US should stop funding UNRWA - opinion

America is in a position of power and must insist that UNRWA remove all antisemitic staff and materials from its curricula before granting any future aid.

 PALESTINIANS RECEIVE food at an UNRWA distribution center in the Rafah refugee camp, in the Gaza Strip. UNRWA has distorted the definition of ‘refugee’ to ensure that the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict compound forever, says the writer. (photo credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)
PALESTINIANS RECEIVE food at an UNRWA distribution center in the Rafah refugee camp, in the Gaza Strip. UNRWA has distorted the definition of ‘refugee’ to ensure that the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict compound forever, says the writer.
(photo credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)

Much attention has been given to President Joe Biden’s recent Middle East trip and, in particular, to his long-anticipated meetings with Saudi officials, as oil prices soar.

In his trip’s shadows, one big development has lurked: the US pledge to expand funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) to the tune of $201 million (NIS 693 million). This decision should alarm anyone paying attention and call into question why the US sustains UNRWA given its track record of antisemitism, inciting violence and creating a new category of refugee status so that the conflict perpetuates for eternity, undermining hopes for a Palestinian future and peace with Israelis.

While UNRWA purports to provide assistance and protection for registered Palestine refugees – a noble cause on paper – the organization is plagued by systemic anti-Jewish bigotry. For an organization whose funding primarily goes to welfare services and educating the Palestinian people, it should concern everyone that UNRWA’s curriculums are infested with antisemitic staff and materials that regularly incite violence.

Antisemitic and inciting educational material

Hillel Neuer and his UN Watch recently exposed over 120 UNRWA teachers for “prais[ing] Hitler, glorify[ing] terrorism and spread[ing] antisemitism” with some staff going as far as to call for people to kill Jews and Zionists. While six professors have since been placed on administrative leave, none had been fired as of June 29. Words and impunity are bound to have consequences and in this case, the actions of UNRWA’s staff will clearly perpetuate conflict.

While America remains UNRWA’s biggest funder, subsidizing one-third of its budget and funding over six billion dollars since 1950, UNRWA continues to fail in its mission. The success of a welfare program can generally be judged not by increasing enrollment numbers, but by its ability to help its beneficiaries become financially independent.

 UNRWA employees take part in a sit-in demonstration, according to them against anticipated austerity measures within the organization, in Amman, Jordan November 8, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/JEHAD SHELBAK) UNRWA employees take part in a sit-in demonstration, according to them against anticipated austerity measures within the organization, in Amman, Jordan November 8, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/JEHAD SHELBAK)

UNRWA, however, seems to aspire to grow its eligibility base forever. It is therefore unsurprising that the US temporarily stopped funding to UNRWA between 2018 and 2021, characterizing it as irredeemably flawed.

Though UNRWA was founded after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the number of those eligible for its services today exceeds 5,000,000. This new figure should cause alarm, given that approximately 750,000 Palestinians emerged from the war as refugees. What does the steady growth of refugees say about UNRWA?

UNRWA has distorted the definition of “refugee” to ensure that the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict compound forever, therefore remaining at the forefront of international scrutiny and surely never resolving in the hopes that Israel ceases to exist.

IT IS no coincidence that UNRWA has amended the definition multiple times to ensure that the narrative of Palestinian victimhood can persist forever. UNRWA’s refugee definition now spans multiple generations to include “[t]he descendants of Palestine refugee males, including adopted children.”

As noted by legal expert Marc Goldfeder, “UNRWA’s current definition is utterly inconsistent with how all other refugees are classified.” Other definitions generally absolve one’s refugee status at the first instance of one acquiring a new nationality. However, UNRWA’s definition when combined with Jordanian and Lebanese law, which refuse citizenship to children born to Palestinian fathers, ensure that many children of Palestinian-descent perpetually remain disenfranchised as refugees and without citizenship.

UNRWA’s anti-Israel bias is systemic and manifests well beyond its definition of refugee status. In 2021, UNRWA removed its Gaza director, Matthias Schmale, after he commented Israel’s airstrikes were very precise in its 2021 operation. UNRWA’s textbooks continue to glorify terrorism and depict Jews as “impure,” and “inherently treacherous, and hostile to Islam and Muslims,” according to curriculum watchdog IMPACT-se.

UNRWA’s bias says a lot about the bad faith character of those in leadership positions on behalf of the Palestinians and why further US funding will fail to propel a solution unless there are serious reforms. Palestinian leaders have realized that though they are not powerful enough to destroy Israel – an aspiration stated in Hamas and the PLO’s charters – they continue to reject peace proposals, perpetuate conflict and steal foreign aid.

Despite Palestinian leadership having received 25 times more aid per capita than that which Europe received under the Marshall Plan to rebuild following World War II – all inflation considered – the Palestinian people have still yet to achieve European-style development. This is largely because Palestinian leaders waste hundreds of millions of dollars on initiatives designed to incite violence, such as its pay-for-slay fund, which provides stipends to terrorists and their families in proportion with the severity of their crimes.

As bloodshed ensues, Palestinian leaders regularly siphon public funds, which account for Yasser Arafat’s billions, and surely how career politician Mahmoud Abbas and his sons, who previously created companies that contracted with foreign aid donors, collectively amassed over $100 million (NIS 345 million). Notably, Hamas figureheads Khaled Meshaal and Mousa Abu Marzook have also “somehow” become billionaires.

While the US’s most recent pledge to UNRWA might be lower than last year’s donation, worth $334 million (NIS 1.2 billion), it is unrealistic to think that change will ensue until both Palestinian leadership and UNRWA are forced to reform. America is in a position of power and must insist that UNRWA remove all antisemitic staff and materials from its curricula before granting any future aid. Otherwise, the US can only expect endless conflict as a consequence of the propaganda of UNRWA’s current curriculums.

The writer is director of policy education for StandWithUs, a non-partisan international education organization that supports Israel and fights antisemitism.