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August 20, 2018 3:32 pm

Foreign Policy Magazine Does PR Work for UNRWA

avatar by Sean Durns /


Palestinian UNRWA employees march in a Gaza City protest, Jan. 29, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Mohammed Salem. – Foreign Policy magazine bills itself as a “global magazine of news and ideas,” but recently, the bimonthly periodical appears to have branched out into a new field: advocacy for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the agency tasked with assisting Palestinian refugees. The magazine has filed several reports on attempts to reform and/or cut US financial aid to UNRWA that are so littered with omissions — many of them substantial — that they raise questions about the paper’s bias and journalistic due diligence.

UNRWA was created in 1949 with the initial purpose of resettling Palestinian Arab refugees from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. And UNRWA is unique.

All other refugee populations in the world fall under the jurisdiction of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which, despite dealing with six times as many refugees as UNRWA, has only a quarter of the staff.

UNRWA has moved away from its original mandate of resettling Palestinian refugees, and has a spurious definition of “refugee.” As CAMERA has highlighted, the organization includes as refugees people who are generations removed from the conflict, people who are citizens of new states, and people who reside in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — places that the Palestinians themselves claim as part of a future Palestinian state.

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In other words, one can be a newborn Palestinian child living in the Palestinian Authority or Hamas-ruled areas and be considered a “refugee” to a war that occurred 70 years ago.

Further, UNRWA’s categorization of “refugee” is not dependent on need, and also applies to citizens of recognized states — allowing, for example, wealthy, third-generation Jordanian citizens to be considered Palestinian “refugees.” Indeed, according to UNRWA, any Palestinian Arab descendant from the 1948 conflict is considered a “refugee” until they “return” to Israel.

UNRWA’s politicized definition of refugee has helped to perpetuate the Israel-Islamist conflict, allowing “refugees” to be used as pawns against the Jewish state. Indeed, at the dawn of its creation, there were an estimated 700,000 Palestinian Arab refugees; in 2020, there will be a projected 6.4 million “refugees,” per UNRWA’s definition of the term.

Worse still, the organization’s employees have included members of US-designated terror groups, such as Hamas, which call for Israel’s destruction and the genocide of the Jewish people. UNRWA employees have been caught promoting terrorism, and the organization’s facilities have been used by Hamas to hide weapons and launch rockets at Israeli civilians.

For these reasons, calls for reforming and/or abolishing UNRWA have increased. But Foreign Policy has risen to UNRWA’s defense.

The news outlet’s correspondents, not its opinion section, have filed several lengthy dispatches that omit UNRWA’s promotion of anti-Jewish violence and Palestinian rejectionism.

As CAMERA highlighted in an August 8, 2018, Algemeiner op-ed, Foreign Policy reporters Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer authored an August 3 article that, in nearly 1,600-words, made no mention of UNRWA unions employing terror operatives or UNRWA employees promoting violent antisemitic imagery.

Lynch, who has covered the United Nations for 20 years, should know better. In 2015 a UN investigation found that UNRWA schools were used by Hamas to “hide weapons” and “launch attacks,” and that Hamas used children as human shields. UNRWA “premises could have been used for an unknown period of time by members of a Palestinian armed group,” concluded the United Nations. Lynch was covering the United Nations when it completed its investigation, although he doesn’t seem to have deigned it worthy of filing a report on those findings, either then or since.

These details are similarly missing in Foreign Policy’s August 9 dispatch (“For Trump and Co., Few Palestinians Count as Refugees”), which omits UNRWA employees praising Hitler and Hamas, and calling to murder Jews, among other examples that raise questions about the organization’s role.

As CAMERA noted in The Algemeiner, a 2014 report by the Center for Near East Policy Research found that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad “control the UNRWA stations in Gaza.”

UNRWA’s terror links, as CAMERA pointed out, violate section 301(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act, which requires that “no contributions by the United States shall be made to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency except on the condition” that UNRWA “take all possible measures to assure that no part of the United States contribution shall be used to furnish assistance to any refugee who is receiving military training as a member of the so-called Palestine Liberation Army or any other guerrilla type organization or who has engaged in any act of terrorism [emphasis added].”

Yet in two articles on US aid to UNRWA — articles that total more than 2,500 words combined — Foreign Policy fails to mention this provision.

Indeed, UNRWA’s failures are so pronounced that individuals from all political quarters, including former UNRWA employees, have called for its reform. The organization’s former legal counsel, James Lindsay, authored an in-depth 2009 report titled “Fixing UNRWA: Repairing the UN’s Troubled System of Aid to Palestinian Refugees.”

The first step for reform, Lindsay argues, is the “removal of citizens from recognized states — persons who have the oxymoronic status of ‘citizen refugees’ — from UNRWA’s jurisdiction.” He also disagrees with UNRWA’s decision to apply the “refugee” categorization irrespective of need, noting: “No justification exists for millions of dollars in humanitarian aid going to those who can afford to pay for UNRWA services.”

Other individuals in the aid and diplomatic sectors have called for reforms at UNRWA. Dave Harden, a former diplomat and one-time head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, has also been publicly critical of UNRWA, which he says, “fosters dysfunction” and needs to be “reordered.” In a lengthy and detailed August 12 Times of Israel op-ed, Harden agreed that Trump adviser and son-in-law “Jared Kushner may be right in seeking to disrupt the current structure of US assistance to the Palestinians.”

Instead of reporting criticisms from Lindsay, Harden and others, Foreign Policy portrays attempts to reform and/or eliminate UNRWA as partisan and “fringe.” The magazine claims that only “Israel supporters,” “activist groups,” and “conservatives” are advocating changes at the UN agency. Lynch even uncritically quotes the far-left group J Street, whose senior vice president Dylan Williams incorrectly argues that “this is very much a fringe idea that comes from the right-wing in Israel and the United States that is fundamentally opposed to a workable two-state solution.”

It’s revealing that Foreign Policy would seek quotes from J Street — an organization that is hyper-critical of Israel — instead of Lindsay or Harden. Equally revealing is the magazine’s omission of UNRWA’s role in promoting anti-Jewish violence and Palestinian rejectionism. Foreign Policy’s recent articles on UNRWA look more like a press release written by the agency itself than credible journalism.

Sean Durns is a senior research analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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