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May 8, 2020 8:24 am

Rashida Tlaib Uses Coronavirus to Lobby for UNRWA

avatar by Sean Durns / JNS.org


US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. Photo: Reuters / Rebecca Cook.

JNS.orgCOVID-19 has brought about immense changes. For many, it has been a time for reflection. But for two members of Congress, it’s been an opportunity to lobby for a failed international agency with a history of supporting the elimination of the Jewish state. And for The Washington Post’s global opinions section, it’s been but another opportunity to publish a poorly-sourced polemic in what is supposed to be a forum for thoughtful opinion pieces.

On May 2, 2020, the Post published “The Trump administration must release all approved funds to help Palestinians fight the coronavirus,” by Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA). The two members of Congress begin by noting that although they “hold different views on how to achieve peace and justice in the Middle East,” they nonetheless “share a fundamental belief that the humanity, dignity, safety and rights of all people should be protected.”

It is true that Lowenthal and Tlaib hold “different views.” Lowenthal is endorsed by J Street, an organization that is often very critical of Israel, and believes in a “two-state solution.” However, it could be argued that his op-ed partner and congressional colleague, Tlaib, doesn’t believe that the Jewish state should even exist.

Despite Tlaib’s claim to supporting the “dignity, safety and rights of all people,” her track record on Israel and antisemitism suggests otherwise. As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) has documented, in the summer of 2019, Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) tried to visit Israel — labeled as “Palestine” on their itinerary — sponsored by Miftah, an organization that has claimed Jews consume Christian blood and has praised suicide bombers.

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Tlaib retweeted blood libels by Miftah’s founder, Hanan Ashwari, wrongly blaming Israel for the death of a young Palestinian boy named Qais Abu Ramila, who, in fact, accidentally drowned. She has also associated with Abbas Hamideh, an ardent supporter of Hezbollah, the US-designated Lebanese Shiite terror group that seeks Israel’s destruction. Hamideh, who has praised the deceased arch-terrorist and child-murderer Samir Kuntar, has called Jews “Schlomos,” advocated the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Israel, and compared Israelis to Nazis. Like Omar, Tlaib is also a supporter of the BDS movement, which singles out Israel for opprobrium and seeks the insidious elimination of the Jewish state.

It is unsurprising then that Tlaib would be an advocate for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Tlaib and Lowenthal note that in 2018, “the Trump administration eliminated funding” to UNRWA, which they innocuously describe as merely an “organization charged with addressing the humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees.” The coronavirus, they write, “does not recognize borders,” and “without aid and assistance, the Palestinian people will be greatly affected by this health crisis.”

But both members of Congress fail to mention UNRWA’s problematic history.

As CAMERA has documented, UNRWA’s politicized definition of a 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 the agency’s creation, there were an estimated 700,000 Palestinian Arab refugees; in 2020, there are a projected 6.4 million “refugees,” per UNRWA’s definition of the term.

Further, UNRWA 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 also been caught promoting terrorism, and the organization’s facilities have been used by Hamas to hide weapons and launch rockets at Israeli civilians.

In 2015, a UN investigation found that UNRWA schools were used by Hamas to “hide weapons,” “launch attacks,” and use 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.

A 2014 report by the Center for Near East Policy Research found that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad “control the UNRWA stations in Gaza,” and that in 2012, “UNRWA in Gaza elected Hamas to all 11 seats in the UNRWA’s teacher union and to 14 out of 16 sets in the employees and service sector union.”

UNRWA’s terror links 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].”

In stark contrast to Tlaib and Lowenthal’s stated support for “peace and justice” in the Middle EAST, UNRWA schools are also wellsprings of hate. In 2018, the same year that the Trump administration cut funding to UNRWA, an investigation by the US Government Accountability Office found that UNRWA-administered schools use textbooks that have maps that erase Israel, and justify and even encourage acts of terrorism. UNRWA teachers themselves help foment such attitudes.

In one example highlighted by UN Watch in 2017, UNRWA teacher Ghanem Naim Ghoneim called Adolf Hitler “our beloved” on social media. UNRWA’s then-spokesperson, Chris Gunness, protested that the incident wasn’t representative of the organization itself, but in a December 23, 2019, tweet, Gunness himself glorified the murder of Palestinians who worked with Israel, posting a poem (later deleted) about “collaborators” twitching “as they hung in the air on the lamp posts that glistened in Palestine square.” This is the agency that Lowenthal and Tlaib want to receive funding.

Unsurprisingly, no mention is made of UNRWA’s disturbing history, its failures, or its institutional advocacy in support of Israel’s destruction. Nor do Lowenthal and Tlaib mention an important source of COVID-19 relief for Palestinians — Israel.

As CAMERA has highlighted, Israel has provided Palestinians in both the Palestinian Authority (PA)-ruled West Bank, as well as in Hamas-ruled Gaza, with tests, medical supplies and disinfectants. They’ve done so despite the fact that both Hamas and the PA have compared Israel to the novel coronavirus and continue to pay salaries to those who attack, injure and kill Israelis. Israel has even provided training to Palestinian medical staff.

The country that Tlaib wants “wiped off the map” has been offering aid to Palestinians amid a pandemic. UNRWA’s history shows that all it has to offer are hate and failure.

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

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