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Biden Admin Temporarily Suspends UNRWA Funding Over Allegations of Staffers Involved in Oct. 7 Massacre

U.S. joins 18 other countries in cutting off funds.
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February 1, 2024
Executive Director of UN Watch Hillel Neuer (R) testifies during a hearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Accountability of House Foreign Affairs Committee at the U.S. Capitol on January 30, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Biden administration is temporarily suspending funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) after the U.N. agency announced that they were terminating multiple staffers over their alleged involvement in the Oct. 7 massacre.

Jewish Insider reported that State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement, “The United States is extremely troubled by the allegations that twelve UNRWA employees may have been involved in the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel. The Department of State has temporarily paused additional funding for UNRWA while we review these allegations and the steps the United Nations is taking to address them.”

UNRWA itself issued a press release on Friday stating that they are investigating the allegations and that “any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution. UNRWA reiterates its condemnation in the strongest possible terms of the abhorrent attacks of 7 Oct. and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all Israeli hostages and their safe return to their families.”

The U.S. is one of 19 countries (and the European Union) that have suspended funding to UNRWA over the allegations, including the United Kingdom, European Union and Australia. Eylon Levy, spokesperson for the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, argued in a Tuesday press briefing that UNRWA needs to be scrapped altogether, claiming that Israeli intelligence has found that “about 10% [of UNRWA employees] are Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives, and another 50% are first-degree relatives of a Hamas operative.”

However, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby contended to reporters on Monday, “Let’s not impugn the good work of a whole agency because of the potential bad actions here by a small number.” He pointed out that UNRWA has 13,000 employees in Gaza that only 13 so far were allegedly involved in Oct. 7.

UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer posted on X to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, “Today you said you were ‘horrified’ at the news UNRWA staff were implicated in Hamas terrorism. But every time we sounded the alarm about UNRWA employees and terrorism, your office disparaged us. You can’t say you didn’t know. You knew.”  He also posted on X that UN Watch obtained a copy of a Telegram chat consisting of 3,000 UNRWA staffers that is “replete with celebrations of Hamas terrorism.” “There is not one case where an UNRWA teacher objected,” he added.

Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) Senior Advisor Richard Goldberg declared in congressional testimony on Tuesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that “UNRWA has a terrorism problem, and the U.S. taxpayer has been underwriting it for decades.” “We’ve seen the reports of Hamas terror tunnels discovered next to or under UNRWA schools,” said Goldberg. “And not just since Oct. 7. I’m including here footnotes for stories about these tunnels in 2017, 2021 and 2022. We’ve seen the social media accounts of UNRWA employees supporting terrorism and antisemitism… And we’ve even .seen the report of a released hostage who was held in the attic of an UNRWA teacher’s home. These aren’t new phenomena. We’ve seen UNRWA schools used as rocket-launching platforms — and rockets even stored inside UNRWA schools. We’ve seen an UNRWA school headmaster moonlighting as an Islamic Jihad terrorist.”

Further, Goldberg pointed out that there’s a “hotbed of terrorism that grows inside UNRWA’s communities — not just in Gaza but in the West Bank and Lebanon. Look at the Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank where Israel continues to operate to defend Israelis against Hamas and other terror cells. Look at Lebanon’s Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp, where terrorist groups continue to battle each other — with no Israeli presence or military activity whatsoever. At least 28 people dead in two rounds of fighting with so many families, including children, displaced … an underreported story. Do we see the pattern here?”

He argued that UNRWA’s “terror problem” is structural, as the U.N. “does not recognize Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) as terrorist groups.”

UNRWA told CNN on Monday regarding claims from Israel that UNRWA facilities were used for terror, “We don’t have more information on this at this stage. The Office of Internal Oversight Services (the internal oversight body of the U.N.) will look into all these allegations as part of the investigation the Commissioner General of UNRWA has requested them to undertake.”

Jewish groups praised the Biden administration’s decision to pause UNRWA funding.

“Time and again, we’ve seen how this UN agency is often more involved with Hamas terrorists than with supporting the Palestinian people,” the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) posted to X.

The American Jewish Committee also posted to X, “AJC is livid to learn of the allegations that twelve UNRWA employees may have been involved in the Oct. 7 massacre. We welcome the announcement by the @StateDept that it has paused all additional funding for UNRWA and will launch a full investigation into the allegations. There must be accountability.”

Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda Rabbi Abraham Cooper also said in a statement, ““As I told U.S. Secretary of State Blinken recently—UNRWA cannot be relied upon to be part of the solution in Gaza the day after this war ends, it is a core problem of what’s wrong with Gaza. UNRWA should be scrapped and replaced with a new Palestinian entity that would be established and funded based on a commitment to peace and with full vetting of possible terrorist affiliation of any staff and teachers, an actual peace curriculum taught in Palestinian schools, and with total financial transparency monitored directly by donor nations.”

Democratic Majority for Israel President and CEO Mark Mellman said in a statement, “UN employees are required to be neutral in politics and to avoid criminal activity. UNRWA and its employees have long violated those principles. That UNRWA employees actively participated in savage terrorism is a deplorable and permanent stain on the U.N. and on UNRWA. Providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians is a vital objective, but it must be done in a way that doesn’t support terrorism.

We welcome the announcement by the @StateDept that it has paused all additional funding for UNRWA and will launch a full investigation into the allegations. There must be accountability.” – American Jewish Committee

“DMFI has regularly called for reforming UNRWA, which in addition to providing humanitarian aid has long incited hatred and violence,” continued Mellman. “Through its statements and actions, UNRWA has become a serious obstacle to peace. We now find that its employees also participate in mass murder, torture, and kidnapping. Donors must insist on a complete overhaul and reform of UNRWA. We urge the Administration to make the current pause the beginning of that root-and-branch remaking of this agency which is badly off track.”

Lawfare Project Founder and Executive Director Brooke Goldstein said in a statement, “We have long been warning about the complicity of UNRWA in terrorist activity, starting with the schools they run, which are used by Hamas to indoctrinate and recruit children, to the active involvement of their staff in violent and murderous terrorist activities. The Trump administration had, appropriately, ceased funding to this entity, but the Biden administration restored it, despite well-known concerns about its activities. Now, we are pleased to see that many governments are waking up once again to the fact that their financial aid is being used to fund terrorism, not to help people.”

She continued: “By granting Palestinians hereditary refugee status and making them dependent upon the United Nations, the Western world has effectively colonized them, depriving them of the opportunity — and ability — to integrate into the societies in which they live, or to develop the infrastructure and economy of areas that they control. And with terror organizations like Hamas running Gaza, there is no chance that the civilian population will ever be able to benefit from the tremendous economic partnerships available with Israel, the Middle East, and the rest of the world. UNRWA is a highly flawed organization that is incapable of being reformed; it needs to be dismantled and Hamas eliminated in order for the people of Gaza to be able to not just live freely, but to develop a healthy, free economy and evolve into a true partner on the global stage.”

Combat Antisemitism Movement Chief of Staff Arthur Maserjian said in a statement regarding Tuesday’s congressional hearing, “Today’s hearing only confirmed what we have known for a long time, that UNRWA will never be a partner who can be trusted to live up to its purpose of serving the welfare of the Palestinian people. It is now abundantly clear to all that funding UNWRA means funding terrorism, and this runs counter to America’s national principles and interests. This is why we have seen bipartisan outcry in the wake of evidence showing 12 UNRWA employees were directly involved in the barbaric Hamas attacks on October 7th, as well as the revelation that 1,200 UNRWA employees, 10% of its total workforce, are linked to terrorism. The United States and its allies must cut funding for UNRWA completely and permanently and find alternative mechanisms to meet the humanitarian needs of Palestinian civilians without undermining the security of Israelis.”

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