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United Nations Security Council briefings on the Middle East can be predictable.

The usual talking points are repeated in monotonous tones, by the usual suspects, while delegates wait to grab their coats and head out to dinner. But this week’s briefing on the Middle East will not have been easy for UNRWA officials in Geneva to swallow.

At the session, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, stated, “I personally raised with UNRWA leadership during my visit [to include] concerns about antisemitic references in textbooks used in UNRWA schools.”

This damning criticism by Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield ends a tough year for UNRWA. In November, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini flew to London in a last-ditch effort to try and convince the UK government to reverse its decision to cut funding for the organization by more than half.

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December 2, 2021 11:43 am

In June, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, while testifying before the Appropriations Committees of the House and Senate, called out UNRWA for antisemitism in textbooks, and underscored his demand that UNRWA reform its textbooks.

In September, EU parliamentarians publicly challenged the UNRWA chief regarding the textbooks in a parliamentary debate, leading to his public acknowledgement that UNRWA itself identified antisemitism and glorification of terrorism in textbooks they use. In April, the parliament passed an unprecedented resolution, which became the first legislature to admonish UNRWA for its teaching of hate, and its incitement to violence. Other donor nations also launched investigations into UNRWA, including Australia and Canada, where the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed a resolution expressing concern over UNRWA educational materials.

The awareness of the international community to the prevalence of antisemitism and incitement in textbooks used in UNRWA schools has become increasingly apparent in recent months, following the publication of IMPACT-se reports at the beginning of the year that contained the first-ever comprehensive audit of material produced, approved, and distributed by UNRWA staff.

These revealed that UNRWA-produced content contained blatant antisemitism, incitement to jihad and martyrdom, and delegitimization of Israel. Intensive briefings of policymakers in the US and Europe followed the report.

One would imagine that UNRWA is getting weary of dealing with this issue. And still, the penny has yet to drop. UNRWA displays a remarkable sense of entitlement, with the UNRWA Commissioner-General publicly calling efforts for textbook reform “political attacks.”

Across the Middle East and North Africa, leaders are implementing changes to their school textbooks, recognizing that ending radicalization, intolerance, and isolationism in education is key to their national interests and visions for the future.

Clearly, this does not apply to all — or even most — countries in the region. But this trend should not be seen as insignificant in a part of the world where extremist education has been used as a driver of violence, war, hate, and intolerance for decades — so much of which is directed at Jews and Israel.

UNRWA, unfortunately, is not having any of it.

Despite employing a staff of 30,000, and being exclusively focused on the Palestinian issue, UNRWA appears to be incapable of addressing one of the most pressing challenges to its mandate today, namely, the ongoing teaching of hate and violence within its schools.

For scale, the other UN organization focused on refugees is the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which holds a mandate for 135 countries and a staff of 17,000. Lest anyone think the conflicts they focus on are less challenging, they have included providing education and other critical services to refugees from places such as Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, the DRC, Iraq, and Venezuela.

So why exactly is this massive UN agency — whose espoused values include accountability — shirking its commitment to promote ideals of peacemaking and tolerance through education? It appears that even negative impacts on its revenue stream aren’t enough to encourage UNRWA to correct its path.

One answer might be that it is often hard to delineate where the responsibilities of the Palestinian Authority (PA) end and those of UNRWA begin. For instance, UNRWA actively lobbied members of the European parliament this year on a provision that affected the PA alone, and not UNRWA in any way.

It is similarly unclear where UNRWA ends and Hamas begins. The hapless Matthias Schmale, formerly UNRWA’s Gaza chief, was driven out of his job by Hamas for saying on TV that Israel used sophisticated methods to avoid civilian casualties during the May escalation between Israel and Hamas. The fact that a terror organization has such power to exert influence over who leads a UN organization is beyond troubling.

The United States is now the most significant supporter of UNRWA, having recently restored $318 million in annual aid, 60 percent of which will go toward education. America’s responsibility to demand change to the textbooks UNRWA teaches is manifest. Its leverage is clear.

Is this week’s statement by Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield an indication that the US will not stand idle while its taxpayer dollars are used to teach children the world’s oldest form of hatred, weaponized in incitement to violence? That question will likely be answered in the months ahead.

Marcus Sheff is CEO of The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se).

Source of original article: Marcus Sheff / Opinion – (
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