Group’s aid pulled over Iran suggestion


BERLIN (JTA) – The Swiss branch of a major Catholic charity has pulled its support from a German nongovernmental organization, allegedly over its suggestion that a military strike should be considered if other measures fail to convince Iran to drop its nuclear ambitions.

Directors of the NGO, Wadi e.V., say they were merely upholding Israel’s right to exist in the face of verbal threats from Iran.

In a June 10 letter recently made public, the Catholic charity Caritas wrote that it regretted having to stop funding Wadi e.V., one of the few NGOs that has remained active in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion. Wadi e.V.’s main focus has been on the prevention of female genital mutilation. It has been working 14 years in the region.

Though Caritas did not cite specific statements as objectionable, its decision to cease funding came after Wadi’s director, Thomas von der Osten-Sacken, cited on the NGO’s Web blog the position about Iran.

In its letter, Caritas Switzerland’s regional director, Norbert Kieliger, and Maria Winiger, the director of the Asia-Mideast region, cited the Wadi programs for women in northern Iraq as impressive.

“Which is why we are especially sorry to tell you that our work together with Wadi e.V. will come to an end in February/March 2009, with the conclusion of the current project phase,” the directors said.

According to a report in the latest edition of the Swiss weekly paper Weltwoche, Caritas provides $312,000 annually, or a quarter of the German group’s budget.

The Caritas letter said its “difficult” decision was prompted by political statements on the Wadi Web site “that from our perspective intensify” the Mideast conflict and are “not in keeping with our own views.” Caritas is committed to peaceful conflict resolution, the letter stated.

In response, Osten-Sacken and Wadi president Anne Mollenhauer wrote that they were “astonished” by the letter’s content and asked why their offer to discuss “possible differences or ambiguities in person” was not considered.

In fact, they said, they had not expressed views on “the so-called Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” but rather had stood up for Israel’s right to exist.

It is not possible to hold a supposedly neutral view of governments, organizations and individuals who call for the destruction of Israel and murder of Jews,” they wrote.

They also noted that another group supported by Caritas – Badil, which represents Palestinian refugees – calls for “violence against Israeli military and civilians,” refers to suicide bombers as “martyrs of the intifada,” and refers to Israel as the “Zionist entity” or “racist apartheid state.”

Osten-Sacken said his group had received a short reply from Caritas stating that the charity was sticking to its decision.

Osten Sacken, who recently addressed a conference on Iran in Berlin, told JTA that in his view, “there are worse things than war. It is an unfortunate lesson of the 20th century.

“There should still be a possibility to stop Iran without military action, but this is a dictatorship,” he said. “If Luxembourg has an atomic program, well, Luxembourg is a democracy and I don’t have sleepless nights. The problem with Iran is the regime, not the bomb.”

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