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Oxfam are Oxymorons

August 31, 2009 – 9:24 pm23 Comments

By Jewin’ the fat

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, should have been an inspiring, fulfilling way to spend a weekend.

oxfamahava

Members of Code Pink 4 Peace protest the sale of Ahava products

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

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

According to an email I received from a representative of 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?).

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 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, about those of the hundreds of paid staff they employ?

Raising money to build clean water filters in schools or provide micro finance to women in underprivileged communities is honourable, vital work. As Australians with means, we should give generously. But without prejudice?

Can we afford to deny these deserving communities financial aid on the basis of our political affiliations, 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 we donate our ten percent, are we being hypocrites? If you are for one cause, do you automatically need to be against another?

Is humanitarianism a zero sum game?

(Read the original article here.)

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