Canada suspends funding to UNRWA after reports that employees participated in the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel

Canada has joined other Western nations, including the United States, and temporarily suspended its funding to the United Nations agency charged with aiding Palestinians after reports that employees were involved in the terrorist attacks against Israel on Oct. 7.

Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s minister of international affairs, made the announcement late Friday afternoon.

“Today, I spoke directly with Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East [UNRWA] to express Canada’s alarm about allegations of his agency’s staff being involved in Hamas’s brutal terrorist attacks against Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. Canada is taking these reports extremely seriously and is engaging closely with UNRWA and other donors on this issue,” Hussen said in a statement.

The U.S. announced earlier that day that it was suspending funding, while an investigation was underway. Germany, Japan, France, Britain, Australia, Austria and Finland have all announced that they are also currently suspending funding to the agency.

In 2022, Canada contributed $23 million (USD) to the agency, according to financial reports on UNRWA’s website. The United States, the single largest donor, contributed $344 million, while Germany contributed $202 million.

In June 2023, Canada announced it was making a $100-million, four-year commitment to the agency. In November, Canada announced a further $60 million contribution to Gaza, stating that UNRWA would be one of the recipients.

“Canada’s funding strengthens the ability of UNRWA staff to identify, monitor and follow up on neutrality violations and improves transparency and accountability of UNRWA’s approach to humanitarian principles,” the Nov. 9 announcement stated.

The latest allegations charge that 12 UNRWA employees were involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks that killed 1,200 Israelis and saw about 240 people taken hostage.

According to the New York Times, a dossier provided to the United States government by Israel claims that one employee was involved with the kidnapping  of a woman from Israel while another was accused of helping to bring the body of a dead Israeli soldier into Gaza and of handing out ammunition on the day of the attack.  Another UNRWA staffer was involved in the attacks on Kibbutz Be’eri where 97 people were killed.

The information was obtained by Israeli intelligence based on the movements of employees’ phones on the day of the attacks as well as phone calls that discussed their involvement with Hamas, reported the NYT.

UN Watch, a non-profit advocacy group based in Geneva, Switzerland, has produced reports dating back to 2015, examining the social media posts of UNWRA employees and has found that the agency hires teachers who espouse antisemitic and terror-supporting views.

“What has changed is that donors could no longer ignore the severity of the problem because Israel had provided evidence that UNRWA staff were directly involved in the Oct. 7 attacks,” Dina Rovner, legal advisor to UN Watch, said in an email to The CJN.

“UN Watch has been saying this all along. Even though our reports focus on staff social media, the problem isn’t social media, but the fact that UNRWA hires antisemitic and terror-supporting teachers who serve as role models for impressionable Palestinian students. If teachers endorse and celebrate Hamas terrorism, it should be no surprise that they also participate in it.”

Only Palestinians have a UN refugee agency dedicated to their needs, Rovner pointed out. All other refugees fall under the mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Aside from UNRWA, there are many existing humanitarian agencies, both within and outside of the UN umbrella, that can provide humanitarian services to Palestinians in need,” Rovner said. “If international donors are truly committed to promoting peace and finding lasting solutions, then they should recognize that UNRWA does not play a productive role and should focus their efforts on finding viable alternatives to UNRWA.”

But unless donors “commit to major institutional reforms” for UNRWA, Rovner said the controversy will likely blow over and “nothing will change.”

The UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services was investigating the allegations.

In the meantime, Canada will continue to work with other aid agencies to provide aid to civilians in Gaza, Hussen said.

Canada had suspended regular donations to UNRWA under former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2009 after studies showed hateful teaching materials were being used in UNRWA-sponsored schools and reports of corruption in the agency’s administration, as well as its alleged ties to terrorist groups.

Canada reinstated funding for UNRWA in 2016, under the Liberal government,

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, which supports the boycott movement against Israel, said Canada’s decision to defund UNRWA “is tantamount to an act of collective punishment” against 2 million people. More than 26,000 Gazans have been reported to have been killed in the war triggered by the Oct. 7 attacks, according to the Gazan Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs praised the decision to suspend funding, commenting on social media, “No taxpayer funds should be provided to organizations that have ties to hate, terror, violence, and antisemitism.”