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Middle East Issues





The Washington Post Whitewashes UNRWA


A Jan. 3, 2018 Washington Post dispatch, by Jerusalem bureau chief Loveday Morris and reporter Ruth Eglash, omitted key context and information about the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The report, ostensibly about U.S. warnings that it will cut aid to the agency, also relied on questionable sources.

 

The Post cited a Jan. 2, 2018 tweet by President Donald Trump, stating that the U.S. gives “Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and gets no appreciation or respect. With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make these massive future payments to them?” Trump did not specify aid to UNRWA, although the paper pointed out that earlier that day, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, “suggested that the United States will cut funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the agency tasked with assisting Palestinian refugees, until the Palestinian leadership returns to the negotiating table.”

 

UNRWA is the only U.N. organization whose stated mission is to assist a specific group of refugees, Palestinian Arabs. All other refugee populations in the world fall under the jurisdiction of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This is but one of several ways in which “Palestinian refugees” are treated—and categorized—in a completely different manner from other refugees. UNRWA is almost entirely reliant on the donations of individual member states, with the U.S. being the chief donor country, donating $360 million dollars in 2017—40 percent of the organization’s budget.

 

UNRWA’s Objectives

 

The Post’s report, however, didn’t inform readers that UNRWA is a heavily politicized agency that seeks to delegitimize and destroy the Jewish state.

 

Established on Dec. 8, 1949—following the Arab armies failure to destroy the fledgling Jewish state in its War of Independence—UNRWA was “initially intended to resettle refugees, [although] it has since dropped that task from its mission,” according to analyst Cliff Smith of the Middle East Forum, who has studied and visited UNRWA-run camps and facilities.

 

In a July 7, 2017 American Spectator Op-Ed, Smith noted that the organization now “resists resettlement and has continually changed its definition of a refugee to include people generations removed from the conflict, people who are citizens of new states, and people who are in their internationally recognized home of the West Bank and Gaza. No other organization uses a similar definition.” That is, UNRWA is an agency that chooses to change the definition of a refugee, but only for Palestinians—thereby politicizing it. For example, according to UNRWA’s spurious definition, the twenty-year old, Los Angeles-born millionaire fashion model, Bella Hadid, is considered a “refugee” to a seventy-year old event that occurred after Arab countries rejected a U.N. plan for a Jewish state and an Arab state, opting for war instead.

 

The U.S. initially protested UNRWA’s evolving interpretation of refugees, Smith pointed out. UNRWA’s absurd categorization means that, although there were an estimated 700,000 refugees in 1950, “there will be a projected 6.4 million faux ‘refugees’ in 2020, even though most live normal lives for people in the region”—an estimated 2 million of them as Jordanian citizens. Smith highlighted the reason for UNRWA’s denotation:

 

“This bizarre definition is purely political, aimed at protecting the so-called "right of return," a novel legal claim that people generations removed from the conflict have the right to return to a country their ancestral leaders tried to destroy.”

 

UNRWA—by both its existence and its definitions—perpetuates the Arab-Israeli conflict. Incredibly, in a 1,240-word report about the organization, The Washington Post failed to disclose these pertinent details for its readers.

 

Also omitted in The Post’s dispatch: UNRWA’s role in promoting anti-Jewish violence and terror. Instead, it treated terror apologists as credible sources.

 

Questionable Sources and Remarkable Omissions

 

The paper uncritically quoted Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official Hanan Ashwari who claimed that the U.S. is trying to “blackmail” Palestinians by threatening to cut UNRWA funding. “Donald Trump,” Ashwari asserted, “has single-handedly destroyed the very foundations of peace.”

 

As CAMERA has highlighted—and as The Post failed to disclose—Ashwari has a long history of lying to the press and promoting anti-Jewish violence. In a Nov. 15, 2000 interview with the AP, for example, she condoned murdering Israelis (“Hanan Ashwari: Kill Israeli Soldiers and Settlers,” CAMERA, Nov. 18, 2000). Ashwari has also been caught lying about Palestinian refugees, telling NPR that “U.N. Resolution 194… very clearly states that the Palestinian refugees have the right to return and for compensation.” But as CAMERA noted, Resolution 194 says no such thing; it doesn’t even mention “Palestinian refugees (“Hanan Ashwari’s Propaganda,” Nov. 8, 2000).”

 

Similarly, The Post quoted UNRWA’s Director, Chris Gunness, who claimed that his agency’s work “is described as indispensable to the dignity of Palestine refugees and the stability of the region.” Ofer Zalzberg, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, also chimed in, asserting that some in the Israeli defense establishment don’t want to cut UNRWA’s funding. “They say, if its not UNRWA, then education will be provided by Hamas.”

 

UNRWA—and The Post—Get Failing Grades

 

However, it’s unclear how this would differ from current UNRWA curriculum.

 

UNRWA schools and facilities have been used to promote hatred and murder of Israelis, serving as a de facto employment and indoctrination bureau for the PLO, before in some cases being appropriated by Hamas. A 2015 by the U.N. investigation found that Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist group, used UNRWA schools as arsenals and launch pads for missiles fired indiscriminately at Israeli civilians during the 2014 Israel-Hamas war (“U.N. Report Confirms Stored and Fired Weapons From UN Schools,” The Tower, April 28, 2015).

 

Indeed, Hamas members are on the payrolls of UNRWA unions. As the Jewish Virtual Library has noted, “The Center for Near East Policy Research published a report in mid 2014” showing “that Hamas and Islamic Jihad control the UNRWA stations in Gaza. In 2012, the UNRWA in Gaza elected Hamas to all 11 seats in the UNRWA’s teacher union and to 14 out of 16 sets in the employees and service sector union.”

 

As CAMERA has highlighted (“U.N. School Celebrates Palestinian Stabbing of Jews”), a March 7, 2016 ceremony at an UNRWA school in Gaza City celebrated stabbing Jews. Pictures taken of the even showed young children holding signs saying, among other slogans: “We heed your call, oh al-Aqsa, our blood and souls we will sacrifice for you, oh al-Aqsa.” High-ranking UNRWA officials have even  posed with maps that erase Israel and some UNRWA employees have been caught promoting violent antisemitic imagery—including cartoons showing Palestinians committing vehicular terror attacks against Israelis (“UN Watch: UNRWA School Facebook Cartoon Posts ‘Inciting Murder of Jews,’” The Jerusalem Post, Aug. 25, 2015).

 

The Post, however, omitted all of this relevant information—despite the fact that members of Congress, among others, have repeatedly highlighted UNRWA’s troubling history—including in official statements to the U.S. Department of State (“Report: UNRWA Violating Regulations,” The Jerusalem Post, Sept. 28, 2006). Instead, the paper merely quoted Israeli politician Naftali Bennet’s concerns over “Palestinian leadership” funding “terrorists using US tax monies,” but failed to elaborate for readers. In contrast to Ashwari, who was merely labeled a “member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee,” Bennet was identified as a “right-wing” leader of an “ultranationalist party.” And this was far from the only striking distortion.

 

Although the dispatch detailed Palestinian claims that threats to cut UNRWA funding were meant to spur negotiations with Israel, the paper failed to inform readers that Palestinians have—for years—spurned both offers of statehood and negotiations themselves (“The Washington Post’s Missing Peace,” CAMERA, Feb. 9, 2017). The Post even falsely claimed that PA President Mahmoud Abbas has “rejected armed conflict with Israel”—although his government has paid more than one billion dollars over four years to terrorists and their families (“Palestinians Paid Terrorists One Billion In Past Four Years,” The Times of Israel, May 29, 2017).

 

The Washington Post’s whitewash of UNRWA is disconcerting. If the basic tenets of journalism include identifying the “who, what, when, where, why and how,” The Post failed in spectacular fashion. Readers deserve more—and journalism demands more—than UNRWA and PLO-approved stenography.


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