UN agency for Palestinians challenged to expose incitement before demanding funding

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Palestinian school students take part in military march organised by Hamas in Gaza, February 27, 2014. (Flash90/Abed Rahim Khatib)

By Aryeh Savir/TPS

UN Watch is challenging UNRWA and is demanding that it expose the actions it has supposedly taken against antisemitic teachers working for it, before it demands more funding from Western countries.

A recent report by the UN Watch exposed more than 100 employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) who posted content on social media that spreads hatred against Israel and Israelis, encourages antisemitism, and supports terrorism.

The August report uncovered cases of UNRWA staff incitement which clearly violates the agency’s own rules as well as its proclaimed values of zero tolerance for racism, discrimination, or antisemitism.

UNRWA runs schools and social services in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Arab countries around Israel.

Ahead of a major international UNRWA donors’ conference in November that will seek $800 million from mostly Western states, the watchdog group is calling on the UN agency to identify which teachers and other employees who were recently suspended during internal investigations into allegations of widespread incitement to antisemitism and terrorism by more than 100 UNRWA staffers.

UNRWA has reportedly suspended at least six of its employees after the UN Watch report.

In the absence of any official statement from UNRWA, UN Watch sent a letter on Tuesday to UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini asking him to reveal which of the 113 named employees were suspended.

The letter also expressed concerns over a series of recent controversial statements by Lazzarini that characterized legitimate oversight and accountability of his agency as “politically-driven attacks.”

In his letter, UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer accused Lazzarini of “refusing to engage with the extensive research and documentation of United Nations Watch which demonstrates UNRWA’s failure to apply its purported ‘zero tolerance’ policy toward teachers who incite racism and violence, while at the same time seeking to kill the messenger by maliciously defaming United Nations Watch for providing a minimal form of oversight that UNRWA itself has failed to exercise.”

The controversy comes at a sensitive time for UNRWA, ahead of a donor conference in mid-November to be held in Brussels, co-hosted by Sweden and Jordan, where donor states are expected to address an alleged financial crisis facing the UN agency.

The Biden administration recently restored more than $300 million in US funding for UNRWA, contingent on a Framework Agreement in which the agency promised “clear, consistent and prompt administrative or disciplinary action for staff violations of UNRWA’s Neutrality Framework.”

UN Watch is now calling for the implementation of this pledge.

“UNRWA owes basic transparency and accountability to its donors before they transfer vast sums of taxpayer dollars,” said Neuer.

He called on the US, Germany, UK, Sweden, Italy, France, Canada, Australia and other donor states to “demand that UNRWA clarify whether it continues to employ any of the more than 100 teachers and employees who glorify Hitler, incite antisemitism and promote terrorism against Israelis.”

“Palestinian children have the right to an education that is free from racist poison, free from teachers who publicly propagate antisemitism and incitement to terrorism,” said Neuer.

“When UNRWA repeatedly places teachers who glorify Hitler in front of a classroom of young Palestinian students, that is child abuse,” he pointed out.

“It’s time that UNRWA honors its solemn pledge to the US and other donors to apply a real ‘zero tolerance’ policy, which means ensuring there is no place in the agency for teachers and other staff who incite racism, hate and violence,” said Neuer.

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