Twenty-one Republican senators, led by Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), recently came out against the Biden administration’s move to resume funding, suspended by its predecessor, for a controversial U.N. agency for so-called Palestinian refugees, asserting that the group is plagued by accusations of anti-Israel bias and affiliated with the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas.
In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the GOP lawmakers expressed “grave concern” about the Biden administration’s decision to recommit U.S. taxpayer money for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Even President Joe Biden’s State Department has recently admitted that the U.N. agency for so-called Palestinians or UNRWA faces allegations of “racism, discrimination, and antisemitism.”
The American senators pointed out the agency defines “refugees” differently than the rest of the world, adding that the group assists Palestinians who already have citizenship in the countries they reside in and are no longer displaced.
They also wrote:
We are concerned that this administration’s decision to resume U.S. assistance to UNRWA was made in haste, without any actionable attempt to secure much-needed and meaningful reforms of the agency.
Beyond its inflated and duplicative structure, there are serious concerns about the impartiality of UNRWA. Over the years the agency has employed individuals affiliated with Hamas, a U.S. designated terrorist organization. UNRWA schools have been used to store Hamas weapons.
Additionally, there have been numerous cases of UNRWA textbooks including material that is anti-Semitic, such as encouraging the destruction of the state of Israel and supporting martyrdom and/or violent jihad. … We urge you cease U.S. government assistance to UNRWA unless true reform …. is secured.
Via Twitter, Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, a key voice in cutting off funding for the agency during the Trump administration, lauded the Republican senators who penned the letter for standing up to Biden’s move to resume funding for UNRWA.
The U.S. should not give the agency “a dime” until it “stops employing terrorists, stops promoting anti-Semitic textbooks, [and] releases the true number of ‘refugees,'” she wrote on Friday, a day after the Republicans sent the letter.
Kudos to the 20 senators standing up to Biden’s play to send $150M to the corrupt Palestinian organization, UNRWA. We should not give a dime unless it:
-Stops employing terrorists
-Stops promoting anti-Semitic textbooks
-Releases the true number of “refugees”
Common sense. pic.twitter.com/kp3ZAX4zSZ
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) April 23, 2021
In the House, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) also pushed back against the Biden administration’s decision to fund UNRWA, saying it is “is willing to look the other way while the U.N. actively perpetuates antisemitism.”
“The Biden administration’s eagerness to bury its head in the sand is a continued betrayal of America’s greatest ally Israel,” he added.
Secretary Blinken announced earlier this month that the U.S. would restore foreign aid to UNRWA, stopped by the Trump administration, in the amount of $150 million as part of a broader effort to restore overall Palestinian financial assistance, including $75 million in economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, and $10 million for peacebuilding programs through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), for a total of about $250 million.
Philippe Lazzarini, the UNRWA commissioner-general, applauded the Biden administration for the multi-million dollar gift.
The Biden administration’s decision to resume funding may end up violating the Taylor Force Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2018. It prevents the U.S. from providing economic support and other funding to the Palestinian Authority while it continues to offer stipends for the families of deceased terrorists or to pay terrorists in Israeli prisons — a policy referred to as “pay-for-slay” by critics.
The legislation only allows limited funding for a set of humanitarian exemptions, including vaccination programs.
In 2018, the Trump administration stopped funding the UNRWA after the Palestinian leadership refused to end the payments to terrorists. The previous administration also ended funding for the Palestinian leadership as part of efforts to defund agencies it considered anti-Israel or anti-American.
Early last week, Ned Price, a spokesperson for the State Department, defended his boss’s decision to resume funding for UNRWA.
Price told reporters that resuming monetary aid to the controversial group would allow the United States to secure commitments made by the organization.
In exchange for funding, UNRWA made severe commitments to the United States regarding “transparency, accountability, and neutrality in all of its operations,” he said.
“The commitment to neutrality, importantly, includes zero tolerance for racism, discrimination, and antisemitism,” Price added, acknowledging some of the issues that critics believe have dogged the agency.
Price highlighted a Biden administration plan to negotiate a new UNRWA framework in the months ahead to officially affirm the principles of transparency, accountability, and neutrality.
The United Nations established UNRWA in the wake of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war to deal with displaced Palestinians.
U.S. ally Israel frequently criticizes the agency for its so-called “right of return” for the descendants of those displaced in the conflict.
Meanwhile, UNRWA rejects Israel’s assertions that it promotes a “right of return.” The U.N. agency provides education, health care, financial assistance, and food to over 5.5 million Middle East residents.
According to the agency, its educational system alone serves over half a million students in about 711 elementary and preparatory schools.