OPINION: Hot Issue - Was Oxfam right to turn down Ted Honderich's donation?

Oxfam has turned down a £5,000 donation from Professor Ted Honderich, part of the advance against royalties for his book After the Terror, which defends the right of Palestinians to resort to violence and suicide bombings.

Is the charity undermining free speech or simply acting correctly to protect its reputation?


A charity may refuse a donation if the trustees believe that the source is in serious conflict with the charity's objects.

In Oxfam's case, these are the relief of global poverty, distress and suffering including situations arising from war or civil disturbances.

Also, trustees may decide that the acceptance of a donation could alienate supporters or users and lead to loss of support, because it would damage the reputation of the charity. Trustees must always consider the interests of the charity when they make these decisions and not their personal views.

The Charity Commission is always glad to discuss the issue of donations with any charity and recommends that trustees seek advice if a charity wishes to decline a donation.


The most important consideration in deciding whether to accept or refuse a donation must be the charity's best interest. A holistic approach should be taken which judges both practical and ethical factors against a clear policy agreed by the charity's trustees, who hold the ultimate responsibility for all decisions.

The question here is not whether Oxfam should refuse a particular donation, but whether it acted in the charity's best interests.

I do not know the full details of the agreement but I understand that Oxfam does have a clear policy that has been drawn up in accordance with both the Charity Commission's guidelines and the Institute of Fundraising's Code of Fundraising Practice.

I am also aware that one of Oxfam's aims is to reduce the suffering caused by conflict. It would therefore seem to me that aligning themselves with a donor who has controversial political views might not be in the charity's best interests.

Apart from potentially conflicting with the charity's mission therefore running the risk of reputational damage, accepting this donation might damage their efforts to bring aid to other areas of the region.


Having once worked for a cause that accepted a donation from moors murderer Myra Hindley yet refused bullfight profits, I agree this is tough territory.

Charities can be astonishingly pompous about whose money they abhor.

Company money may well worry those who welcome grants from governments whose policies directly damage charities and harm beneficiaries.

Oxfam's web sites offer no guidance for unwanted would-be donors. Charities need principles, yet how many formally bar cash from crime or activities against their mission?

Private, personal opinions cannot be a reason for refusing donations, and even disagreeable public opinions should not be grounds for barring private donations, just as the test for beneficiaries should be need, not their politics or religion.

Yet this was a public donation of profits from a controversial book now given greater publicity. Not to an unknown Palestinian charity, for which £5,000 might be a fortune and the source acceptable, but to a high-profile aid agency guaranteed to reject the offer.


It is absolutely legitimate to question the sources of donations particularly when they are associated with business or (in this case) a business deal.

Accepting a donation implies a degree of endorsement.

But in this case I suspect Oxfam has reacted to a vocal pro-Israeli minority and concerns about potential damage to its future fundraising. All NGOs working in Palestine are well aware of this lobby, which complains on a daily basis about any support given to the opposition.

Professor Honderich's book deals with terrorism only as a minor issue.

He discusses whether Palestinians have a moral right to use terror tactics, which is a valid debate. The book does not support terrorism but seeks to understand it. The links between poverty and terrorism are clear and stark. Even the Israeli military has admitted that more than 80 per cent of Palestinians in Gaza are living below the poverty line.

In these circumstances, Oxfam's decision not to accept the donation seems a strange one.

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