A few days ago, Chris Gunness – who describes himself in his Twitter biography as “UNRWA Spokesman advocating passionately for Palestine refugees to enjoy all their rights to the full” – got some well-deserved praise on Ali Abunimah’s viciously anti-Israel blog at the Electronic Intifada. Under the title “UNRWA’s Chris Gunness demolishes anti-Palestinian activist on Fox,” Abunimah claims that in a short debate on Fox, Gunness countered UNRWA-critic David Bedein “with facts and logic” and succeeded in “absolutely demolishing” him. Abunimah also attempts to discredit Bedein by accusing him of collaborating in one project with “an apparent supporter of the violent racist group Kahane Chai (Kach), a designated foreign terrorist organization in the US, Canada, and most other Western countries.”
Of course, Abunimah doesn’t have a principal problem with support for designated foreign terrorist organizations, as he himself is an outspoken supporter of the US-designated terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Given his passionate advocacy for these Jew-hating terror groups, it is not surprising that Abunimah also promotes antisemitism.
But none of this bothered UNRWA’s Chris Gunness, who eagerly posted Abunimah’s accusations against Bedein and called on his more than 35 000 Twitter followers to demand an explanation from Fox News:
It would likely be futile to demand an explanation from Gunness on why he promotes the blog of an antisemite and Hamas supporter. After all, both Gunness and the organization he works for have so far been unwilling to explain why the websites of UNRWA schools featured material extolling “Jihad…against the Jews and the Crusaders,” denouncing “the crazy sons of Zion / With their thought of raping Palestine” and accusing Jews of promoting “social corruption” and being unclean. When blogger Elder of Ziyon exposed these sites, UNRWA reacted by quietly taking them down, but there is no way of knowing if that implied acknowledgment of wrongdoing will actually change what Palestinian children are taught in UNRWA schools.
There is arguably little reason to hope that something will change, because as Bedein rightly pointed out in the Fox segment, Hamas has dominated the union representing Palestinian UNRWA workers in Gaza for years and one report highlighted in 2009 that “Islamist candidates won all 11 seats reserved for teachers.” Celebrating the “Overwhelming victory for Islamists in UNRWA union elections,” Middle East Monitor (MEMO) – a website that, for good reason, has been described as a “pro-Hamas hate publishing operation” – also noted in 2012 that “unions at UNRWA” forced their employer to reinstate a sacked Hamas activist. Ironically enough, when I checked this article, the top post displayed in the side bar offered yet another appreciative report on Gunness’s appearance at Fox under the title “UNRWA’s Gunness fights against accusations that the UN agency assists Hamas.”
While Hamas may well feel that UNRWA doesn’t assist it enough, critics have made the case that UNRWA has become “an obstacle to peace” and that its Gaza arm “essentially functions as Hamas’s handmaiden.” What some politely call “apprehension over the nature of the relationship between UNRWA and Hamas” can arguably only grow in view of the praise Hamas supporters are currently lavishing on Gunness.
Moreover, the acrimony with which Gunness reacted to his grilling on Fox hardly reflects well on his employer. Chatting on Twitter with the BBC’s former Gaza/West Bank correspondent Jon Donnison, Gunness seemed to endorse Donnison’s unsurprising remark that Fox anchor Lisa Daftari looked “utterly out of her depth,” suggesting it was even worse because “that was after Fox edited out all the bits that made her & Bedein look really stupid.” When another Twitter user joined the conversation with the deeply offensive remark “WHY do fox female reporters look like covered, aged strippers? and male counter-parts, angry hateful wasps?,” Gunness saw no reason to object or at least ignore the tweet. Instead, he nonchalantly responded: “In the case of the former ... not sure, in the case of the latter, they usually are.” And as usual, Gunness added “RT,” encouraging his more than 35 000 Twitter followers to retweet his unprofessional and undignified comment.
Unsurprisingly, the Twitter user with whom Gunness so happily interacted believes “There is no room for contemporary #israel in civilization” and his timeline is littered with antisemitic tweets. But since this doesn’t bother Gunness in the case of Ali Abunimah, there is no reason to think it would bother him in this case.