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Senator Demands to Know if World Vision Is Funding Terrorism

Christian aid organization says it is not and defends former director sentenced to prison in Israel.
Senator Demands to Know if World Vision Is Funding Terrorism
Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Senator Chuck Grassley talks to reporters.

Senator Chuck Grassley is concerned that World Vision International may have funded terrorism with US taxpayers’ money.

The long-serving legislator from Iowa sent the Christian humanitarian aid organization a letter last month asking for answers to a number of questions about funding, current programs, and accountability. World Vision received $491 million from US Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2022.

“Congress and the American people deserve transparency with respect to the steps World Vision has taken to ensure taxpayer money is used as intended and not for illegal activity,” Grassley wrote. “Please provide answers.”

The humanitarian organization told CT that it sent a reply to Grassley on September 9. On the larger point, the group is unequivocal: “World Vision does not support any form of terrorism.”

The senator’s inquiry comes a year after a World Vision employee was sentenced to 12 years in prison in Israel. According to prosecutors, the former director of aid to Gaza diverted $50 million meant for hungry children and farmers to Hamas, which the US State Department has designated a terrorist organization. Little of the evidence used to convict Mohammed el-Halabi was made available to the public, beyond a confession that Halabi’s lawyers say was coerced. Four United Nations experts raised concerns about what they called “egregious” violations of Halabi’s right to a fair trial.

World Vision continues to defend the former Gaza aid director. The organization says his conviction was unjust and the Israeli court’s ruling is “in sharp contrast to the evidence and facts of the case.”

In 2016, the humanitarian aid organization commissioned an independent audit of the aid to Gaza and found no irregularities.

Brett Ingerman, the lawyer who headed up the audit, told CT in 2022 that “the investigation did not find even a hint of funds being diverted to Hamas or any schemes or collusions involving other World Vision employees or third parties.” The investigators looked at more than 280,000 documents and interviewed more than 180 people but couldn’t find “any material evidence” that the World Vision employee “was affiliated with, or works for Hamas.”

Investigations by USAID and the German and Australian governments came to the same conclusions. The Australian government said only a court could determine Halabi’s guilt, but it’s internal review “uncovered nothing to suggest any diversion of government funds.”

Grassley, however, is not convinced. In his letter addressed to Andrew Morley, World Vision president and CEO, the senator asked for a copy of the full audit, which has not been made available to the public.

Grassley asked about steps the humanitarian organization has taken to “prevent further money being sent to terrorist organizations.”

The senator also wants information about the humanitarian organization’s current work in Gaza. A 2023 report from World Vision mentions $9.6 million dollars were budgeted for Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, but did not mention any specifics about local partners or vetting practices.

When Halabi was directing the Gaza effort, World Vision reported helping 40,000 children with food, medical supplies, and other assistance annually. All aid to the area was suspended when Halabi was arrested. Critics of the Israeli government’s policies toward Palestinians said the arrest and prosecution was intended to have a chilling effect on humanitarian aid.

Grassley is not particularly concerned with Israel and Palestinians. He is concerned with terrorism and the misuse of foreign aid. He has been investigating places where taxpayer funds might end up in the wrong hands. In another letter last month, he asked USAID head Samantha Powers to account for the government’s relationship with World Vision, noting the Christian group is the “sixth-largest implementor of USAID grants.” Grassley asked for documents showing the agency has worked to prevent funds from going to terrorism.

“It is paramount that US dollars do not, in any way, shape, or form, fund or encourage terrorism,” the senator said. “My goal is to improve transparency and make sure every cent of taxpayer money is used as intended and not for illegal activity.”

Grassley is also currently asking Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for information about $6 billion in US assets released by the Biden administration to Iran in exchange for American detainees.

In 2020, the senator investigated World Vision’s relationship with the Islamic Relief Agency. In a subsequent US Senate Finance Committee Report, the humanitarian organization was accused of failing to properly vet organizations it partnered with. The senate committee said that while the funds given to the Islamic Relief Agency were not likely used to directly fund terrorism, the money “inevitably aids their terrorist activities.” World Vision was accused of being “borderline negligent.”

The humanitarian organization denies it did anything wrong working with Islamic Relief Agency, but it has also made changes to its vetting process as a result.

Now, World Vision has sent their response to Grassley’s most recent questions, saying they addressed his concerns within the timeline previously agreed with his office.

In the meantime, the humanitarian aid organization said it will continue to fulfill its Christian mission, “ensuring our resources provide maximum benefit to the vulnerable children we serve.”

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