Britain's Charity Commission announced Thursday that it froze bank accounts for Viva Palestina, an aid group which has delivered cash and supplies to Hamas officials in Gaza. In addition, the Commission, responsible for regulating charities in England and Wales, also replaced the group's trustees with an interim manager.
Viva Palestina was founded by British Member of Parliament George Galloway in January 2009 and has led several humanitarian convoys into Gaza in support of the Hamas-led government. But it has never filed required financial disclosures, the Charity Commission statement said.
It is the second time the commission investigated Viva Palestina, with a 2010 inquiry finding the group was poorly managed and publicly exaggerated it's the amount of money it raised.
The government intervention also is rooted in compliance with standard accounting regulations. But Viva Palestina's overt embrace of Hamas remains a concern. During the convoys, Hamas officials greeted Viva Palestina at stops in Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Gaza.
In March 2009, Galloway made a point of defiantly holding up a bag of cash before handing it to a Hamas minister despite the UK's designation of Hamas as a terrorist group. Prominent Viva Palestina leaders have openly advocated for the destruction of Israel.
Viva Palestina has several international affiliates, including in the U.S., Canada, Indonesia, Turkey, Italy, Arabia, and the Gulf. The U.S. affiliate has been inactive since late 2010. When it was active, American activists for the group repeatedly acknowledged their work was "not about charity ... but in every way that we cut it, it is political."
The U.S. branch of Viva Palestina never incorporated or registered as a charity. When it was active, it used a non-profit charity called "Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizations (IFCO)/Pastors for Peace" as a pass-through, an IPT investigation found. An Internal Revenue Service audit last year recommended stripping the group of its tax exempt status, but it remains listed as a public charity.