Watchdog Calls on America’s UN Ambassador to ‘End Silence’ on Anti-Israel Incitement by US-Funded UNRWA Staff
United States Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power’s “strict silence over repeated cases of bigotry and hatred from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is deeply troubling,” the head of an international human rights NGO told The Algemeiner on Thursday.
UN Watch executive director Hillel C. Neuer was expounding on the reason his group issued a public call on Power “to end her silence over continued anti-Israeli incitement from UNRWA… At a time when the United States is giving an astonishing $400 million a year to a UN agency that is supposed to be strictly focused on humanitarian relief.”
Neuer was reacting to what he called “only the latest egregious breach of neutrality by UNRWA-associated officials”: the endorsement on social media of “Israeli Apartheid Week” by the UN body’s US Director of Communications Laila Mokhiber.
According to Neuer, Mokhiber deleted her Twitter account, containing anti-Israel content, after being criticized by followers. Meanwhile, pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon reported on Wednesday that Mokhiber’s Facebook page was still up and running, and “shows plenty of other anti-Israel activity and support for terrorists,” among them Rasmea Odeh.
Odeh, a 67-year-old Palestinian-turned-American, was sentenced to life in prison in Israel for her part in the bombing of a Jerusalem supermarket in 1969, killing two students and wounding nine other shoppers, as well as in the bombing of the British Consulate four days later. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the terrorist organization Odeh belonged to, claimed responsibility for the bombings.
Odeh was released in a 1980 prisoner swap between Israel and the PFLP: 78 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli soldier captured in Lebanon.
After her release, Odeh testified before the UN, claiming she had been tortured by Israeli security forces to extract her confession.
Odeh then moved to the US, where she served as associate director of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago. In March 2015, she was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for immigration fraud, though she is out on bail while appealing her conviction, which included stripping her of her American citizenship and deporting her to Jordan.
Last month, after the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated her conviction, it was returned to the District Court.
Odeh’s cause has a huge following, particularly among Palestinians, on social media, who back her claims of “torture by the Israeli government,” and have been campaigning to raise money for her defense in the US. UNRWA’s Mokhiber is openly one of her champions.
“The Obama administration has been very clear on how strongly it feels, in its capacity as a special friend of Israel’s, about expressing blunt criticism of Israeli actions,” Neuer told The Algemeiner. “Yet when it comes to UNRWA, its massive support for that entity translates into silence and impunity, instead of speaking honestly about its employees’ relentless incitement to racism and terrorism, and holding them to account. Precisely because Ambassador Power and the Obama administration are so close to UNRWA — repeatedly praising it, and with Power making special visits to its facilities — for them to simply stand there and say nothing risks a loss of their credibility when it comes to speaking out on issues of incitement to violent extremism, and of the Arab-Israeli conflict as a whole.”
As The Algemeiner has reported, this is not the first time that Neuer, with the help of Elder of Ziyon’s research, has called the UN to task for allowing employees of a relief agency – many of them teachers at UNRWA schools in Gaza – to promote violence against Israelis with impunity. His efforts have led to a number of denials and hostile responses from UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness.