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International Organizations Publish Inaccurate Reports About UNRWA Aligning With the Israeli Narrative

Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
News
4th February 2024
International Organizations Publish Inaccurate Reports About UNRWA Aligning With the Israeli Narrative
Pro-Israel supporting organizations launch a campaign against UNRWA (Getty)

A group of Western countries suspended funds to UNRWA following Israeli allegations that some of the agency's employees were involved in the October 7 operation last year. This action was preceded by a massive Israeli propaganda campaign against the agency, which has escalated since the start of the war on Gaza.

Misbar noted the involvement of Israeli parties, media, and non-governmental organizations simultaneously in broadcasting allegations against UNRWA without providing accurate evidence. Since October 7, official Israeli pages, such as the Israeli Army page and the Israeli Foreign Ministry page, witnessed an increase in posts attacking United Nations institutions, especially UNRWA, accused of involvement with its employees in the ongoing war on the Gaza Strip.

Screenshots show posts falsely alleging that UNRWA supports the Hamas movement
Screenshots show posts falsely alleging that UNRWA supports the Hamas movement
Screenshots show posts falsely alleging that UNRWA supports the Hamas movement

Searching the word "UNRWA" on pro-Israel pages shows thousands of posts, most with the hashtag “defundUNRWA,” indicating a campaign to cut off funding for UNRWA. Additionally, it appears that organizations claiming to be independent and non-governmental are involved in supporting the Israeli campaign against UNRWA in several ways.

Israeli posts accompanied by the hashtag defundUNRWA
Israeli posts accompanied by the hashtag defundUNRWA

UN Watch and NGO Monitor

UN Watch and NGO Monitor are prominent organizations that have been leading campaigns against the United Nations organizations. Their efforts gained momentum when Western countries suspended their funds to UNRWA.

UN Watch, based in Geneva, defines itself as a non-governmental organization based in Geneva, Switzerland. It was established to monitor and report on the activities of the United Nations and its agencies. A review of the organization’s content shows its clear bias towards the Israeli narrative and its submission of reports against UNRWA that lack conclusive evidence.

UN Watch dedicated several reports that included allegations lacking coherent evidence against UNRWA, giving these reports prominent placement on its main pages. The most notable is a report alleging that a group of UNRWA school teachers in the Gaza Strip celebrated the attacks of October 7. The organization supplemented allegations about UNRWA teachers with a sixty-eight-page investigation examining only one channel on the Telegram application called “Daily Vacancies UNRWA-GAZA.”

The Telegram channel, relied upon by UN Watch in its investigation, is a public channel that anyone can join, as stated by the organization itself. The organization cited "fragile" evidence to support its claims, such as messages circulated by members within the group about the October 7 operation and other news about the Gaza Strip previously published or covered by most media outlets. The organization claimed in its report that all group members, numbering over three thousand, are teachers in UNRWA schools in Gaza. This suggests the group is dedicated to discussing matters related to UNRWA, implying that its members are employees of the organization.

The United Nations Watch organization claimed that all members of the examined Telegram channel are UNRWA school teachers
The United Nations Watch organization claimed that all members of the examined Telegram channel are UNRWA school teachers
The United Nations Watch report relied on a public Telegram channel open to everyone
The United Nations Watch report relied on a public Telegram channel open to everyone

On the other side, the organization published reports claiming to prove the involvement of a group of UNRWA employees in Gaza in “incitement,” “anti-Semitism,” and “terrorism.” The research conducted by UNRWA was based on an inconsistent methodology, as the sample it examined relied on public Facebook pages of individuals who identified themselves as UNRWA employees, without being able to access an official list of UNRWA employees to match it with the names it claimed to have found on Public Facebook pages.

UN Watch's research used an inconsistent methodology, lacking official data to confirm the affiliation of the Facebook pages to UNRWA employees
UN Watch's research used an inconsistent methodology, lacking official data to confirm the affiliation of the Facebook pages to UNRWA employees

The "United Nations Watch" organization adopts a visual identity similar to the United Nations. It uses the colors white and blue in its logo, as in the official United Nations logo, giving it the appearance of an official page monitoring the activity of the United Nations and enjoying reliability. However, it is influential, as revealed by a review of the organization’s history, which led to its association with and receiving support from extremist Israeli institutions that oppose voices critical of Israel.

United Nations Watch (UN Watch) organization logo
United Nations Watch (UN Watch) organization logo
United Nations Watch organization's website
United Nations Watch organization's website

UN Watch was founded in 1993 by Maurice Berthold Abram, Chairperson of the American Jewish Committee (1963-1968) and Chairperson of the National Coalition in Support of Soviet Jews (1983-1988). It is an accredited non-governmental organization with special consultative status in the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

In 2000, following Abram's death, David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, was elected president of the United Nations Watch organization. In 2001, Harris announced that UN Watch had become a wholly-owned branch of the American Jewish Committee. Since 2013, UN Watch has claimed that it is no longer affiliated with the American Jewish Committee, is an independent organization, and has changed its description on its website.

Since its establishment, UN Watch has been active in combating what it considers anti-Israel and anti-Semitic positions, and what it describes as the selective and politicized treatment of Israel by many United Nations bodies. The organization has previously strongly criticized the United Nations Human Rights Council based on its actions towards Israel. The Jewish Telegraph Agency described the United Nations Watch Organization as a pro-Israel organization.

According to its website, “the United Nations Watch organization is primarily concerned with the equitable application of the principles of the United Nations Charter.” However, since its establishment, it has notably launched several campaigns against UN officials who criticize Israel. It previously exerted pressure against the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Peter Hansen, because of what it said was his noticeable bias towards the Palestinians and accused him of being unprofessional because of his statement in 2003 that the residents of the Jenin refugee camp “experienced an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe in modern history.”

NGO Monitor does similar work to UN Watch and has long published reports against UN institutions. Most recently, it published a report in which it claimed that “UNRWA is part of a network of UN and NGOs dedicated to the demonization of Israel.”

NGO Monitor's report on UNRWA
NGO Monitor's report on UNRWA

NGO Monitor is an Israeli organization established in 2002 to monitor civil society in Israel. According to Haaretz, NGO Monitor has engaged in a campaign against progressive NGOs, and “devoted a particularly aggressive effort against Zakrat, an Israeli association, a non-governmental organization that recognizes the Nakba and supports the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.

NGO Monitor's logo
NGO Monitor's logo

NGO Monitor reshares UN Watch publications on its accounts. It also works with several other organizations that oppose Palestinian voices and promote the Israeli narrative, such as the Anti-Defamation League, which publishes false statements, fights pro-Palestinian voices, and works to combat criticism directed at Israel by international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

NGO Monitor shares a post by Jonathan Greenblatt, Director of the Anti-Defamation League
NGO Monitor shares a post by Jonathan Greenblatt, Director of the Anti-Defamation League
NGO Monitor shares a UN Watch post making allegations against UNRWA
NGO Monitor shares a UN Watch post making allegations against UNRWA

An Investigation Reveals the Parties Supporting the Two Organizations

A comprehensive investigation conducted by the Palestinian Return Center highlighted the lack of transparency in the sources of funding for the United Nations Watch and NGO Monitor organizations. The center examined US tax records and revealed that they were funded by a network of far-right, pro-Israel, and anti-Islamic organizations.

Some pro-Israel entities funded UN Watch and NGO Monitor between 2009-2013. Source Palestinian Return Center
Some pro-Israel entities funded UN Watch and NGO Monitor between 2009-2013. Source Palestinian Return Center

The investigation also revealed an overlap in funding sources between UN Watch and NGO Monitor, as financial support sometimes comes from the same entities operating under the names of charitable and non-profit organizations. The investigation also revealed that many of the parties supporting the United Nations Watch and NGO Monitor provided support to other conservative, far-right, and pro-Israel institutions. Among these institutions was the “CAMERA” organization, whose involvement had previously been revealed by Misbar in combating criticism of Israel in the Western media.

Similarity in financial support donors for both organizations, NGO Monitor and UN Watch. Source Palestinian Return Center
Similarity in financial support donors for both organizations, NGO Monitor and UN Watch. Source Palestinian Return Center

The Official Israeli Speech Aligns With the Reports of the Two Organizations

Official Israeli statements indicate convergence and agreement with the reports published by the two organizations, as Israeli officials called for freezing or ending the work of United Nations organizations in the Gaza Strip, especially UNRWA.

Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that UNRWA's mission must be terminated immediately, while Israeli government spokesperson Elon Levy claimed that UNRWA constitutes a frontline for Hamas. In the same context, Noga Erbil, a former official in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, clearly called for the destruction of UNRWA during deliberations in the Israeli parliament. She said in a video clip she posted on her page on the X platform, “This is the only way for Israel to win the war.”

Israeli government spokesperson Elon Levy claims UNRWA serves as a front for the Hamas movement
Israeli government spokesperson Elon Levy claims UNRWA serves as a front for the Hamas movement
Noga Erbil, former Israeli Foreign Ministry official, calls for UNRWA's destruction
Noga Erbil, former Israeli Foreign Ministry official, calls for UNRWA's destruction

Suspension of Funds for UNRWA: An Old-New Israeli Demand

UNRWA was established in November 1948, under the name of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, to provide aid to Palestinian refugees, most of whom were displaced towards the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as neighboring countries such as Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. The agency is concerned with coordinating the services provided to them by non-governmental organizations and some other United Nations organizations.

UNRWA began its work on May 1, 1950, assuming the functions of the relief agency and receiving the records of Palestinian refugees from the International Committee of the Red Cross. UNRWA is funded almost entirely through voluntary contributions from UN Member States. The agency's services include education, health care, relief, infrastructure and camp improvement, community support, and emergency response, including the times of armed conflict.

As the scope of UNRWA’s work expanded, it began to provide its services to approximately 5.5 million people, including educational, economic, social, and medical services. UNRWA has about 30,000 employees, most of whom are Palestinians.

On January 26, the US Department of State announced the temporary suspension of funding for UNRWA until it completed examining the allegations of the participation of 12 of its employees in the attacks of October 7, 2023, which were carried out by the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas movement. After the United States suspended its funding for the agency, nine other countries followed, most notably Britain, France, Germany, Finland, Canada, and Australia.

But this is not the first time that parties supporting Israel have called for the suspension of funds for UNRWA and the cessation its work, citing several reasons, including “the refugee issue and the right of return.”

Einat Wilf, a former Israeli politician, confirmed that UNRWA works to perpetuate the idea that the Palestinians have any right to return to their lands, which according to her “raises Israel’s concerns.” In the same context, in 2020, the Israeli National Security Institute published a study that included “suggestions about dismantling UNRWA and transferring its budget to the governments of the countries hosting refugees.”

Moreover, in 2018, the Kohelet Policy Forum published Israeli policy papers, calling for the dismantling or halting of funding for several United Nations agencies, including UNRWA. Noga Erbil, a researcher at the Kohelet Forum, stated that there are many strategic goals for Israel in ending UNRWA, including the danger of the social, educational, and economic services that UNRWA provides to the Palestinians, which, in their view, pose a threat to the existence of the State of Israel.

Since the beginning of its war on the Gaza Strip, Israel has killed more than 150 UNRWA employees, marking the highest number of deaths recorded in a single war since the establishment of the agency.

The suspension of funding by major countries for UNRWA comes directly after the International Court of Justice ruled on emergency measures that Israel must implement to prevent the genocide of the Palestinian people, while it continues its war in Gaza. Without UNRWA, the main provider of humanitarian aid in Gaza, fears of access are heightened.

The Israeli war on the Gaza Strip is ongoing, having surpassed its 118-day mark, with more than 27,000 civilians reported killed and over 66,000 injured since October 7, according to the latest data from the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

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