newsAntisemitism

Swiss parliament moves to stop funding UNRWA

An aid cutoff would follow a similar move by Germany last month.

Palestinians receive bags of flour at an UNRWA distribution center, Nov. 23, 2023. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Palestinians receive bags of flour at an UNRWA distribution center, Nov. 23, 2023. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

The Swiss National Council voted on Tuesday to cut funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) amid mounting international concerns over the group’s activities in Gaza.

The decision by the lower house of the Swiss Federal Assembly, which needs to be approved in the upper chamber, the Council of States, comes amid a groundswell of reports of terror ties among UNRWA officials following the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre. These include an eyewitness account of an UNRWA schoolteacher holding one of the Israeli hostages in the basement of his Gaza home and the discovery of missiles and other weapons hidden among UNRWA relief supplies.

The complete funding cut, which would follow a similar move by Germany last month, was condemned by UNRWA. The agency voiced the hope that the decision will be amended in the follow-up vote in the Council of States next week.

“Disheartened by Switzerland Parliament’s national council move to cut aid to UNRWA, as the agency is recognized as a major humanitarian actor in Gaza and the region,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, who is a Swiss national, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Switzerland is UNRWA’s ninth-largest donor nation, contributing more than $21 million in funding in 2023.

The Swiss government previously voiced concerns that UNRWA glorified terrorism against Israel and took a one-sided position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, views that were amplified by the current war against Hamas in Gaza.

Taught hate every day

Over the last two months, UNRWA has been pilloried for employing staff who celebrated the Oct. 7 massacre, deleting social-media posts that accused Palestinian terrorist groups of stealing humanitarian aid and otherwise colluding with Hamas.

“Israelis have been let down disastrously by the gaggle of international organizations that make Switzerland their home, and none more so than UNRWA, which taught hate every day to the Oct. 7 terrorists,” said Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT-se, an Israeli NGO that monitors school textbooks and curricula for compliance with UNESCO-defined standards on peace and tolerance.

Amid decades of reports of hate and terror indoctrination, the Trump administration cut off U.S. funding to UNRWA in 2018, a move President Joe Biden reversed shortly after taking office in 2021.

This summer, the U.S. State Department allocated more than $200 million for UNRWA despite its schools’ curriculum glorifying violence and terrorism, and an agreement conditioning funding on the prevention of teaching hate and antisemitism.

The new funding brought the total United States assistance to UNRWA during the Biden administration to more than $600 million, cementing the United States’ status as UNRWA’s largest donor, according to the White House.

The European Union gave the agency $114 million last year, while Germany allocated $200 million.

Last month, Germany announced a freeze on all UNRWA aid to Gaza, alongside a review of all Palestinian aid in the wake of the revelations about UNRWA that came out during the war.

Last week, a leader of the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus told European lawmakers in Brussels that UNRWA needs to be dismantled because it has become an accomplice to Palestinian terrorism.

“The most deeply engrained institution in Gaza—that allows for the indoctrination of Gaza youth, so that some of them eventually grew up to join Hamas, becoming the terrorists who raped women, beheaded men and took babies as hostages—is an international institution, which your governments fund,” Knesset member Sharren Haskel (National Unity) said in a keynote address to lawmakers at the European Parliament in Brussels.

UNRWA, which the U.N. established in 1949 to carry out relief and work programs for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled their homes during the 1948 War of Independence, defines refugees not only as refugees themselves but also their descendants in perpetuity. As a consequence, the number of Palestinian refugees registered with the organization has mushroomed from 750,000 in 1950 to nearly six million today.

The main UN refugee agency, UNHCR, which cares for the rest of the refugees in the world, has no such policy.

Israel has long said that UNRWA should be abolished and its responsibilities taken over by UNHCR.

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