Rights and Democracy: Did the right hand know what the right hand was doing?

In the Star, Haroon Siddiqui provides the latest update on the surreal weirdness convulsing the Montreal organization Rights and Democracy. Perhaps the most interesting part of this column is the following graf, about three Rights and Democracy grants to NGOs working in the Middle East, including Al Haq, the bête noire of the organization’s newly-installed board majority:

As it turned out, [now-deceased former R&D president Rémy] Beauregard had run the three grants by Cannon’s ministry, which approved. In fact, Al Haq had also received funding from CIDA. That was in keeping with the Canadian policy of promoting civil society in Palestinian territories to provide non-violent alternatives to terrorism. Al Haq was good enough for CIDA and foreign affairs but not [new board chairman Aurel] Braun and Co.

CIDA grants to Al Haq? I can find no direct record of that on the agency’s website (your help on this would be welcome) but I did find an awful lot of complaining about it, all from one source: Gerald Steinberg, who runs an Israeli organization called NGO Monitor. Its thesis is that international groups working to defend the rights of Palestinian Arabs are seeking to sap Israel’s defences. Steinberg’s a busy guy. He was celebrating the new direction of Rights and Democracy in the Jerusalem Post before Rémy Beauregard had even been buried, and that was only his latest contribution to the debate. Here he is in 2004, decrying CIDA’s role in “exploiting human rights to demonize Israel.” Here he is in two more recent publications, taking specific aim at CIDA funding of various terrifying groups (Oxfam! Boo!!!) including Al Haq.

But most intriguing is this direct submission to Canadian Parliamentarians, some of whom (from every party) gather occasionally as the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism. The submission dates from last August, a time when the internal conflict at Rights and Democracy was heating up considerably.

So if CIDA was funding Al Haq, and DFAIT was consenting to donations to Al Haq, the about-face at Rights and Democracy had to be driven from somewhere else. Probably somewhere whose initials were PMO. Now, as it defends its actions, the newly-appointed board majority has preferred to refer only in passing to this highly political debate. Braun and his colleagues prefer to frame this as a fight for accountability and oversight (while declining to return most reporters’ calls and issuing gag orders to staff). Here, too, they are on shaky ground. They can leak a damning 2007 report on spending practices at R&D all they want; they still can’t hide two facts. First, Rémy Beauregard was installed as R&D’s president in 2008 precisely to overhaul accountability and oversight. Second, an easy-to-find 2008 report demonstrates that he was succeeding. In other words, the management cleanup at Rights and Democracy began long before these clowns took over.

One more thing. Take this as foreshadowing. In the last paragraph of their letter to the National Post, Braun and his allies write:

“We will continue to work to govern Rights & Democracy according to the highest standards so that Canadians need not be embarrassed by, but rather can be consistently proud of the work of the organization.”

One interesting question in the days ahead: will the news coming out of Rights and Democracy make Canadians embarrassed? Or proud?