Combatting UN bias, pro-Israel organizations highlight UNRWA incitement and corruption

September 26, 2019 by Eliana Rudee
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To combat Monday’s notorious Agenda Item 7, in which Israel is singled out at each session for its alleged abuses of Palestinians, pro-Israel human-rights experts and groups addressed UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) incitement, corruption and misappropriation of funds during the 42nd UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) this week in Geneva.

View of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 26, 2018. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90

They also made it a point to mention the United Nation’s history of anti-Israel bias.

Speaking to JNS ahead of their advance rollout of a report released on Wednesday, Geneva-based non-governmental organization UN Watch presented their exposé of 10 recent examples of terrorist incitement and antisemitism on UNRWA staff Facebook pages. The report highlights the endorsement and glorification of murderous terrorists like Hamas bombmaker Abdullah Barghouti, responsible for killing 67 Israelis and injuring hundreds more during the five years of the Second Intifada in the early 2000s.

Following several similar reports of jihadi incitement and antisemitism published by the watchdog organization from 2015-17, UN Watch exposed an UNRWA staffer’s Facebook posts condoning knife-stabbings and car-ramming attacks, with another posting a photo of Adolf Hitler depicting him as a humanitarian.

“Despite our prior identification of UNRWA teachers who endorse Hitler and call for killing Jews,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, “I am not aware of a single UNRWA teacher who has been fired as a result.”

Neuer noted that while racist and antisemitic statements by teachers in other countries are exposed and fired, he asked, “Why is it that an ostensibly neutral U.N. agency that supposedly teaches tolerance continues to employ terrorist-supporting and antisemitic staff?”

According to UN Watch legal adviser Dina Rovner, their team also found a poem posted by an UNRWA assistant head teacher suggesting, “Our manhood was regained, through a knife in the hand of a girl. Our story is back. A knife stabs a settler/A driver runs over the occupier.”

“UNRWA clearly is aware of the problem, but is doing no more than paying lip service to the issue to appease donors pressured by our reports,” she told JNS. “If top donors like the E.U., the U.K., Germany, Canada and Sweden start demanding the same kind of accountability from UNRWA teachers that they demand from their own teachers at home, we might be able to see a real change.”

The UN Watch report was released ahead of the upcoming General Assembly vote this fall on whether to renew UNRWA’s mandate. Although UNRWA was intended to be a temporary agency when it was established by General Assembly resolution 302(IV), its mandate has been continuously renewed every three years.

“Unlike the UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency that deals with the rest of the world’s refugees, UNRWA is not mandated to find a permanent solution for the so-called Palestinian refugees,” noted a UN Watch press release. “This leads to the anomaly where 2.2 million Palestinians in Jordan, most of whom have Jordanian citizenship according to UNRWA are still classified by UNRWA as refugees.”

As Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis acknowledged last year, noted the press release, UNRWA “has become part of the problem.”

‘Countries continue to pour funds into corrupt institutions’

Eliana Rudee

Unfortunately, said Neuer, it is questionable whether UNRWA takes these issues seriously, claiming to conduct mandatory neutrality training at the same time that an UNRWA deputy director posts a photo on Facebook of a child “wearing a PFLP headband holding a rifle along with text calling to ‘teach your children to pull out their guns and rifles’ because ‘what has been taken by force can only be won back by force.’ ”

“Even more troubling is the incitement and antisemitism that we don’t find on Facebook because of privacy settings or other reasons, but which is being conveyed to children in the classroom,” he said. “We call on all donor states to demand accountability from UNRWA on this issue, just as they have done on corruption.”

Speaking to the UNHRC plenary on Monday, NGO Monitor’s managing editor Becca Wertman similarly referred to UNRWA corruption and the donor countries that have demanded accountability.

“Countries continue to pour funds into corrupt international institutions [like Hamas and UNRWA] that perpetuate the conflict,” said Wertman, referring to a leaked report that the U.N. was investigating cases of “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation … and other abuses of authority” by senior UNRWA officials.

Thanking the governments who withdrew funds, she called on European governments to stop “financing groups that promote violence, incitement, antisemitism and BDS.”

As she told JNS, “We hope that both U.N. institutions and U.N. member states will take note of these issues and address them moving forward.”

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