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Research org that UN tapped for UNRWA probe previously dismissed allegations against agency 

CMI reported that skepticism and opposition to UNRWA is based on “misunderstanding” and “unfounded claims” and that incitement within the agency “can be hard to control.”

The Chr. Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway. Source: Google Street View.
The Chr. Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway. Source: Google Street View.

The Bergen, Norway-based Chr. Michelsen Institute is one of two—out of three—research organizations that the United Nations tapped to probe the neutrality of one of its agencies that has applauded South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Experts told JNS that the announced investigation of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East is “a farce, a desperate scheme to save UNRWA” that is “tainted from the start.”

The United Nations announced on Monday that the independent review group would assess whether UNRWA “is doing everything within its power to ensure neutrality and to respond to allegations of serious breaches when they are made.”

The investigation comes after 12 UNRWA employees are accused of participating directly in Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel and after Israel says it has evidence that some 10% of UNRWA’s employees have ties to Palestinian terror organizations.

Not only has the Norwegian research institution praised the genocide charges against Israel at the high court in The Hague, but CMI appears to have already made up its mind on the U.N. agency it is now set to investigate.

The September 2022 CMI report “UNRWA, funding crisis and the way forward,” whose lead author is on the institute’s research staff, states in the opening summary that “skepticism and outright opposition” to UNRWA is “based on the misunderstanding that its existence helps perpetuate the refugee problem or unfounded claims that the agency instigates violence, for example, through school curricula with an anti-Israeli edge.”

The report further claims that UNRWA “has zero tolerance for incitement,” although it allows “this can be hard to control.” It adds that aid to Palestinians is “politicized” through conditioning aid and “relates to U.N. neutrality standards with regard to incitement, resistance terrorism.” UNRWA put in place training, a digital anonymous reporting system and staff vetting, the report states.

“While these steps may help secure funding in U.S. Congress, and in some cases provide a healthier teaching environment, they may also be deeply problematic since the line between neutral and political is difficult to draw,” per the report. “Political attacks on UNRWA have increased over recent years, especially in the repeated criticisms of school curricula. These serve to delegitimize and weaken UNRWA and lead to severe repercussions.”

Watchdog groups have repeatedly found that curricula at UNRWA schools call for violence and have at least undertones of Jew-hatred.

Chr. Michelsen Institute
An article referring to South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice in the Hague as having “rescued humanity and international law” atop the homepage of the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway. Source: CMI website screenshot.

Selective reporting

The Norwegian institute’s report makes no mention of documented UNRWA mismanagement, which led to the previous commissioner-general’s ouster. The report also largely ignores criticisms of the agency, save mention of UNRWA’s poor communication with staff during times of potential cutbacks.

The office of António Guterres, the U.N. secretary-general, and CMI did not respond to queries from JNS about how the research institute can fulfill the review group’s mandate given the appearance that it already put its finger on the scale.

A Guterres spokesman told JNS earlier that the CMI and the two other research organizations in the group “are three very competent research organizations that we know will provide … an independent and unvarnished report.” UNRWA, Guterres and others consulted on the selection of the three organizations, the spokesman said.

Beyond its conclusions about UNRWA’s neutrality, the CMI report blames the present-day plight of Palestinians on the U.N. General Assembly’s 1947 decision to partition the expiring British Mandate of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states.

That decision—rather than outright Arab rejection of the state and Jordanian neglect to form a Palestinian state while occupying Judea and Samaria for 19 years after the Arab war of annihilation failed against Israel—led to “the loss of a future Palestinian state, making Palestinians a ‘refugee nation,’” per the CMI report.

The report, by calling criticism of UNRWA’s unorthodox method of defining refugees “politically motivated,” also ignores the political ramifications of UNRWA’s definition of Palestinian “refugees.” UNRWA is the only U.N. agency to bestow refugee status on the descendants, in perpetuity, of refugees. (The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees works to resettle refugees in other countries, whenever possible.)

This decision gives hope to the notion that the descendants of refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars will someday flood back into Israel under the so-called “right of return,” ending the Jewish majority in the land. 

The new review group, which includes CMI, is to operate in parallel to an internal U.N. investigation. It is to submit an interim report to Guterres in late March and a final report, which is to be published, in late April.

JNS has reported that Catherine Colonna, the former French foreign minister, who is leading the review group investigating UNRWA, recently praised UNRWA during a meeting with the agency’s commissioner-general Philippe Lazzarini. She offered “full renewed support” and called the official’s work “more useful than ever.”

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