Former World Central Kitchen employee says group spoke out 'too late' against Gaza war

In an opinion piece, Palestinian American Ramsey Telhami says aid group censored material and ignored staff concerns

Vigil for Polish aid worker Damian Sobol, one of the seven World Central Kitchen staffers killed in an Israeli attack on a convoy in Gaza. EPA
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A former World Central Kitchen staffer has accused the aid organisation of censoring critical material coming out of Gaza and only taking a stand on the months-long war after seven aid workers were killed in an Israeli attack.

In an opinion piece published on Mondoweiss, a liberal news website, Ramsey Telhami, who is Palestinian American, said he resigned in March from the aid organisation where he worked as an assistant video editor in protest against the group's refusal to call for a ceasefire and condemn Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

He also said important context in his work was often omitted in a way that undermined the severity of the situation in the enclave.

“WCK leadership is taking a stand six months too late, only after seven of its personnel were killed,” Mr Telhami wrote in the piece published on Thursday.

Earlier this month, World Central Kitchen founder Jose Andres said Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip was no longer “a war against terror” but a “war against humanity itself”, after the Israeli army killed the seven aid workers.

He said the army had deliberately attacked the convoy, and he called for an independent investigation into the incident.

The organisation also announced that it was halting its operations in Gaza.

Charity boss Jose Andres says Israel targeted staff in Gaza – video

Charity boss Jose Andres says Israel targeted staff in Gaza

Charity boss Jose Andres says Israel targeted staff in Gaza

The attack provoked international outrage as well as a threat from President Joe Biden that US support for Israel could change unless more is done to address the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Gaza.

Israel apologised and said it mistook the convoy for Hamas operatives. Israel has also allowed levels of aid into Gaza not seen since it launched a massive military operation in response to the October 7 Hamas attack that killed about 1,200 people, according to Israeli authorities.

More than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli strikes on Gaza, according to local health authorities, and much of the coastal enclave has been reduced to rubble.

In a written response to the Mondoweiss piece, World Central Kitchen said it is committed to ensuring the safety of its staff and feeding people in need.

World Central Kitchen workers killed in Israeli strike – in pictures

“But all the safety training and armoured cars cannot protect against missiles,” the organisation told The National.

“As the [Israeli military] has acknowledged in taking the blame for these tragic deaths, WCK did everything right in co-ordinating its movements. That is why we are calling for an independent outside investigation into the killing of our colleagues.”

Aid organisations say famine is already occurring in Gaza, especially among the territory's most vulnerable populations, amid Israeli restrictions on the entry of food.

“Until the highly publicised slaughter of its employees forced it to do otherwise, WCK has been toeing the Biden admin line regarding Gaza,” Mr Telhami wrote.

The organisation had set up a field kitchen in Rafah, created a network of community kitchens across Gaza, and sent in hundreds of lories of aid, according to the organisation's website.

Mr Andres, 54, is a Spanish-American celebrity chef who founded the food relief NGO in response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Since then, his organisation has fed migrants arriving at the US southern border, medical workers during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as Ukrainians displaced by Russia's invasion.

Several days into the Israel-Gaza war, Mr Andres put out a video on social media in which he condemned Hamas for killing innocent civilians in Israel on October 7 and said he was also heartbroken because “people are dying” in Gaza.

“Chef Jose Andres, people aren’t ‘dying’ in Gaza,” Palestinian-American chef Michael Rafidi responded in a comment.

“People are being murdered, and those people are Palestinians.”

A few days later, Mr Andres wrote on social media that Spanish Minister for Social Rights Lone Belarra should be fired after she condemned Israel for not allowing humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, saying that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin was “defending Israeli citizens”.

In the weeks after the war, the aid group served meals in Israel for people who had fled Hamas rocket fire and were evacuated as the war in Gaza began.

Mr Telhami said he as well as several dozen other staffers at the World Central Kitchen had denounced the move, arguing Israel, the world's 25th wealthiest nation, did not need the assistance.

“By continuing to serve meals in Israel in tandem with our work in Gaza, WCK is playing into false, dangerous perceptions of equivalency between the situations in Gaza and Israel,” according to a letter addressed to the NGO's executives in December, signed by 42 members of staff.

Mr Telhami said that World Central Kitchen continued to serve meals in Israel until January.

Updated: April 12, 2024, 11:02 PM