Throughout its history, World Vision (WV), a multi-billion dollar relief, development and advocacy agency that promotes child welfare in poor countries throughout the world,1 has used images and stories of suffering and dying children to solicit donations. When it did so during the Ethiopian famine of 1984 and 1985, this practice met with criticism.2 Nonetheless, World Vision continued this practice in the summer of 2014 during the fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. World Vision’s affiliate in Ireland in a radio appeal broadcast in August 2014 introduced a plea for funds in the following terms: “Children should never be targeted, but right now children are suffering in Gaza.” This implied that Israel was targeting children in Gaza and caused their suffering. When challenged, World Vision staffers in the U.S. apologized for the “offense” that it caused,—but not for its content.3
The implicit message that Israel was “targeting children” was false. In fact, according to General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Israel went to “extraordinary lengths” to minimize civilian casualties. In early November 2014, he stated: “The IDF is not interested in creating civilian casualties. They’re interested in stopping the shooting of rockets and missiles out of the Gaza Strip and into Israel.”4 During all of its wars with Hamas, Israel has warned Gazans of impending attacks through leaflets and cell-phone texts.5 In 2006, the Israel Defense Forces stopped an attack when, in response to these warnings, Palestinians gathered around a building.6 Therefore, it would have been more honest and accurate for World Vision Ireland to state that “children should never be put in harm’s way, but that’s what’s happening in Gaza.” Such a pronouncement, however, would encourage a discussion about who was putting children in harm’s way. World Vision wishes to avoid raising the issue, because its donors would question the wisdom of sending aid into Hamas-controlled territory.
SPONSORED CHILDREN KILLED IN GAZA
World Vision relies upon sympathetic journalists to circulate its message. For example, on August 1, 2014, one of its staffers, Mae Cannon, senior director of Advocacy and Outreach for World Vision-USA, appeared on CNN in The Lead, hosted by Jake Tapper7 because five children sponsored by World Vision were killed during the fighting in Gaza. Ostensibly, the segment was intended to draw attention to World Vision’s call for a ceasefire. However, it also provided a pretext to show footage that emphasized the organization’s child sponsorship program and its aid to children throughout the world. During the program, Tapper stated that “Israel insists that it does not target civilians, but in the past five days World Vision says that it has had to tell at least five families that their sponsored child in Gaza was killed not by hunger or lack of shelter, but by conflict.” Thus, Tapper framed the question with the following implication: If the Israelis claim that they are not targeting civilians, why are children sponsored by World Vision being killed in Gaza? Furthermore, Tapper gave the names and personal details of the five children. For instance, a boy, who flew kites bearing “messages of peace and hope” at a World Vision event prior to his death, was “killed by an Israeli missile while playing inside his home.” Another child was receiving psychological care from World Vision before “an Israeli tank shell hit his home.” And “nine-year-old Mustafa, who had been receiving psychological care from World Vision was killed along with his mother, eight-year-old sister and eight-month-old sister when an Israeli jet bombed their home.”
The descriptions of the children’s deaths are similar. They all indicate that efforts on the part of World Vision to alleviate the suffering of children were interrupted by Israel. At one point, Tapper remarked that Israel blamed Hamas for these deaths because it embedded its fighters with the civilian population. He ended by placing Israel, which tries to avoid civilian casualties, in the same moral category as Hamas, which admits that it uses human shields to protect its leaders from Israeli attacks. He offered the following explanation: “Whomever you hold responsible, international aid workers are finding it close to impossible to help any of these children until there’s a cease-fire that features people actually ceasing fire.”
SAME FACTS, DIFFERENT STORY
Tapper’s efforts to downplay the actions of Hamas differ sharply from his interview with former PLO spokesperson Diana Buttu several weeks earlier, on July 10, 2014.8 Then, Tapper sharply questioned Hamas’ tactics and asked: “Why is Hamas launching rockets into Israeli population centers and are any other Palestinians trying to stop them from doing so?” Furthermore, he aggressively challenged Buttu regarding Hamas’ use of human shields, stating: “Israeli government officials say they’re trying desperately to avoid civilian casualties. And there are reports of the spokesman of Hamas—we actually have the video of him going on Palestinian television, urging people to serve as human shields, staying in their homes, even if the IDF is warning people in those homes because they’re Hamas officials’ homes that they’re going to be destroyed.… They’re telling them to stay there. Do you, at all, find that reprehensible, using women and children to be human shields to protect these homes?”
The interviews differ markedly. When Tapper confronts a Palestinian propagandist, he emphasizes Hamas’ criminal action. However, when he interviews an official representing a humanitarian NGO, he takes a completely different approach. He stresses Israel’s involvement in the deaths of Palestinian civilians and claims a false equivalence between Israel and Hamas. While the underlying reality is the same, Tapper’s reporting differs. Wittingly or unwittingly, Mae Cannon of World Vision proved to be a better spokesperson for Hamas than Diana Buttu of the PLO. Cannon defended Hamas better than Buttu. The difference between the interviews confirms the conclusions of Matti Friedman that NGOs operating in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip exert substantial influence upon the way that journalists cover the Arab-Israel conflict. A former reporter and editor at the Jerusalem Bureau of Associated Press, Friedman argues that media professionals are part of the same social circles as staffers at humanitarian NGOs who, in turn, encourage them to embrace anti-Israel positions. Friedman asserts that “a distaste for Israel has come to be something between an acceptable prejudice and a prerequisite for entry” into the social circles dominated by NGO workers.9
To be sure, Tapper is an established journalist who does not need to break into any social circles dominated by humanitarian organizations. Nevertheless, the stark difference between his respective interviews shows that World Vision influenced his treatment of the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and probably that of other reporters and journalists as well. This is not surprising in light of WV’s manipulation of media coverage of the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s which deflected attention away from the crimes of the Ethiopian government.
WORLD VISION AND HAMAS
The overall effect of World Vision’s media appearances and publicity regarding the fighting in Gaza in 2014 obscures the fact that, on four separate occasions over the past decade (2006, 2008–2009, 2012 and 2014), Hamas initiated wars that it could not win against a country that cannot afford to lose. During these armed conflicts, Hamas has endangered the lives of Palestinians, especially children, by launching rockets from schoolyards and by using hospitals as command centers for its leaders. As we have noted above, Hamas summoned civilians to the rooftops of buildings after a warning that these buildings would soon be under attack. Moreover, Hamas launched rockets at civilian populations. A Palestinian Authority official in the West Bank has called this a crime against humanity.10 Furthermore, during the war in 2008–2009, Hamas diverted food and fuel from their intended recipients as part of its policy of increasing the suffering in the Gaza Strip in order to make Israel look bad.11 It has used cement and other building materials allowed into the Gaza Strip—ostensibly for the benefit of Palestinian civilians—in order to construct tunnels that can penetrate Israel and serve as a means to kidnap Israeli soldiers and civilians.12
The policies of Hamas are intended to create a humanitarian crisis. It has succeeded in doing so. As an “advocacy” organization, World Vision is obliged to point this out and to hold Hamas accountable. However, WV contributes to the propaganda war against the Jewish state conducted by Hamas by directing almost all of its criticism against Israel and by protecting Hamas from condemnation. Thus, World Vision helps Hamas in its use of what Alan Dershowitz refers to as “the dead baby strategy.”13 To be sure, World Vision occasionally criticizes Palestinian elites, but it does so cautiously and even-handedly. During the fighting in 2014, Kevin Jenkins, president of World Vision International, criticized Hamas’ rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. His comments, however, often were followed by a condemnation of Israel, thereby effectively minimizing his critique of Palestinian leaders, as follows: “If we are to keep our moral compass, the world must make it clear that those firing rockets into Israel and bombing homes in Gaza are doing wrong.” 14 The above statement presents a false moral equivalence between Israel, which acts in self-defense, and Hamas, which initiates the attacks on Israel and seeks the destruction of the Jewish state.
A BROKEN MORAL COMPASS
World Vision’s reluctance to condemn Hamas appears along with hostile publicity toward Israel by staffers at the organization’s Jerusalem-West Bank-Gaza ( JWBG) office. The latter provide a constant flow of misinformation and one-sided reporting. For example, in 2008, one of the staffers blamed the disruptions in the supply of electricity and the lack of fuel in the Gaza Strip on Israel’s blockade.15 This contradicted the claim of Palestinian Authority officials that Hamas caused these problems by stealing fuel intended for hospitals in Gaza and preventing the purchase of bread in order to “deepen the crisis.” According to Khaled Abu Toameh, a PA official stated that there was “enough fuel and flour to keep the bakeries in the Gaza Strip operating for another two months.”16 Similar propaganda appears on the webpage, blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed controlled by WV’s staffers in the Holy Land.17 These sites ignore the role of the PA and Hamas in undermining child welfare in Palestinian society. In contrast, they emphasize Israel’s alleged responsibility for Palestinian suffering. It is noteworthy that these sites barely mention Egypt’s destruction of homes in the Gaza Strip, carried out in order to prevent Hamas from digging tunnels into the Sinai. Only Israel is considered worthy of condemnation. Apparently, World Vision will not solve this problem in the near future. Asked about the preponderance of anti-Israel articles posted on the websites of WV-JWBG, a press officer from WV-USA stated: “While we don’t agree with all of the content in the posted articles cited from other news sources, we feel they reflect realities affecting Palestinian children.”18
Occasionally, World Vision staffers in the U.S. engage in similar anti-Israel propaganda. For example, on April 4, 2012, Richard Stearns, president of World Vision-USA, attacked Israel in an article distributed by the Religion News Service (and published in the Washington Post and the Huffington Post). He accused Israel of preventing Palestinian Christians from celebrating Easter at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, as follows: “Because of travel restrictions in past years, the majority of Christians living in the West Bank have been stopped at checkpoints and prevented from attending one of the most important religious services of the year.… Local Christians estimate that only 2,000—3,000 permits are provided, despite the overwhelming desire among the 50,000 Palestinian Christians to travel from the West Bank and Gaza for the Easter week celebrations in Jerusalem.”19 The following day, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., claimed that Stearns’ statement was “completely without foundation” and “libelous to the State of Israel.” Oren reported that Israel provided more than 20,000 permits for Palestinian Christians to enter Jerusalem from the West Bank on Good Friday and that 500 similar permits were issued to Christians in Gaza even though “the area is under the control of the terrorist organization Hamas.”20 Oren’s statement reveals that Stearns relayed anti-Israel propaganda from Palestinian Christians without verifying its accuracy.
Stearns’ article was one of the few instances where World Vision-USA presented an anti-Israel narrative to an American audience. A perusal of its monthly magazine shows that World Vision-USA is careful not to place anti-Israel material in the mailboxes of its American supporters. Apparently it does not want to provoke another controversy with its Evangelical supporters when it had to reverse its decision regarding same-sex marriage. The latter resulted in a loss of thousands of supporters.21
In addition to the propaganda and misinformation on the internet and in other media, WV has contributed financially to Christ at the Checkpoint,22 which offers a decidedly anti-Israel program to its participants.23 WV also provided funds for the “Impact Holy Land” conference that took place in Philadelphia in December 2013 and presented a narrative similar to that of Christ at the Checkpoint conferences in Bethlehem. In response to an inquiry about its support for these conferences, World Vision-USA stated: “We believe that dialog from all perspectives is important to finding mutual understanding and agreement on ways forward to bring peace to the region and its children.”24
AN ONGOING PROBLEM
This is not a recent problem. It has been an issue for decades, especially during the Second Intifada when Tom Getman served as WV director in Jerusalem. Getman used his position to attack the legitimacy of the Jewish state. For example, at a conference in Seattle in 1998, Getman lambasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the absence of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The Washington Report for Middle East Affairs reported that “Getman said it is Netanyahu’s ‘intractable short vision’ and his practice of ‘calling every act of opposition terrorism’ and ‘calling people to the barricades for a vision that is the local common denominator’ that makes it hard for Dennis Ross or Madeleine Albright to make any difference.” Furthermore, Getman “urged his audience to help by rooting out Zionism in American churches, and to investigate before investing in Israeli organizations or development projects.”25 In November 2000, a month after the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Getman wrote as follows: “It is being suggested by several journalists that a purposed ethnic cleansing is the last gasping effort of a dying Zionist vision in order to sign a death warrant to a parallel viable Palestinian state. The double tragedy here not only undermines Israeli core values but it lays the base for its own collapse.”26 Getman did not attribute any responsibility for the conflict to the Palestinians. At the end of his reflections, which blamed Palestinian suffering only on Israel, Getman pleaded for donations for World Vision’s work in the Holy Land.
In 2001, Getman remarked that Israel’s “illegal humanitarian siege” contributed “to the rage of an occupied people.”27 That same year, he submitted written testimony on behalf of a divorced mother charged with abducting her children from their father, in violation of a “detailed separation agreement.” According to the Edmonton Journal, the woman took the children from their father in an effort to protect them from terror attacks taking place during the Second Intifada. Getman testified that: “Israel is one of the most difficult places in the world today for children because of the significant risk of their suffering serious harm, both physically and psychologically.” He added: “I believe it would be unwise for Jewish children to return to Israel at this time if they have an alternative option.”28
DIFFERENT TREATMENT FOR ISRAEL AND ZIONISM
World Vision regards suffering and humanitarian issues in Israel differently than it does elsewhere in the Middle East. For example, it uses much more restrained images and language in appeals for contributions for children fleeing the civil war in Syria than for those suffering in Gaza, despite the fact that there are more casualties in Syria than in Gaza. In fact, the Assad regime and its Islamist adversaries have committed grievous atrocities. The war in Syria is replete with gas attacks against civilians, mass expulsion and dislocation, massacres and beheadings—all of which have a terrible impact on children. Nevertheless, WV’s materials do not express the same outrage against the perpetrators of such crimes in Syria as they do against the actions of Israel. Furthermore, the organization does not name any of the groups responsible for the atrocities in Syria. Its material on Iraq is similar in tone and content. The suffering there is described in a manner to elicit an emotional response of sympathy, but viewers and readers are given no clues as to who is to blame for this suffering.
The material on Iraq produced by World Vision Middle East Europe Office (MEERO), hardly mentions Muslim persecution of Christians and other religious minorities. YouTube videos produced by the organization include the testimony of a young boy, a Sabean Mandean, who was kidnapped and told he must convert to Islam. Otherwise, however, WV does not relate to Jihad or Islamism—which threatens the welfare of children throughout the world.29 Sabean Mandeans adhere to a pacifist, gnostic religion rooted in Zoroastrianism and Nestorian Christianity, whose major prophet is John the Baptist.30
The fact that the policy of World Vision concentrates on condemnation and demonization of Israel has come to the attention of a wider public. According to Luke Moon, a researcher at the Philos Group, “the bulk of World Vision’s work involves assisting poor communities, and rarely crosses the line into political or theological controversies. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an exception. World Vision makes no secret of its distaste for Zionism, both Jewish and Christian.”31 In conclusion, WV levels criticism and presents polemics against Israel with an energy and vehemence that it does not display regarding armed conflicts in other parts of the world.
CONDEMNING ISRAEL, NOT ISLAMISTS
It is clear that fear plays a role in determining how World Vision “advocates” for the rights of children in the Middle East. Its security manual states that employees of WV must not be seen as taking sides in a conflict. To do so would place them in physical danger. Its security manual reads as follows:
World Vision field offices must be committed to creating a positive security profile. A positive profile allows little room for a local community, regime, or national government to question WV’s neutrality. An organization like WV—with its commitment to reconciliation, advocacy on behalf of the poor, and justice—can be easily misunderstood to be a special kind of party to an area’s conflict.32
This same document states that WV field staff “should always avoid statements concerning the host government, local authorities, and the political or military situation.”33 As we have shown, World Vision’s prohibition against overtly political statements does not apply to the Jewish state. Islamic regimes and political movements, however, are treated with caution because if World Vision were to refer to Muslim terror organizations by name and point out their crimes against children, its staffers would likely be kidnapped or killed. For instance, in March 2010, Muslim terrorists, probably members of the Taliban, murdered seven World Vision employees, including one Westerner, in northwestern Pakistan.34 World Vision declared this attack “brutal and senseless” and suspended its work in Pakistan indefinitely.35 This underscores a fundamental reality about Christian charitable organizations. They arouse great suspicion when operating in Muslim-majority countries and, as a result, are extremely cautious regarding the Middle East. It is especially true as far as World Vision is concerned. Therefore, one may safely criticize Israel but not offend the sensibilities of leaders in Muslim-controlled territory.
Organizations such as World Vision also must come to terms with the problem of donor fatigue. If WV provided full disclosure of the responsibility of Hamas and other Muslim radical groups for the suffering of children, it is possible that donors would stop sending contributions. This took place during the 1980s when they became aware of the fact that the Ethiopian government caused the famine that their donations were attempting to alleviate. During the armed conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2009, Dave Toycen, president of World Vision Canada, obliquely referred to the problem of donor fatigue. In a video clip posted on YouTube, he described the plight of children in Gaza, and to his credit, in Israel as well. He then requested contributions not only for immediate needs, but also for the “the rebuilding of communities once this conflict ends.” He continued: “Now we realize how discouraging this can be. This conflict has gone on year after year. But I think we have to put our own personal feelings aside and concentrate on the needs of the children. We must not lose hope for their sake. There can be a solution to this situation, we have to believe.”36 The problem with Toycen’s appeal for donations for “the rebuilding of communities once this conflict ends” is that as long as Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, it is not likely that the conflict will end. When he asks his viewers to put their “feelings aside and concentrate on the needs of the children,” and demands that they believe that “there can be a solution to this situation,” he is distracting them from this unpleasant reality. Toycen does not simply ask his viewers to “put their feelings aside,” he also asks them to refrain from thinking and raising an important question: Will contributions from foreign donors and organizations prevent Hamas from starting another war and its consequent suffering in the Gaza Strip?
FUND-RAISING DURING ARMED CONFLICT
When the next round of fighting takes place in the Gaza Strip, World Vision will take advantage of the situation in order to raise money. In fact, it has continued to solicit contributions after the cease-fire in August 2014. Even in late October 2014, World Vision’s affiliate in the United Kingdom used the present tense in a description of the fighting in Gaza, as follows: “As the conflict escalates, children in Gaza are fearing for their lives. Many children are badly injured and have seen loved ones killed. Please give now to help deliver medical treatment, food and care to children in urgent need.” The image accompanying this appeal showed a young child, crying and bleeding from her neck. Her neck and shirt are stained with blood.37
It is clear that the fighting in Gaza has become a steady source of income and employment for WV staffers. The organization recently posted a job listing on its international website for a “Humanitarian Policy & Advocacy Advisor.”38 According to the job description, the advisor would “support World Vision’s advocacy on the humanitarian status of children in Gaza … particularly in relation to our call to end the blockade.” Interestingly, the job posting stated that the new hire will “develop policy products for use in key global capitals to influence decisions regarding the blockade.” These “key global capitals” do not include Cairo, despite the fact that Egypt also enforces the blockade and demolishes homes in Gaza. World Vision focuses upon the impact of Israeli and Jewish actions, but not those of Palestinians or other Arabs.
The tendency of World Vision to downplay the violent, totalitarian, antisemitic and anti-Western character of Hamas represents a definite break from the organization’s anti-Communist roots. In order to understand how this happened, it is necessary to examine the history of WV. Thus, we can explain the reasons for its attitude to Hamas.
World Vision is a multi-billion dollar “Christian development, relief and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice.”39 It was founded in 1950 by Robert Pierce, an Evangelical Protestant born in Iowa whose family moved to southern California when he was twelve years old.40 World Vision was steeped in a “conservative US Christian agenda,” working to feed the poor and promote Christianity in Asia.41 Under Pierce’s leadership, WV was a strong opponent of Communism. In order to raise funds for its missionary and relief efforts, World Vision screened movies in American churches that criticized the lack of religious freedom in Communist-ruled countries where it was active. In addition to enhancing World Vision’s reputation in American churches, these movies most notably, Red Plague, released in 1957, heightened “the political consciousness of the typical apolitical evangelical.”42 In 1999, researcher Alan Whaites, who worked for WV’s affiliate in the UK, stated that “Pierce was determined ‘to win souls for Christ’ and, by extension, deny converts to Communism.”43
Its strong anti-Communist tendencies led to accusations that WV served as a front group for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).44 While World Vision officials denied any affiliation with the CIA,45 the fact that it was described as a CIA front group underscores an important feature of the organization. For the first two decades of its existence, anti-Communism played an important role in its appeal to contributors among American Evangelicals, as WV was staunchly pro-American. Its donors and leaders were supportive of American, as opposed to internationalist, and Evangelical, as opposed to ecumenical or interdenominational, worldviews.
INTERNATIONALIZATION AND ANTI-ZIONISM
In the late 1960s, the focus of World Vision changed. It established national offices in different countries throughout the world. In 1978, the leaders of the respective national affiliates signed a “Covenant of Partnership” which created an umbrella organization, World Vision International. It was given the task of overseeing the affairs of the organization worldwide.46 World Vision-USA, which received $145 million from the U.S. government in 2013,47 remains the largest source of income for the entire organization. Nevertheless, the power to enact policy is shared more broadly with other donor and recipient countries as a result of the Covenant of Partnership. This internationalization transformed World Vision into one of the largest charities,48 with approximately ninety affiliates in donor and recipient countries throughout the world.49
World Vision describes itself as a Christian organization committed to relief, advocacy and development. WV uses a variety of methods to raise funds in order to promote child welfare. The most prominent is child sponsorship, through which churches or individual donors send money to the organization and in return, receive regular updates about the status of an individual child that is supported by their donations.50 WV also raises money through the “30-Hour Famine.” As part of this program, Christian youth groups participate in a 30-hour fast in order to generate publicity about hunger in poor countries and collect donations from local church members. World Vision sponsors several activities for educating youth groups about the status of children who receive help from the organization.51
As World Vision expanded and began soliciting contributions from different countries, it became less dependent upon American Evangelical Protestants. When WV established branches in Europe during the 1970s, it sought financial support from non-Evangelical sources. In the United Kingdom, it agreed to stay away from the donor bases of other Christian charities for ten years. Thus, WV had to look for non-Christian contributors.52 According to Alan Whaites, WV made efforts to “reassure existing European charities that it would focus on creating new donors rather than siphoning off resources from long-established NGOs such as Oxfam and SCF [Save the Children Fund].” He continues:
Further assurances were given to some Christian NGOs, with WV-UK for instance making a 15-year commitment not to fundraise in churches. Such measures gave the new offices substantially different characteristics. For example, WV-UK developed a largely secular support base, and which continued to focus on development education rather than church-based fundraising long after the 15-year agreement had expired.53
The organization, however, has not abandoned its Evangelical Protestant roots in the United States. In March 2014, World Vision’s Evangelical donor base in the U.S. asserted itself when the organization announced that it would provide benefits to employees who were married to members of the same sex. As a result, Evangelical Protestants condemned WV as un-Biblical. Within three days, the organization reversed its decision and issued an apology. One report indicates that World Vision-USA lost support for 10,000 sponsored children in protest against its decision to recognize gay marriage.54 Nevertheless, WV has become much less Evangelical than it was in the 1950s and sixties. According to Whaites, World Vision’s “origins in missionary work” have “gradually been superseded by less overtly religious activities in the field of development.” Its diminution of Evangelical Protestantism led to a reversal of its pro-Western and pro-American agenda. Whaites notes that throughout the 1970s, World Vision became
…more willing to reject Western policy … such as funding work in Sandinista governed Nicaragua. Such actions represented a break with a traditionally cautious approach to challenging the views of WV’s funding constituency, putting at risk its conservative, evangelical middle-America credentials. A long-running programme in support of Palestinian human and civil rights was the object of significant criticism from within this constituency, but by the late 1980s WV had already decided in principle to sacrifice support in order to pursue legitimate justice goals.55 (emphasis added)
WORLD VISION’S POLICY TOWARD ETHIOPIA
World Vision’s anti-Zionism reflects the trends described above. First, according to Virgil Hawkins, the Arab-Israel conflict is a “chosen conflict” that attracts a disproportionate amount of coverage in media outlets throughout the world.56 Therefore, WV regards the periodic fighting in Gaza as a major opportunity for raising money and gaining public recognition, as it did during the famine in Ethiopia during the mid-1980s. At that time, World Vision was criticized for using “icky baby shots,” namely, images of sick and dying children in order to solicit donations. Such images were shown during the famine in Ethiopia on WV television specials on major networks. As a result, contributions to WV increased by 58 percent in 1984 and 1985. In 1985, WV television specials raised $145,000,000. In 1985, WV raised $210,000,000 from these specials and hired 120 additional staffers in the U.S. and 710 employees in Ethiopia.57 WV defended the use of such images for the purpose of raising money, arguing that documentaries that relied more on the intellect and less on emotion “earned the organization ‘a lot of pats on the back’ but no money.”58
World Vision was able to use the famine in Ethiopia to draw attention to its work because it was one of the few institutions in the country that had airplanes to fly journalists to remote locations where they could obtain images of sick and dying children. In fact, in 1984, a World Vision plane transported the BBC journalists who broke the story of the famine when they photographed starving Ethiopians. Like other humanitarian organizations in Ethiopia, WV expected that the journalists whom it helped would acknowledge them in public. In fact, according to a producer at the BBC, its program on the famine disappointed World Vision because it was not the “50-minute commercial” that WV had anticipated.59
In addition to using images of sick and starving children in order to solicit contributions from donors, WV and other charitable agencies were engaged in obfuscating the role of the Mengistu regime in creating the famine in Ethiopia. According to Jason W. Clay, a prominent leader in several NGOs, currently at the World Wildlife Fund, the cover-up became apparent in late 1984. When journalists and researchers began investigating the causes of the famine, they questioned the official version repeated by foreign aid agencies that blamed the famine upon natural causes. Clay argues that this narrative was “advanced by the Ethiopian government and accepted by Western governments and aid agencies.”60 The truth is that the Mengistu government used the aid donated by charitable organizations in order to resettle people from areas held by rebels against his regime, thereby creating the famine. Clay continues that “agencies working in government-held areas mainly echoed the government’s explanations for the famine—drought and prolonged soil degradation—or were silent, allowing them to go unchallenged.” These agencies “believed that an open debate on the underlying causes of the Ethiopian famine would lead to donor apathy and a reduction in the number and value of contributions, thus reducing their ability to assist the victims.”61
Many agency personnel, however, were anything but passive in their attempts to limit the debate concerning the cause of the Ethiopian famine. In public fora they attempted to discredit information that did not support the “natural causes” explanation of the famine. At one such meeting in the spring of 1986 sponsored by the Refugee Studies Program at Oxford University, the World Vision-U.K. representative insisted that research on the causes of the famine might be academically interesting, but it should not be undertaken. Although it might be an “ego booster” for the researchers, it would hurt Ethiopians. The same representative stated that it was “immoral” to publish such information.62
Several journalists shared the concerns of aid agencies. According to journalist Daniel Wolf, producer of The Hunger Business, a documentary about humanitarian relief agencies, which appeared on Britain’s Channel 4 in 2004, journalists withheld information from readers to keep aid flowing into Ethiopia. Michael Buerk, one of the journalists responsible for drawing attention to the famine in 1984, admitted to Wolf that he withheld information in order not to interfere with aid efforts. Wolf recalls that when Buerk’s report was aired by the BBC in October 1984, “the idea took hold that this was a natural disaster ‘a biblical famine’, in Buerk’s words, which could be alleviated by massive food aid.”63
When I spoke to Michael Buerk in the late 1990s, he still held the view that the wars had “complicated matters”, but he did agree that self-censorship had played a role in his own and others’ reportage at the time: “You’ve got to make the decision, is this side story of any real significance? And also at the back of your mind, is: if I overemphasize a negative angle to this, I am going to be responsible for…inhibiting people from coughing up their money.”
Wolf warned that by minimizing the “negative angle” of the famine in Ethiopia in order not to discourage foreign aid donations, journalists hid vital information regarding the causes of the famine. Consequently, donors may have stopped contributing to the Mengistu regime. Wolf reported that crops and markets were bombed and roadblocks were set up in order to prevent the movement of food. He added that “the methods used by Mengistu’s armies were bound to create famine, and they did.”64 According to Clay, the Ethiopian government helped set the stage for the 1984–1985 famine and used “so-called humanitarian assistance to reinforce the conditions that led to the famine.” Furthermore, “the government used humanitarian assistance in ways that extended the famine into formerly self-sufficient regions.” Clay maintains that “there is every indication that the 1987– 1988 famine can be attributed in part to the role played by Western assistance in resettlement, villagization and general population displacement.” Therefore, “the help hurt.”65
The above presents a problem. Buerk wonders whether donors would continue to “cough up their money” if they knew that Ethiopian elites were responsible for the famine and were using humanitarian aid to forcibly remove populations from areas held by rebels and thus exacerbate the famine. The answer is negative. As journalistic self-censorship gave way to more robust reporting on the famine, it became increasingly difficult for humanitarian organizations to raise money for their efforts in Ethiopia. Clay reports as follows:
Even in the fall of 1984, during the height of publicity surrounding the famine, we interviewed by telephone the supervisors of the “1-800” telephone fund-raising operators for six of the largest U.S.-based relief agencies. They indicated that one-fifth to one-third of all callers wanted to know how the agencies proposed to avoid the politics of the famine. By the time the second and third round of fund-raising took place, extensive media coverage and the limited research that had been undertaken specifically concerning the causes of the famine led many potential donors to realize that, at best, the agencies were not telling the whole story. At worst, the agencies did not know what was happening in Ethiopia and therefore were not qualified to receive contributions.66
Charitable organizations such as World Vision suffered a significant decline in contributions when they appealed for help in responding to the famine in Ethiopia in 1987. Part of the problem was that some potential donors were not aware of the famine and others had become tired of appeals for money. Moreover, others doubted whether their contributions would alleviate the famine and ameliorate conditions.67 Nevertheless, according to Suzanne Franks, author of Reporting Disasters: Famine, Aid, Politics and the Media, the impact of the Ethiopian famine increased the budgets of humanitarian organizations such as World Vision.
The Ethiopian crisis not only prompted…new ways of raising funds, it also gave a huge and sudden boost to existing agencies. In the wake of this growth there was no turning back. Like all businesses, the charities adjusted to new levels of income and sought to build on that growth in the years that followed. This sudden expansion had a substantial impact on charities as institutions.68
It is clear that WV is a leading actor in the big business of humanitarian charity. Like any major business or corporation, it engages in a systematic campaign of controlling information. Objective truth is cast aside in favor of images and narratives that arouse strong emotional reactions and convince donors to contribute money. The product for sale is not simply the goods and services that World Vision provides to its client populations in the Third World, but the story that it tells potential donors. Franks claims:
Emergencies and disasters are the most successful way for charities to fundraise, but this brings the danger of what some aid workers call the “pornography of poverty”: that is, the repeated use of shocking pictures of starving children as a means of raising the most funds. The problem is that those agencies which are savvier in using publicity will prosper at the expense of those which advocate a more measured approach. There is even a kind of “humanitarian Gresham’s law” operating so that there can be a downward spiral in which agencies may seek to grab attention through shocking images and high profile attention-seeking publicity.… One journalist familiar with this syndrome observed that “agencies which understand the demands of the media can use the situation to run their charity appeals, knowing that if they provide the right ‘sound bite,’ a pithy phrase summing up the horror of the event, they will feature in the news.”69
Unfortunately, in the case of World Vision, history repeats itself. The organization definitely has internalized the lessons described above. In the mid-1980s, WV used the suffering of children in Ethiopia in order to promote interest and provide funding for its activities which adversely affected the people it was trying to help. It also obfuscated the role of the Mengistu government in creating the humanitarian crisis, partly in order to maintain a steady flow of contributions. WV engaged in a propaganda campaign that served the interest of a murderous dictator in order to increase its income. Thirty years later, World Vision is promoting an anti-Israel narrative in order to obscure the role of Hamas in creating a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. By serving as a conduit of misinformation about the Arab-Israel conflict, World Vision increases its income as it assists Hamas in its propaganda war against the Jewish state.
* * *
1. From September 30, 2012 until September 30, 2013, World Vision International and its consolidated affiliates received a total of $2,032,910,00 in total revenues, gains and other support. World Vision International and Consolidated Affiliates, “Consolidated Financial Statements,” September 30, 2013 and 2012, 4.
2. Niki Cervantes, “TV specials effective tools for relief agency: Critics condemn ‘icky baby shots,’” United Press International, January 31, 1986.
4. David Alexander, “Israel tried to limit civilian casualties in Gaza—U.S. military chief,” Reuters, November 7, 2014.
5. Steve Erlanger and Fares Akram, “Israeli Warns Gaza Targets by Phone and Leaflet,” New York Times, July 8, 2014, A8.
6. Conal Urquhart, “Palestinians use human shield to halt Israeli air strike on militants’ homes,” Guardian, November 20, 2006, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/ nov/20/israel.
7. Jake Tapper, “Children in Gaza sponsored by Christian Charity Killed,” The Lead With Jake Tapper, CNN, August 1, 2014, http://thelead.blogs.cnn.com/2014/08/01/childrenin-gaza-sponsored-by-christian-charity-killed/.
8. Jake Tapper, “Crisis in Israel,” The Lead With Jake Tapper, CNN, July 10, 2014, http:// edition.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1407/10/cg.01.html.
9. Matti Friedman, “What the Media Gets Wrong about Israel,” Alantic Monthly, November 30, 2014, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/11/how-the-mediamakes-the-israel-story/383262/?single_page=true.
10. Aryeh Savir, “WATCH: Palestinian Diplomat admits Hamas War Crimes,” Ynetnews. com, July 13, 2014, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4542765,00.html.
11. Khaled Abu Toameh, “Arab Media places Blame on Hamas for fueling ongoing Gaza Crisis,” Jerusalem Post, January 22, 2008, 2.
12. Peter Coy, “Next Gaza Disaster: No Cement for Rebuilding,” Bloomberg Business Week, July 31, 2014, http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-07-23/next-gaza-disasterafter-war-with-israel-no-cement-for-rebuilding.
13. Alan M. Dershowitz, “Hamas’ dead baby strategy; Cynical ploy must be exposed and rejected,” Washington Times, January 16, 2009.
14. Kevin Jenkins, “Stop sacrificing children for politics,” World Vision International, July 17, 2014: http://www.wvi.org/presidents-page/article/stop-sacrificing-children-politics.
15. Allyn Dhynes, “End the Blockade of Gaza,” World Vision, November 26, 2014, https:// web.archive.org/web/20081226223054/http://meero.worldvision.org/news_article. php?newsID=1701&countryID=15.
16. Abu Toameh, January 22, 2008.
17. Dexter Van Zile, “World Vision Getting the Message, More Needs to Be Done,” Times of Israel, October 3, 2014: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/world-vision-getting-the-messagemore-needs-to-be-done/.
18. Cynthia Colin, Senior Director, Corporate Communications, World Vision-USA, e-mail to the author, October 22, 2014.
19. Richard Stearns, “A Dark Easter for Palestinian Christians,” Huffington Post, April 4, 2014: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-stearns/a-dark-easter-for-palesti_b_1404113. html.
20. Michael Oren, “A Response from Ambassador Michael Oren,” Religion News Service, April 5, 2012, http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2012/04/05/a-response-fromambassador-michael-oren.
21. Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “After World Vision, Evangelicals debate boundaries over sexuality,” Salt Lake Tribune, April 9, 2014.
22. Cynthia Colin; see: Note no. 19.
23. Dexter Van Zile, “Israeli Jews: The Impossible People at Christ at the Checkpoint,” Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, CAMERA, April 11, 2012, http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=118&x_article=2221.
24. Cynthia Colin; see: Note no. 18.
25. Elaine Kelley, “World Vision Jerusalem Director Tom Getman Speaks in Seattle,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February, 1998, http://www.wrmea.org/1998-january-february/world-vision-jerusalem-director-tom-getman-speaks-inseattle.html.
26. Thomas Getman, “How Will Our Children be able to Sleep?,” November 3, 2000, http:// www.al-bushra.org/hedchrch/tom.htm.
27. Alan L. Heil, Jr., “Church Groups Offer ‘Beacons of Hope’ to Palestinian Communities— If the ‘Beacons’ Can Get Through,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/ February 2001, http://www.wrmea.org/2001-january-february/church-groups-offerbeacons-of-hope-to-palestinian-communities-if-the-beacons-can-get-through.html.
28. James McCarten, “Mother, children hiding from violence in Israel: She faces charge of Abduction after Ontario court ruling,” Edmonton Journal, December 8, 20001, A16.
29. World Vision, “Iraqi Children Trapped,” https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL736956E7F2795107.
30. Anonymous, “Sabian Mandeans,” World Directory of Minorities and Religious Peoples, Minority Rights Group International, October, 2014, http://www.minorityrights.org/5746/iraq/sabian-mandaeans.html.
31. Luke Moon, “The Latest Threat to Evangelical Support for Israel,” Tower, July 16, 2014, http://www.thetower.org/article/the-latest-threat-to-evangelical-support-for-israel/.
32. Charles Rogers and Brian Sysma, World Vision Security Manual: Safety Awareness for Aid Workers, World Vision, 1999, 3.
33. Ibid., 131.
34. Scott Neuman, “Christian Aid Groups Tread Lightly In Muslim World,” National Public Radio, August 12, 2010.
35. “World Vision: Pakistan Attack ‘Brutal and Senseless,’” (Press release), World Vision, March 10, 2010, http://www.worldvision.org/content.nsf/c0176406e16aa6f48825745e006b0a85/fdccc44fb4b5eff1882576eb0060e656!OpenDocument.
36. Dave Toycen, “World Vision President Addresses Gaza,” YouTube Video, January 16, 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5tpckxbj88.
38. A listing of this job description may be found at: http://webcache.googleusercontent. com/search?q=cache:7xx1_26Fy-kJ:reliefweb.int/job/708311/humanitarian-policyadvocacy-advisor-world-vision-israel+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us.
39. World Vision International, “About World Vision,” http://www.wvi.org/about-worldvision.
40. Marilee Pierce Dunker, Man of Vision: The Candid, Compelling Story of Bob and Lorraine Pierce, Founders of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse (Waynesboro: Authentic Media, 2005), 22.
41. Alan Whaites, “Pursuing Partnership: World Vision and the Ideology of Development: A Case Study,” Development in Practice 9, no. 4 (August 1999), 412, http://www.jstor.org/stable/402945.
42. John Robert Hamilton, An Historical Study of Bob Pierce and World Vision’s Development of the Evangelical Social Action Film, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Southern California, 1980, 102.
44. Germaine Greer, The Madwoman’s Underclothes: Essays & Occasional Writings (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990), 302.
45. Graeme Irvine, The Best Things In The Worst Times (Wilsonville: BookPartners, 1996), 120–121.
46. Ibid., 279–285.
47. Kim Yi Dionne, “Will an organization receiving U.S. government funds get away with discriminatory hiring practices?” Washington Post, March 28, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/03/28/will-an-organizationreceiving-u-s-government-funds-get-away-with-discriminatory-hiring-practices/.
48. Tim Stafford, “Colossus of Care,” Christianity Today, February, 24, 2005, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/march/18.50.html.
49. World Vision, “Where We Work,” http://www.wvi.org/.
50. World Vision, “Child Sponsorship,” http://www.worldvision.org/sponsorship/howsponsorship-works.
51. Information about this program is available at http://www.30hourfamine.org/.
52. Whaites, 1999: 416.
54. Bailey, April 9, 2014.
55. Whaites, 1999: 416.
56. Virgil Hawkins, Stealth Conflicts: How the World’s Worst Violence Is Ignored (Burlington: Ashgate, 2008), 53.
57. Niki Cervantes, 1986.
59. Suzanne Franks, Reporting Disasters: Famine, Aid, Politics and the Media (London: C. Hurst & Company, 2013), Kindle location 2716.
60. Jason W. Clay, “Ethiopian Famine and the Relief Agencies,” in: The Moral Nation, eds. Bruce Nichols and Gil Loescher (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), 239.
61. Ibid., 239–240.
62. Ibid., 240.
63. Daniel Wolf, “What happened to the f***ing money?,” Spectator, October 23, 2004.
65. Ibid., 238.
66. Ibid., 242–243.
67. Kathleen Teltsch, “Ethiopia Aid Lags, U.S. Groups Say,” New York Times, December 25, 1987, A3.
68. Franks, 2013; Kindle location 2555.
69. Ibid.; Kindle location 2893.
Dexter Van Zile is Christian media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. His writings have appeared in numerous American Jewish newspapers as well as the Jewish Political Studies Review, the Jerusalem Post, Ecumenical Trends, and the Boston Globe. He has a BA in politics and government from the University of Puget Sound and an MA in political science/environmental studies from Western Washington University.