GB, £5000, NEO-ZIONISM, AFTER THE TERROR, and
MEDICAL AID FOR PALESTINIANS
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
led me as the author of the book to want to tell the story
to my own lights, and of course the inside story. Do I go on too long
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
about Oxfam G.B. that need a good basis. It is also a story exemplifies
in life, its fortuitousness. It ends happily, with the good sense of
Medical Aid for Palestinians -- or happily except for the
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'.
1. THE BOOK
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,
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
of the same world as before, with certain old facts in it. After
Terror has more new views of the second kind in it.
The book's first chapter is
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
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
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
same effect or consequence as commissions or positive actions are less
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
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
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
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
of a paper that has been read out in various places. The further
have to do with argument left out of the book for the moral right of
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
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.
2. THE DONATION
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
nothing unprecedented about the idea of giving the royalties of
the Terror , starting with the advance of £5,000, to
I had been doing that sort of thing. There was that general
You do not have much need of the addition of special
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
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.
3. EARLY REVIEWS
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
these things in the first place. How do we measure this atrocity
others? Is it a question of scale? Of the difference between war and
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
moral feelings and judgements, is not so firm now as it was back at
the beginning of these reflections,' he writes. 'Is your confidence
of sterner stuff? Maybe it shouldn't be.' Honderich doesn't lecture, he
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
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
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
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
'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
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
the World Trade Centre, was trying to persuade the West to feed
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.
4. A BOOK TOUR
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
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
going to Oxfam -- and might the interviewer like to do some
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
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
support the Sharon government. You will notice, to whatever effect,
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
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
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
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
Solomon, who had reason not to love me, had got someone to ring up
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
Nancy Fraser made up for his absence. A good session. Again I learned
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
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
Having tried for a while to struggle through the American telephone
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.
5. A SUCCESSFUL THREAT
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
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
One wonders, then, how anyone anywhere could excuse such
actions, much less praise them. Yet, many do so, including some Western
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
6. SOME RELATED MATTERS
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
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
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
newspaper in Canada, a good broadsheet in British parlance. What is
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
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
of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (the BBC of Canada), and the
magazine Macleans , and other such authorities, were also
welcoming back an ex-Canadian and discussing his book. The Star's good
Leslie Scrivener was one interviewer who elicited from me my
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
or any like thing. Oxfam, whatever else has to be said, was made
use of in an old newspaper war and attendant personal
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
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
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
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
to do with an awareness of special pressures and the neutrality of
you have heard.
7. ANTI-SEMITE, ETC.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
cases? If they stray into coarse invective, abuse and obscenity, so
entirely unlike Jewishness as previously it has been known to some of
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
you have heard. My longer letter went to the relevant officers and all
the trustees of Oxfam.
8. BRINGING THE NEWS BACK HOME
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
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
The Guardian and The Times praised its thoughtful probing of the
of the events; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a minor theme of
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
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.
OXFAM'S GIFT HORSE
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
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
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,
and groups have a moral right, and indeed a duty, to resist in any way
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.
• 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?
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
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
refusing Professor Honderich's money for its humanitarian work? Who was
9. OXFAM'S OWN AND OTHER OPINIONS
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
I am responding to your letter...since it was my
decision, taken on Oxfam's behalf, to decline your offer of a
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
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
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
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
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
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.
WAS OXFAM RIGHT TO TURN DOWN TED HONDERICH'S DONATION?
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
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
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
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
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
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.
10. SOME CONCLUSIONS
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.
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 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
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
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
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
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
but also tough on the causes of crime, we are for tax avoidance but not
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
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
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
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.
11. OTHER ISSUES
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
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
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
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.
12. A LARGER ISSUE
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
It might, as in the case of political parties, reveal donors who give
it £5,000 or more.
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
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
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
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.
13. THE END
To finish my story -- having found myself with a need to
myself of £5,000, my mind of course turned to other major
international charities. As you have already read, at least one
them, War on Want, had indicated that it would
taken the money. I had heard indirectly from several others that they
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
and journalist Paul de Rooij. Certainly it was a good idea. He knew of
woman of character, and freer of certain constraints. She was Belinda
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
Loss is Palestinian Aid's Gain
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
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,
TO a lecture and further
thoughts on the book.
TO 'The Fall and Rise of a Book
TO Libby Purves, 'The
Robust Reply to Bullying', The Times.
TO 'The Philosopher in the
Trenches', an interview by Paul de Rooij.
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