Let UNRWA die already

The demise of the United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestine Refugees is long overdue. Let’s hope that Commissioner-General Lazzarini is right to be worried.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini (second from right) addresses the pledging conference of the Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly for the announcement of voluntary contributions to UNRWA. At right is U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: United Nations.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini (second from right) addresses the pledging conference of the Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly for the announcement of voluntary contributions to UNRWA. At right is U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: United Nations.
Ruthie Blum. Photo by Ariel Jerozolomski.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, former adviser at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is an award-winning columnist and senior contributing editor at JNS, as well as co-host, with Amb. Mark Regev, of "Israel Undiplomatic" on JNS-TV. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, and on U.S.-Israel relations. Originally from New York City, she moved to Israel in 1977 and is based in Tel Aviv.

Despite managing to raise $160 million in New York on Thursday, at a pledging conference of the Ad Hoc Committee of the U.N. General Assembly, the head of the United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) was not pleased.

Trying to sound grateful for the ill-deserved windfall, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini simultaneously boasted about the international community’s “firm commitment” to the organization and bemoaned that the funds pledged were far from sufficient to keep the place running past the end of the year.

Addressing the press on Friday, Lazzarini said that even with the pledged sums, UNRWA still has a shortfall of $100 million. He added that if it fails to “close the funding gap in the next couple of months,” millions of Palestinians will lack primary healthcare, and their kids will be robbed of an education.

“We have entered a danger zone,” he stated, waxing poetic about all the wonderful “essential” services that UNRWA has been providing to Palestinian refugees, on a shoestring budget, no less. UNRWA, he stressed, “is indispensable in the lives of Palestinian refugees,” and contributes to a sense of “stability.”

You get the picture. The trouble is that it’s false.

In the first place, the word “refugee” in relation to the Palestinians is a hoax. To be more precise, the Palestinians referred to as such do not fit the definition spelled out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

According to the UNHCR, “Refugees are people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country … The 1951 Refugee Convention is a key legal document and defines a refugee as: ‘someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.’”

The job of the UNHCR is to “assist in [such people’s] voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.”

UNRWA, in contrast, has been helping the leaders in Gaza, Ramallah, Damascus and Beirut perpetuate, for political reasons, what they call the Palestinian “refugee crisis.”

Secondly, UNRWA—which was established in December 1949 to assist Arabs who were displaced in 1948 as a result of the Arab assault on the Jewish state that constituted Israel’s War of Independence—is far from being a “humanitarian” organization. It is, rather, a self-serving NGO that reinforces the victimhood and radicalism of the people it’s supposed to be extricating from their circumstances.

Indeed, the organization whose doors and coffers should have been nailed shut decades ago abets terrorists in a number of ways. One is by enabling Fatah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to hide weapons under and inside its schools.

It’s a perfect human-shield two-fer: providing the Jew-killers with rocket storage and launching space; and accusing Israel of targeting children when it fires at the source of deadly projectiles.

Another is through the anti-Semitic content of the textbooks in those schools, whose teachers include Palestinian activists who openly call for violence against Israelis. Such illustrious educators regularly spread vicious lies about the Jewish state on social media. Among their many and varied blood libels are claims that Israel purposely infected Palestinians with COVID-19.

Repeated assurances by UNRWA that it would “investigate” and “deal with” these teachers came to nothing. Naturally.

It was this and other egregious practices that spurred former U.S. President Donald Trump to defund UNRWA, which he referred to as an “irredeemably flawed operation.”

Unfortunately, his successor doesn’t agree.

Bolstering terrorism isn’t the only violation of its mandate that UNRWA has committed, however. No, its misappropriation of millions in American and European tax dollars and euros extends to less lofty ideals than attacking Israel.

A damning internal report exposed in July 2019 by Al Jazeera and AFP revealed that then-UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl and other agency officials were engaging in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent, and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives.”

Ironically, the messy business came to light when Krähenbühl was discovered to have embarked upon a private fundraising campaign, using poor old cash-strapped UNRWA as his draw. But he was actually collecting money to pay for business-class trips with his mistress, whom he fast-tracked into a role that he invented for her in 2015—that of his “senior adviser”—so that she could accompany him around in style. It’s not clear what his wife had to say about this, but UNRWA staffers urged to tighten their belts were none too happy.

A few months after the report was made public, in November of that year, Krähenbühl resigned, pointing to “dirty politics.” And the internal probe on by the United Nations, upstanding body that it is, subsequently concluded that the allegations against him had been unfair.

Oh well. At least they’ve now got Lazzarini to do their panhandling.

Speaking of which, while he was standing at the General Assembly podium on Thursday, the NGO U.N. Watch published a report detailing UNRWA teachers’ current anti-Semitism and support for terrorism against Israelis. And this is in spite of proclaiming “zero tolerance” for incitement.

According to U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, the fact that not a single educator in question has been fired means that UNRWA “should be considered complicit.” He’s got that right. But, then, so should the countries that continue to fork over funds to the deplorable body.

The good news is that if Lazzarini’s bleak forecast is correct, and the organization crumbles, the world will be a better place. UNRWA’s demise is long overdue. Let’s pray for its funeral.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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