Gaza War

Farce: Critics slam review of UNRWA neutrality


Following allegations that a dozen employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) participated directly in Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel, the United States and other nations announced their suspension of future funds, pending an investigation. The UN has said that the actions of a few shouldn’t tarnish an otherwise essential aid organization — a sentiment that White House officials have echoed at times while emphasizing the seriousness of the charges.

There has been less attention to a separate investigation of UNRWA, which predates the announcement of the allegations that agency employees participated in the terror attacks. In response to “allegations of serious breaches,” the UN assembled an ostensibly independent panel to assess whether UNRWA is acting in a neutral manner.

The new “review group,” which will operate parallel to an internal investigation, is helmed by Catherine Colonna, former French foreign minister. But it’s seriously tainted — two of the three European research organizations with which she will work have praised South Africa’s genocide charges against Israel at the International Court of Justice. Colonna herself praised UNRWA during a Jan. 12 meeting with Lazzarini, writing in French that she gives him her “full renewed support” and calling his work “more useful than ever.”

Both the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Norway and the Danish Institute for Human Rights presented the ICJ case in a positive light, while the third group, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, a Lund University affiliate, in Sweden, has not.

“By bringing Israel before the International Court of Justice, the world’s highest court, with the objective of putting an end to the ongoing massacres in Gaza — while the West continues to side with and provide military supplies to the oppressor — South Africa (with the support of its partners, all of which are exclusively from the global South) is challenging the west’s moral high ground and exposing its double standards,” per a blog post co-written by a research staff member at the Norwegian group CMI, which promotes the item atop its homepage.

CMI, which is now being positioned as a neutral arbiter on anti-Israel bias at UNRWA, further referred to the “suffocation of Palestinians” that “prepared the ground for genocidal acts to take place.” It adds, “the massacre or the suffering of the ‘civilized’ is considered as more tragic than the massacre or the suffering of ‘others,’” apparently criticizing distinctions between Hamas’s attack on civilians and Israel’s subsequent war of self-defense against a terror organization.

South Africa’s genocide case “marks a historic breakthrough and progress for international law,” according to a post that the Danish Institute for Human Rights promotes on its homepage.

On Nov. 6, Louise Holck, president of the Danish Institute, delivered a speech in which she referred to a Russian soldier who stripped a 75-year-old woman and strangled and raped her after she refused to undress — and suggested that Israeli soldiers could do the same, without mentioning that Hamas terrorists had raped and killed Israeli women.

The Wallenberg Institute, which does not appear to have commented on the Oct. 7 attacks at all, issued a statement on Jan. 27 (International Holocaust Remembrance Day) that universalized the Holocaust and referred to “all the tragedies in conflicts and genocides worldwide.” It did not refer specifically to Hamas’ attack, which was the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.

Two experts told JNS that they are highly skeptical of the neutrality of the new panel tasked with investigating the agency’s neutrality. 

“This is a farce, a desperate scheme to save UNRWA,” said Rich Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who studies international organizations.

“The United Nations does not recognize Hamas or Islamic Jihad as terrorist organizations, and this secretary-general [António Guterres] has proven himself biased against Israel,” Goldberg told JNS. “UNRWA’s time has come to an end. The only reform that will protect US taxpayers is ending UNRWA.”

Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch whose exposé of a Telegram channel for UNRWA teachers appeared to finally push UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini into calling for outside help, said that the new investigation is “tainted from the start.”

Lazzarini has already said that allegations against UNRWA amount to a “smear campaign,” Neuer noted.

The new review group’s articulated aim is to “assess whether the agency is doing everything within its power to ensure neutrality and to respond to allegations of serious breaches when they are made.”

The panel, which begins its work on Feb. 14, is expected to file an interim report to Guterres in late March, with the final report completed in April.

The report will “make recommendations for the improvement and strengthening, if necessary, of the mechanisms and procedures that are currently in place or for the creation of new and alternative mechanisms and procedures that would be better fit for purpose, taking into account the particular operational, political and security context in which the agency works,” the UN announced.

“Congratulations to the United Nations on forming the investigative committee. We will submit all evidence highlighting UNRWA’s ties to terrorism and its harmful effects on regional stability,” wrote Israel Katz, Israel’s foreign minister. “It is imperative that this committee brings the truth to light, necessitating the immediate resignation of the UNRWA chairman Philippe Lazzarini.”

Several members of Congress have called for Lazzarini and Guterres to resign.