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November 22, 2018 10:07 am

The Media’s Unredeemable ‘Reporting’ on UNRWA

avatar by Sean Durns /


The former Washington Post building. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. – The Washington Post‘s reporting on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) continues to omit key context and mislead readers. A November 19, 2018 front-page dispatch, “U.S. cuts add to Palestinians’ misery,” adds to the paper’s poor coverage of the UN organization. The Post is unable, or perhaps unwilling, to offer straightforward reporting on the agency.

Originally envisioned as a temporary agency, UNRWA was created in 1949 following the unsuccessful attempt by several Arab states to destroy Israel. Over time, UNRWA developed into the only UN organization whose stated mission is to assist a specific group of refugees — Palestinian Arabs. All other refugee populations in the world fall under the jurisdiction of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Importantly, UNRWA’s definition of “refugee” is not dependent on need, and even applies to citizens of recognized states, such as Jordan.

Oddly, UNRWA considers individuals living in areas ruled by Palestinians and descendants of those who fled during and before the 1948 War of Independence as “refugees.” CAMERA has noted that, according to UNRWA’s spurious definition, the 20-year-old Los Angeles-born millionaire fashion model Bella Hadid is considered a “refugee.” Further, UNRWA has become the only refugee agency in the world whose purpose is not to resettle refugees.

Instead, UNRWA schools and facilities have been used to promote hatred and murder of Israelis. For example, a March 7, 2016 ceremony at an UNRWA school in Gaza City celebrated stabbing Jews. UNRWA officials have also posed with maps erasing Israel and have been caught disseminating antisemitic materials.

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Indeed, according to a 2014 report by the Center for Near East Policy Research, terrorist organizations Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad “control the UNRWA stations in Gaza.” In 2012, the report added, “UNRWA in Gaza elected Hamas to all 11 seats in the UNRWA’s teacher union and to 14 out of 16 seats in the employees and service sector union.” Hamas is a US-designated terror group that rules the Gaza Strip and calls for Israel’s destruction.

As CAMERA highlighted in an Algemeiner op-ed, these actions run counter to section 301(c) of the US Foreign Assistance Act, which stipulates 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]

Readers of The Washington Post, however, wouldn’t have a clue about the numerous issues and controversies surrounding UNRWA. As CAMERA has documented, the newspaper has repeatedly whitewashed the agency’s history.

In the last year alone, the Post has filed no fewer than five full-length articles and commentaries on UNRWA — most of them detailing the decision by the US to quit funding the agency. Yet not once did the Post mention UNRWA’s habit of employing terror operatives or promoting anti-Jewish violence.

The paper’s November 19 front-page article is no exception. In more than 1,800 words, the Post failed to fully detail UNRWA’s problems. Instead, the paper implicitly minimized issues with the organization by claiming that only “Israeli sentiment” believes the organization “irredeemably flawed.”

But it’s not merely “Israeli sentiment” — because the raw numbers themselves illustrate that UNRWA is doing terribly. At the dawn of the organization’s 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. Yet according to a 2011 report by the Center for Near East Policy Research, UNRWA has four times as many staff members as UNHCR does — despite the fact that UNRWA deals with six times fewer refugees than UNHCR. In fact, instead of working to resettle refugees, UNRWA employees have been caught working for Hamas and praising Hitler.

The Post seems insistent on obfuscating facts when it comes to UNRWA and violence. As The Jerusalem Post and other news outlets noted, in October 2018, UNRWA withdrew some of its staff from the Gaza Strip after “a number of UNRWA workers had been ‘harassed and prevented from carrying out their duties’ by people angered by the organization’s cost-cutting measures due to its financial crisis.” UNRWA management was even “specifically targeted” by threats from Palestinians, according to the organization’s executive director.

At the time, The Washington Post failed to report that UNRWA staff were being evacuated from the Gaza Strip due to Palestinian threats. Six weeks later, the paper belatedly wrote, “Protests regarding the cuts UNRWA has already made have forced some of its international staff to leave.” But “protests” are hardly the same thing as “threats” — although the newspaper does have a curious history of conflating Palestinian violence with “protests,” as CAMERA has documented.

In contrast to what Washington Post reporting implies, the need to reform UNRWA has been noted by more than Israelis and Trump administration officials. As CAMERA noted in a JNS op-ed, 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 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” via funding cuts and other measures.

UNRWA’s own former legal counsel, James Lindsay, has also called for reforming UNRWA. In a 2009 report titled Fixing UNRWA: Repairing the U.N.’s Troubled System of Aid to Palestinian Refugees, Lindsay disagreed 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.”

The Washington Post is well aware of Lindsay’s criticisms — CAMERA has, on several occasions, emailed his report to Post staff. Indeed, on September 5, 2018, the Post published CAMERA’s letter to the editor (“The full truth about UNRWA”), which pointed out that the newspaper had “failed to fully detail problems with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency” including that “UNRWA employees have been caught praising anti-Jewish violence, and, per a 2015 UN investigation, [that] the organization’s facilities were used by terrorist groups to launch and store rockets during the 2014 Israel-Hamas War.”

But when it comes to UNRWA, The Washington Post has its narrative — and it isn’t about to let facts get in the way.

A picture taken at the Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon provides the specificity that the Post lacks. The image was originally posted on the official Facebook page of Fatah, the movement that dominates the Palestinian Authority (PA), on January 19, 2017, and was subsequently translated by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW). PMW noted: “The picture shows Director of the Insan Center Abu Zuhdi at the Burj Al-Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon, giving Fatah officials a plaque of honor on which is the PA map of ‘Palestine’ that presents all of Israel as ‘Palestine’ together with the PA areas.”

A picture is worth a thousand words. And this particular picture is worth more than the thousands of words and images that The Washington Post has produced in its pathetic “reporting” on UNRWA.

Sean Durns is the media assistant for CAMERA, the 65,000-member 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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