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February 4, 2019 8:23 am

When It Comes to UNRWA, Are the UN’s Holocaust Memorial Pledges Meaningless?

avatar by Deborah Singer Soffen and Joan Lurie Goldberg

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Palestinians pass by the gate of an UNRWA-run school in Nablus in the West Bank, August 13, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Abed Omar Qusini.

January 28, 2019, marked the beginning of Holocaust Remembrance week at the United Nations. Speakers at the UN Holocaust Memorial Ceremony — “Holocaust Remembrance: Demand and Defend Your Human Rights” — all agreed that the lessons of the Holocaust must not be forgotten, and that Holocaust education is essential.

But were their words representative of the deeds of this international body? Sadly, they were not.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres elegantly made the case for curbing hate, racism, and rising antisemitism. As he correctly pointed out, “Hate is moving into the mainstream, the demonization of others rages on. It is our duty to fight hate speech which leads to hate crimes.” He emphasized that this must happen in the schools and that education is crucial. Yet hate-filled education continues to be provided to Palestinian children by UNRWA — an agency of the UN — making the UN complicit in this travesty. This must be corrected.

During the event, Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, president of the 73rd-session of the UN General Assembly, reminded the audience that the UN was born out of the ashes of World War II to stop hatred and demonization of the “other.” She then added that we will never root out all the evils that led to the Holocaust, but that we can contain them by our actions — and said that we must “provide education that emphasizes citizenship and respect of the other.”

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Israel’s UN Ambassador, Danny Danon, declared: “Today it is our responsibility to choose the right side of history and to overcome apathy and speak up. The goal of the Holocaust was to erase the Jews. We should not muddy this memory with universalism. … We must not be apathetic.”

UNRWA has been responsible for the education of many hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children, and much of the education it has provided — or allowed to be provided — contains incitement and calls for the murder of innocent Jews and Israelis. Recent translations of the newest textbooks purchased by UNRWA from the Palestinian Authority, and supposedly vetted by UNRWA, are in blatant violation of UN standards. Instead of promoting peace, tolerance, and respect of the other, these books are fraught with antisemitism, demonization, calls for violence against “the other” (Jews), and denial of a member-state’s (Israel’s) right to exist.

Mr. Secretary-General, we urge you, in this new year of 2019, to prove that the United Nations is no longer indifferent. You can and must take action against UNRWA’s hate-filled curriculum. The proof is there. The books have been translated from Arabic to English, and we can all see that they teach hate. The words spoken at the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust must be translated from words into deeds.

Dr. Deborah Singer Soffen (pediatrician and child advocate) and Dr. Joan Lurie Goldberg (physicist, representative of the International Council of Jewish Women at the UN in New York, and co-chair of the Informal Caucus of Jewish NGOs at the UN) are founding members of the social action group Reform UNRWA: Stop Teaching Hate consisting of members of the Jewish NGO group at the UN and like-minded friends. The group’s web site is www.reformUNRWA.com.

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