Chris Gunness, spokesperson for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which deals with Palestinian refugees, denied last week that UNRWA had handed weapons to Hamas during last summer’s Gaza war. He then blocked critics on Twitter who had questioned his denial.
Gunness also responded to critics by tweeting a graphic photograph of a maimed Palestinian child, and by accusing UN human rights critic Anne Bayefsky of “racism” for her criticism.
The controversy erupted at a panel discussion last week, held to commemorate the 65th anniversary of UNRWA. Bayefsky asked Gunness to respond to the recent report on UNRWA’s role in the Gaza war by the UN Secretary-General’s Board of Inquiry.
The report noted that when weapons were found stored in UNRWA schools–to use the schools and the children human shields against Israel–the agency handed them to “local authorities” and gave contradictory statements to the press.
“So what’s UNRWA’s response to the Secretary-General’s finding that UNRWA actively contributed to the commission of war crimes during the Gaza war?” she asked.
Gunness pushed back: “There was absolutely nothing found as had been suggested that UNRWA had handed rockets over to Hamas.”
The question revolves around the term “local authorities,” which UNRWA used to explain to whom it had given the weapons, but which in context could only have meant representatives of the Hamas government.
In a Twitter feud with Bayefsky that followed the panel, Gunness posted a photo of a Palestinian child who had been blinded during the war, and later blocked Bayefsky, implying that she was racist.
In case you’re wondering why I blocked some peeps, I just did my periodic clear out of tiwtter pages, expunging hate rhetoric & racism RT
— Chris Gunness (@ChrisGunness) June 6, 2015
On Monday, Gunness continued tweeting screenshots of tweets from Bayefsky and other criticis, without responding to the substance of her criticism.
Gunness did not respond to an email request from Breitbart News for comment.
Gunness is no stranger to controversy: in 2014, Israel’s UN Ambassador, Ron Prosor, demanded that Gunness be suspended for encouraging reporters, via Twitter, to interview a professor who had once justified the 9/11 terror attacks against the United States.
Bayefsky referred to that controversy in questioning Gunness at the UN panel, asking how UNRWA could employ a spokesperson who “promotes terror via his global megaphone.” Gunness called her remarks “ill-founded” and “undignified.”
UNRWA was created specifically to deal with Palestinian refugees of the 1948 war, in which invading Arab armies tried to crush Israeli independence, and hundreds of thousands of Arab residents fled.
UNRWA adopts a uniquely generous definition of “refugee,” leading critics to charge that it is expanding the number of refugees, making the conflict with Israel harder to resolve peacefully. UNRWA has also often been accused of encouraging Palestinian extremism against Israel.