Thursday, November 30th | 18 Kislev 5784

October 5, 2023 4:27 pm

US House Targets UNRWA Incitement, Moves to Prevent US Embassy From Leaving Jerusalem


avatar by Andrew Bernard

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) briefs reporters at the UN Headquarters in New York City, US, on Sept. 21, 2023. Photo: John Lamparski/NurPhoto via Reuters Connect

Overshadowed by the passage last weekend of a continuing resolution to keep the US government running for 45 days and the subsequent forced ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as House speaker, the House of Representatives last week passed a foreign appropriations bill with significant provisions for the US-Israel relationship.

While the House failed to pass the full slate of 12 appropriations bills that would keep the government open through the 2024 fiscal year, one of the four they did pass was the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, which includes heightened scrutiny of the UN agency assisting Palestinian refugees and would deny funding to move the US embassy in Israel out of Jerusalem.

A report from the House Appropriations Committee accompanying the bill notes the US Congress’s “longstanding concerns” that the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) supports educational programs that promote incitement to violence against Israelis and Jews.

“The committee notes the longstanding concerns that educational materials used in UNRWA schools induce incitement or are otherwise inconsistent with the values of human rights, dignity, and tolerance,” the report says. “The committee is further concerned by the United States Government’s lack of visibility on the curricula utilized in UNRWA schools given these allegations and the United States’ status as a significant donor to UNRWA.”

The report adds that, if the legislation is enacted, the US secretary of state would have 30 days to designate someone to review “a significant and representative selection of textbooks and other educational materials utilized by UNRWA schools in the West Bank and Gaza.” The appointee would also be required to submit within six months a report to the appropriate congressional committees on whether “these educational materials contain incitement to violence, hatred, or other inappropriate materials.”

A 2023 joint report by Impact-SE, a London-based NGO that tracks school curricula in the Arab world, and UN Watch, a Geneva-based NGO that works to counter anti-Israel bias at the UN, found that UNRWA employees had created classroom material celebrating the firebombing of a Jewish bus as a “barbecue party,” encouraging students to pursue jihad and martyrdom, erasing Israel from maps, and encouraging students to “liberate the homeland” with “their blood,” among other examples of incitement to radicalism.

In a statement on Wednesday, Impact-SE CEO Marcus Sheff commented on the importance of holding UNRWA to account in the State Department’s funding bill.

“The fact that the House has included these provisions within an extremely complex bill demonstrates the significance that US legislators are now placing on UNRWA’s continued incitement and antisemitism through educational materials,” Sheff said. “Quite rightly, the House is demonstrating that there is no blank check for hate. It sends a clear and unequivocal message to UNRWA’s leadership and the staff who carry on producing hateful material and poisoning young minds that their actions cannot continue.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY) introduced an amendment to the appropriations bill that also prevents funds from being used to move the US embassy in Israel from Jerusalem.

That amendment passed overwhelmingly with 360 votes in favor, and just 67 opposed. Among the “Nay” votes were staunch critics of the US-Israel relationship from the progressive caucus like Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), as well as more mainstream Democrats like Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. All Republicans in the House voted for the measure.

Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, said in a statement this week that the vote was evidence that support for the US Embassy being located in Jerusalem was moving beyond partisan politics.

“This overwhelming support for Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital is a significant milestone,” Klein said. “Except for those with extremist, even Israel-hating opinions, large majorities of both parties support the continued presence in Jerusalem of the US Embassy. There is a true consensus that Jerusalem is important to both the United States and to Israel.”

The overall appropriations bill passed 216-212 on mostly party lines, with all Democrats and two Republicans voting against it. A companion appropriations bill needs to pass the Senate so the two chambers can then reconcile the texts in a conference committee before it can be signed into law by the president. The continuing resolution passed last weekend gives lawmakers until Nov. 17 to pass the full slate of appropriations bills.

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