Antisemitic UNRWA Teachers’ Facebook Pages Spark War of Words With Watchdog Group
“We always investigate credible reports of neutrality violations by our staff and take appropriate action, including disciplinary action, where violations by UNRWA staff members are established,” UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. “Our position on racism is clear. We condemn racism in all its forms.”
Gunness, who also serves as director of advocacy and strategic communications for UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), was responding to the latest barrage of criticism lodged at him specifically, and his organization in general, this time over antisemitic cartoons and texts posted on Facebook by UNRWA employees, mainly school teachers.
The wave of outrage in question has taken two key forms: One is a letter sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by Hillel C. Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based non-profit human rights organization, UN Watch. The other is an independent online petition to Ban Ki-moon “to investigate UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness for violating UNRWA’s mandate.”
By its fourth day of circulation, the petition had garnered more than 700 signatures.
Neuer’s letter, sent on August 23, is based on research conducted by widely cited anonymous American blogger Elder of Ziyon, who follows and writes extensively about the Middle East, and acts as a watchdog of anti-Israel activity.
The letter reads as follows:
UN Watch is gravely concerned that the UN’s special relief agency for Palestinians, which received some $400 million from the U.S. last year in exchange for its signed promise to refrain from supporting terrorism and to uphold neutrality, is nevertheless disseminating crude, anti-Semitic caricatures on the Internet that incite to the murder of Jews. We respectfully demand that you take action immediately to remove the images, apply accountability to the highest levels of UNRWA, and apologize.
We call your attention to two of the ten first items appearing on the UNRWA Facebook page of the Rameh school, based in the Jaramaneh camp outside Damascus, which are cartoons celebrating Palestinian car attacks against Israeli Jewish civilians.
One of the cartoons posted by UNRWA resorts to classic anti-Semitic imagery, depicting a hook-nosed ultra-Orthodox Jew dressed in black, with a Star of David marked on his black hat.
Another of UNRWA’s images shows cars attacking people, with the caption that translates to ‘Cars intifada Daes,’ using the Arabic term ‘Daes (Run-over), a play on the Arabic word for ‘Daesh’ (ISIS).
In these postings, UNRWA joins the terror-inciting social media campaign that praise the Palestinian car attacks such as the one in Jerusalem on 22 October 2014, which killed 3-month-old baby Chaya Zissel Braun, and 22-year-old Karen Jemima Mosquera of Ecuador, and wounded eight others.
This vile campaign praises car attacks as a form of ‘resistance,’ and incites others to perpetrate similar attacks and, as documented by the Anti-Defamation League, features violent expressions of anti-Semitism.
Excellency, at a time when UNRWA claims to be in crisis, it is shameful that an UNRWA facility featured on a UN video asking for help for victims in Syria would be the same one engaged in incitement to racism, terrorism and murder.
All of this follows the April report of your board of inquiry which found that UNRWA effectively turned a blind eye to Hamas rockets and other terrorist weapons being stored in its facilities.
The UN cannot demand more and more funding for UNRWA from the U.S. and others while this agency aids, abets and incites to terrorism, murder and anti-Semitism.
Accordingly, we respectfully demand that you take action immediately to remove the images, apply accountability to the highest levels of UNRWA, and apologize.
Four days before Neuer sent the letter, on August 19, Elder of Ziyon’s findings were the subject of a report on Israel’s Channel 10 News. Gunness appeared on the program via Skype.
“If there are allegations, and if this is true, it is indeed a very big problem, and we will deal with it,” Gunness said. “Where we find credible allegations of neutrality violations among our staff, we investigate and where it’s appropriate we take disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal. And that process is audited by our major donors, with the United States and the European Union who are the biggest supporters of Israel on the international stage.”
On August 25, the Facebook page of the Rameh school was shut down. (Gunness did not respond to a question put to him by The Algemeiner about whether this was related to Elder of Ziyon’s blogs exposing them or to Neuer’s letter.)
At the same time, several other violent, anti-Israel pictures and postings on pages of UNRWA teachers continued to crop up, such as pro-terrorist photos on the timeline of a teacher using the name “poor slave.”
Meanwhile, Gunness was engaged in a social media offensive against Neuer.
On August 26, he tweeted two consecutive queries to his followers, casting aspersions on UN Watch.
I was just emailed this article on UN Watch http://t.co/wgU2DwrowO Does anyone have their annual reports since their founding? RT
— Chris Gunness (@ChrisGunness) August 27, 2015
The second was more specific:
Interested to find out more about UN Watch’s political & financial affiliations since its establishment. Can anyone advise? RT
— Chris Gunness (@ChrisGunness) August 26, 2015
On August 27, Neuer posted Gunness’s second tweet on his own Facebook page, and prefaced with this: “The UN’s message: if you dare to expose our incitement to violence, we will try to attack your reputation. Make no mistake: UN Watch will never yield to such intimidation.”
On August 28, in a veiled reference to Elder of Ziyon, Gunness tweeted, “I don’t engage with those who seek to delegitimize UNRWA (anonymously). I am a proud defender of our mandate.”
The mandate to which Gunness was referring is specified on the official website of UNRWA, an organization that was created by UN General Assembly Resolution 302(IV) in December 1949, in the wake of Israel’s War of Independence:
UNRWA was originally mandated to: carry out direct relief and works programs in collaboration with local governments; to consult with the Near Eastern governments concerning measures to be taken preparatory to the time when international assistance for relief and works projects is no longer available; and plan for the time when relief was no longer needed. UNRWA’s contemporary mandate is to provide relief, human development and protection services to Palestine refugees and persons displaced by the 1967 hostilities in its fields of operation: Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, West Bank and the Gaza Strip. UNRWA’s mandate has been repeatedly renewed by the UN General Assembly. The current mandate runs until 30 June 2017.
It is this mandate, and its funding from the United States and Europe — UNRWA’s acknowledged largest donors — that Neuer pointed to in his letter to Ban ki-Moon. It was also the focus of a televised interview he gave to “Opinion Journal,” (The Wall Street Journal’s Internet TV channel) on August 31.
Nevertheless, Elder of Zion blogged on Thursday, “The evidence against UNRWA is mounting by the day. The media is starting to notice. Chris Gunness’ lies are becoming more outrageous. And the pressure is only going to increase until UNRWA decides to do the right thing and attack the problem, not the people reporting the problem.”
Neuer agrees. Speaking to The Algemeiner on Friday, he said,
Instead of insisting that UNRWA condemns racism ‘in all its forms.’ it would be good if Mr. Gunness and UNRWA would just condemn and combat racism in one of its forms: the incitement to antisemitism and terrorism on Facebook pages operated by his own organization’s personnel, twelve of whom UN Watch has specifically identified in our report this week.
The pathology of racism and violence within UNRWA must finally be rooted out, and not denied and buried, as UNRWA’s spokesman has repeatedly attempted to do.
Sadly, Gunness is responding not by trying to stop his teachers’ incitement to racism and violence, but rather by launching a campaign of intimidation against UN Watch.
Just as he last year reacted with a Twitter emotional meltdown when he screamed for a boycott of The Jerusalem Post over a critical op-ed, this time Gunness has attacked UN Watch for daring to report his organization’s incidents of hate.
UN Watch is urging donor states to finally hold Mr. Gunness accountable for his reckless, inflammatory and unprofessional conduct. Those giving hundreds of millions of dollars every year to UNRWA — including the United States ($408 million), the European Union ($139 million), the United Kingdom ($95 million) — have a moral duty to stop UNRWA from using taxpayer funds to employ school principals and teachers who spread anti-Semitism and terrorism. Inaction is complicity.
In his tone and approach of reacting to UN Watch’s legitimate reporting on abuses, Gunness now joins the ranks of ex-UN official Richard Falk and Cuba’s Castro regime, both of whom sought to shut down UN Watch in the past. UN Watch has nothing to hide. Gunness’ McCarthyite attacks are designed to intimidate us, and others, into silence.
But UN Watch refuses to be intimidated. On the contrary: we will now redouble our work to expose the despicable racism promoted by UNRWA officials in violation of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.