statement of it. I didn't think it worthwhile asking him why Oxfam wouldn't be sharing its guidelines with us. It keeps on asking us for a lot of money. It might let us know about its guidelines for taking it, mightn't  it? They actually are the policy in the ordinary sense, aren't they?

Nor would he answer other questions of interest to me and some other members of   the public. One was whether Oxfam GB accepts donations from other governments   or international bodies or organizations other than the UK government, the European Union, and the United Nations.

It was not possible, even, to let me know if I had time to send a letter to the trustees of Oxfam before their next meeting.

Our trustees meet approximately eight times a year, but we do not notify the public of the dates of these meetings.

So much for all that, and some subsequent correspondence with Mr. Saunders on   other matters, not greatly more instructive. All in all, I acquired the impression of a rather secretive sacred cow. But a sincere word now before turning to the second last scene of the last act of this story. This word may ring hollow but it should not.

Oxfam is admirable, and has done much, and is to be supported. Its officers, no doubt including Mr. Whitaker, have done more good to the world than I have ever done. Nothing I have had to say is even in the direction of the idea of anyone's not donating to it. One form of support other than a donation, of course, is the kind that is reflection of an independent kind on its actions. I am sorry to be engaged in this different support.


To finish my story -- having  found  myself with a need to relieve myself of £5,000, my mind of course turned to other major international  charities. As you have already read, at least one of them, War on Want,  had  indicated  that   it would have taken the money. I had heard indirectly from several others that they disagreed with Oxfam's having given in to the neo-Zionist lobby, about which they had no doubt.

All very well, but as things now stood, would they accept the donation? They would have before, certainly, when it was offered to Oxfam GB, and very likely they would have been more principled and courageous when The Globe and Mail rang up, but would they accept the money now? This was a new situation.

The donation as offered to Oxfam was of course not a donation against neo-Zionism. But it had since been branded as such by Oxfam itself -- by Oxfam's giving in to the newspaper's threat. For another charity to take the money now would be for it to take what had had a political definition imposed on it by Oxfam GB.

A friend took two soundings for me.

One charity's senior management team said firmly it would take the money -- but then thought it had better consult its trustees just to be on the safe side. It did, and wrote back confidentially.

By way of a close paraphrase, what it said was indeed that in Oxfam's case, it would have taken the money. But now the whole thing was focused on the bit of my book about Palestine and been blown out of all proportion. The genie couldn't be put back in the bottle. They were angry and frustrated about the fact that some charities take money from all kinds of multinationals -- but that they themselves couldn't now take it from a moral philosopher, indeed because of the kind of mixed-up thinking that his book had been trying to dispel.

The second sounding was much the same. In considering taking the donation now, they had to think about more publicity as a result of Oxfam's having declined it. The thing had been blown up out of proportion. If they took the donation, they could be branded as softer on violence than Oxfam.

One moral of this footnote to my story is that if you publicly give in to a threat by a lobby, you do not only do that. If you do not act with courage and on principle, you do not only do that. You prevent others from doing what they would otherwise do. You create a situation that stops them from doing what in principle they would prefer to do. You stop them from doing what they certainly would do save for your want of courage and principle.

You will gather that it had become still clearer to me that Oxfam had allowed itself to be made use of against the Palestinians. Well then, what about someody's good idea of redressing the balance a little? It came from the economist and journalist Paul de Rooij. Certainly it was a good idea. He knew of a woman of character, and freer of certain constraints. She was Belinda Coote. The upshot, and nearly the end of the story, anway in this form, was as reported by The Guardian  on 11 December 2002.

Oxfam's Rejected Gift Quickly Snapped Up


Oxfam's Loss is Palestinian Aid's Gain




by Owen Bowcott and Raekha Prasad


A British charity has stepped in to accept a donation that Oxfam controversially rejected because the money was linked to a book defending the Palestinians' right to carry out suicide bombings.


Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) has welcomed the £5,000 donation by Ted Honderich, former professor of mind and logic at University College London. The money comes from advance royalties for his book, After the Terror, which examines the moral dimension of the September 11 attacks.


Map will also get the equivalent 1% of sales revenue from the publisher, Edinburgh University Press.


Earlier this year, when it was offered the money, Oxfam said it could not take the proceeds of a work that endorsed acts of violence.


Belinda Coote, MAP's chief executive, says Oxfam is entitled to its view. But her charity is accepting the royalty advance very gratefully. "Ted Honderich is a moral philosopher," she says. "He doesn't trade arms or peddle baby milk."


Honderich has made it clear that his views do not have to be endorsed by MAP, says Coote, adding: "Five thousand pounds is a lot of money to us. To Oxfam, it's very little."


MAP, established 20 years ago, has six employees in London and seven in the Middle East. It spends about £2m annually on supporting health services, including mobile clinics and health centres in the West Bank and Gaza and in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.


Honderich, who was a long-time donor to Oxfam until the charity refused his gift, says: "My reason for giving the £5,000 to MAP is partly that Oxfam allowed itself to be recruited in the anti-Palestinian cause. So it is particularly suitable that the money should go to a charity trying to help the victims of Israeli aggression and occupation."


Paul Mylrea, Oxfam's head of media, says: "We have a substantial programme in the Middle East. We have called very strongly for an end to the Israeli government's policy of closure of Palestinian villages to prevent a humanitarian disaster."


When Honderich offered the money, says Mylrea, it was framed as a private donation. But he then went public. "He linked the charity to what he was saying, without discussing it with us first," says Mylrea. "Our reputation is one of our most valuable assets."

There was more comment to my liking in the papers after that. Look, if you want, at the view of Libby Purves in The Times in March 2005, 'The Robust Reply to Bullying'.

                                                                                           Revised 26 March 2005.

TO After the Terror, Ch. 1.
TO a lecture and further thoughts on the book.
TO 'The Fall and Rise of a Book in Germany' 
TO Libby Purves, 'The Robust Reply to Bullying', The Times.

TO 'The Philosopher in the Trenches', an interview by Paul de Rooij.

to T.H. front page

HOME to Det & Free Website front page