jewin' the fat

Oxfam are Oxymorons
August 24, 2009, 2:58 PM
Filed under: Comment, Israel | Tags: , , , , , ,

My brother-in-law announced quite casually one Friday night that he was planning to run 100km in under 24 hours. Through the bush. All in one go. At first, our family went through the five stages of an unexpected Shabbat announcement.

Shock.                                                                                                                                 Disbelief.                                                                                                                           Ridicule.                                                                                                                  Questioning.                                                                                                                    Acceptance.

In the name of Oxfam Australia, he and three of his friends were going to push themselves to their physical limits, along with hundreds of others, to raise money  for less fortunate communities in the Asia Pacific. Which, according to the Jewish spirit of generosity and focus on Tikkun Olam and Tzedakah, would have been an inspiring, fulfilling way to spend a weekend.

Except that a few days ago, I read a disturbing news story online which made me reconsider. Oxfam International dumped Sex and the City star Kristen ‘Charlotte’ Davis from its corps of celebrity ambassadors. Why? Well according to the original New York Post story, because she is currently contracted as the ‘face’ of Ahava skin care products, which is produced beyond the Green Line.

This ‘disputed’ territory, namely Kibbutz Mizpe Shalem on the Dead Sea coast, according to Oxfam is the site of “settlement trade”, which they “remain opposed to”. According to a source quoted in the NY Post, “From an Oxfam perspective, Ahava is a polarising company and Kristin shouldn’t be involved with it.”

Kristen Davis (bottom left) with protesters from CODEPINK, a grassroots women's peace activist group. (PHOTO: The Courier Mail)

Kristen Davis (bottom left) with protesters from CODEPINK, a grassroots women's peace activist group. (PHOTO: The Courier Mail)




According to a representative from Oxfam Australia, the following statement stands as the ‘truth’ of the issue:

 “I would like to assure you that the NY Post story (“Sex star, Oxfam split”) is not correct: Oxfam remains committed to maintaining Kristin as our ambassador and Kristin remains committed to Oxfam. Furthermore, this issue in no way changes Oxfam’s and Kristin’s future plans together. We do not currently have plans for publicity work while we work through the Ahava issue. It would indeed be a shame for this incident to be used by others to distract from her great work with us.”

Am I missing something?

If we are going to say there is a conflict of interest (namely, that the operating systems of Ahava and the ideology of Oxfam are in opposition), then why did Oxfam accept Davis’ services as an Ambassador? It’s not like Davis is being paid for her services – in fact, Oxfam benefits greatly from the fact that Davis is a television and movie star (who can forget her turn in Melrose Place), and probably chose her to capitalise on her fame. But then again, if she isn’t being paid to represent Oxfam (as she is with Ahava), is her personal ideology, or any divergence from the ideology of Oxfam, necessarily an infringement upon a part of the legal or contractual obligations of her volunteer service? What about the thousands of volunteers who walk the streets collecting signatures – does Oxfam care about their personal affiliations? Or for that matter, the hundreds of paid staff employed by this humanitarian company?

I have to admit, the idea of raising thousands of dollars to build clean water filters in schools, or providing micro finance to women in underprivileged communities is honourable, vital work, that as Australians with the means, I implore our communities to give to generously. But without prejudice? 

Can we afford to deny these deserving communities financial aid on the basis of our political affiliation, or conversely, are we to ignore the unfair politicisation of charity work as we blindly give money to an organisation that no longer sees the wood for the trees? Can we legitimately support certain initiatives, like Oxfam Trailwalkers, while feigning ignorance about the differences between Oxfam’s clear ideological persuasions and our own?

When it comes to Kristin Davis, at what point does it become hypocritical to be paid by an Israeli company, while volunteering for an organisation that raises money for Palestinians?
When it comes to where you donate your ten percent, are we being hypocrites? If you are for a cause, do you automatically need to be against another?
Is humanitarianism a zero sum game?


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