Ahead of a major international UNRWA donors conference in November that will seek $800 million from mostly Western states, a watchdog group is calling on the UN agency that runs schools for Palestinians to identify which teachers and other employees were recently suspended during internal investigations into allegations of widespread incitement to antisemitism and terrorism by more than 100 UNRWA staffers.
UNRWA has reportedly suspended at least six of its employees after a report by United Nations Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization, exposed over 100 UNRWA educators and other employees who have publicly propagated violence and antisemitism on social media, in breach of the agency’s proclaimed policy of “zero tolerance” for incitement.
The suspension of UNRWA employees only came to light after the outraged reaction of Palestinians in Gaza was reported in Arabic-language media, including Al Jazeera and The New Arab, as a former UNRWA staffer-who was fired for his own ties to the Hamas terrorist organization-accused the agency of caving into “Zionist pressure” for taking measures against the employees.
Ahead of the November conference, and in the absence of any official statement from UNRWA, UN Watch has today sent a letter (full text below) to UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini asking him to reveal which of the 113 named employees were reportedly suspended.
The letter also expressed concerns over a series of recent controversial statements by Lazzarini that characterized legitimate oversight and accountability of his agency as “politically-driven attacks.”
In his letter, UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer accused Lazzarini of “refusing to engage with the extensive research and documentation of United Nations Watch which demonstrates UNRWA’s failure to apply its purported ‘zero tolerance’ policy toward teachers who incite racism and violence, while at the same time seeking to kill the messenger by maliciously defaming United Nations Watch for providing a minimal form of oversight that UNRWA itself has failed to exercise.”
The controversy comes at a sensitive time for UNRWA, ahead of a donor conference in mid-November to be held in Brussels, co-hosted by Sweden and Jordan, where donor states are expected to address an alleged financial crisis facing the UN agency.
The Biden administration recently restored more than $300 million in U.S. funding for UNRWA, contingent on a Framework Agreement in which the agency promised “clear, consistent and prompt administrative or disciplinary action for staff violations of UNRWA’s Neutrality Framework.”
UN Watch is now calling for implementation of this pledge. “UNRWA owes basic transparency and accountability to its donors before they transfer vast sums of taxpayer dollars,” said Neuer.
“UN Watch calls on the U.S., Germany, UK, Sweden, Italy, France, Canada, Australia and other donor states to demand that UNRWA clarify whether it continues to employ any of the more than 100 teachers and employees who glorify Hitler, incite antisemitism and promote terrorism against Israelis.”
“Palestinian children have the right to an education that is free from racist poison, free from teachers who publicly propagate antisemitism and incitement to terrorism,” said Neuer.
“When UNRWA repeatedly places teachers who glorify Hitler in front of a classroom of young Palestinian students, that is child abuse.”
“It’s time that UNRWA honors its solemn pledge to the U.S. and other donors to apply a real ‘zero tolerance’ policy, which means ensuring there is no place in the agency for teachers and other staff who incite racism, hate and violence,” said Neuer.
BREAKING: Ahead of a donors conference where UNRWA seeks to raise $800 million from Western states, today I called on @UNLazzarini-head of the agency that runs schools for Palestinians-to identify which teachers were suspended for antisemitism & terrorism.https://t.co/5LJiOhTij7
– Hillel Neuer (@HillelNeuer) October 26, 2021
No joke: The U.N. Human Rights Council just cut me off for testifying about UNRWA teachers who glorify Hitler. Chair says I made “derogatory, insulting & inflammatory remarks”-by quoting their own Facebook posts. “This amounts to personal attacks. This statement is out of order.” pic.twitter.com/qPXohSdOfW
– Hillel Neuer (@HillelNeuer) October 3, 2021