Since 2016, World Vision (WV), an international aid organization supported by evangelicals in the United States, has engaged in a propaganda campaign to portray one of its employees convicted of supporting terrorism as a victim of Israeli persecution. This campaign comes after the organization has partnered with terror groups on multiple occasions and denied knowledge of it every time. Those are the findings of a detailed report produced by Cliff Smith, the Washington Director for the Middle East Forum and published in the Middle East Quarterly earlier this month.
“It’s really alarming the direction World Vision has been heading for a decade or more,” says Faith McDonnell, director of Advocacy with Katartismos Global and a 30-year veteran in the fight to promote religious freedom and human rights.
Last year, an Israeli court convicted and sentenced World Vision’s manager of operations for Gaza, Mohammad Halabi, for terrorism. Halabi was initially accused of diverting as much as $50 million of World Vision funds to Hamas. In response, World Vision declared that its budget in the Holy Land over the time Halabi was in charge amounted to only $22.5 million. Yet World Vision’s spending in the Holy Land during the time Halabi was in charge totaled more than $133 million, NGO Monitor reported. The Israeli court noted that showing Halabi funded Hamas proved his guilt—not the amount he provided them.
“Halabi confessed to funneling large amounts of money and materials for use by Hamas—a designated terrorist organization in Israel, the United States, and dozens of Western and Muslim states. In fact, Halabi confessed to two separate parties nearly two weeks apart, and both times cited similar relevant details,” reported Smith.
World Vision had an audit done that they said proved Halabi’s innocence, but never made it public, nor provided it to the Israeli court. Further, Hamas interrogated the World Vision accountant, Muhammad Mehdi, who blew the whistle on Halabi. World Vision claims Mehdi was a disgruntled employee, lying about his former boss. However, none of the claims about Mehdi, explain how Halabi had a copy of the Hamas interrogation of Mehdi on his personal computer.
This is not the first time World Vision has worked with terrorists and defended their actions, Smith reported. In 2018, World Vision got caught funding a US designated terror group, Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA/IARA/IRA) in Sudan. Moreover, they used public funds from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations to fund them. The US Treasury Department determined in its terror designation that ISRA “commingled funds and cooperated closely in the raising and expenditure of funds” alongside Osama bin Laden’s Maktab Al-Khidmat, “the precursor organization of al Qaida.” ISRA also sent funds to Hamas for terror activities and operated closely with Sudan’s then President Omar al-Bashir.
In 2009 and 2010, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for President al-Bashir for crimes against humanity and war crimes—including torture, rape, and genocide. Bashir attended ISRA board meetings. McDonnell who has spent years working on religious freedom and human rights issues in Sudan, told FWI that World Vision effectively sided with the Bashir government when it refused to sign a memorandum of understanding that all foreign aid groups were asked to sign by Bashir’s opposition. WV’s tacit approval of the Bashir administration, justified under the cause of neutrality, came in the midst of the Clinton administration placing sanctions against Khartoum.
When US officials discovered that World Vision was funding a designated terror group, they ordered WV to stop paying ISRA—but WV maintained its relationship with the organization. In January 2015, WV said it had “discontinued any future collaboration.” Yet almost a year later, WV posted a job position working with ISRA in December 2015, apparently indicating it had not ceased collaborating as it claimed.
In 2012, World Vision was exposed using Australian government dollars to fund a terrorist front group operating in the West Bank. World Vision was funding the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), a front group for the US terror designated Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Australian Solicitor Andrew Hamilton who worked with the Israel Law Center which exposed the funding told the Jerusalem Post that, “The Union of Agricultural Work Committees is an integral part of the proscribed terror organization, the PFLP, that Australian citizens and corporations are prohibited from providing support to.”
In an email to FWI, Hamilton called on the recently elected Australian Government “to initiate a detailed criminal investigation into the Halabi scandal.”
“For more than a decade, World Vision Australia has avoided justice in Australia for its criminal activities in funding PFLP terrorism using Australian taxpayer money obtained by deception,” Hamilton told FWI.
“It would be reasonable to assume that if a smaller organization, whose CEO [Tim Costello] was not the brother of a former federal Treasurer [Peter Costello], had similarly deceived the Australian Government to obtain taxpayer funds which were then sent to terrorists, then they would have been prosecuted to the full extent of the law.” (FWI has attempted to obtain a response from the Costellos and from World Vision Australia, but has been unsuccessful.)
In 2010, World Vision partnered with a group headed by a PFLP operative, Khaled Yamani, who led the Palestinian Children and Youth Foundation in Lebanon. And a few years prior to that, WV signed joint memoranda with the US designated terror group Interpal, a financial supporter of Hamas.
WV responded to FWI’s inquiry regarding the claims made by Cliff Smith in an email declaring, “We remain adamant we are committed to a positive relationship with Israel in our humanitarian work and we do not now, and never have, supported terrorism.”
World Vision portrays itself as a “global Christian humanitarian organization.” McDonnell asks how WV’s support of Islamist terrorists is really in line with the Gospel message it presents. “To see this activity from World Vision in Sudan and then continuing in Israel too—it just makes me wonder: ‘What kind of Christians are supporting a group that is funding terrorists?’”
Susannah Johnston is Focus on Western Islamism’s investigative reporter.