UN Watch uncovers hateful social media posts at UNRWA schools, calls on Canada to uphold its values

Beyond the Textbooks, a report by UN Watch

Canada is “failing” to uphold its values, and those of the United Nations, when it comes to racist and antisemitic teachers at UN-run schools for Palestinian children, which Ottawa helps fund.

That’s the view of Hillel Neuer, the Montreal-born executive director of UN Watch.

Earlier this month, the Geneva-based watchdog released a scathing report that exposed more than 100 teachers, principals and other employees at schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in several Mideast countries and the Palestinian Authority.

The report tallies by name, school staff who used social media to praise Adolf Hitler, propagate hatred against Jews, and support terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.

The 60-page report, titled Beyond the Textbooks, uncovers 22 recent cases of UNRWA staff incitement, “which clearly violate the agency’s own rules as well as its proclaimed values of zero tolerance for racism, discrimination or antisemitism,” UN Watch said.

UN Watch first exposed about 100 UNRWA staff and school Facebook pages containing incitement to antisemitism and terrorism between 2015 and 2019.

The report documents 22 new examples of UNRWA staffers in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan “who incite antisemitism and terrorism.”

Three days after the report was issued, UNRWA confirmed that 10 of the 22 people mentioned in the report are UNRWA personnel; the rest “are not associated with the Agency.”

UNRWA “is upholding the values of the United Nations and has a zero-tolerance policy for hatred. The Agency takes each allegation seriously.”

It “immediately launched a thorough investigation through due process to determine if any of these 10 persons, out of more than 28,000 personnel, violated the Agency’s social media policies that prohibit personnel from engaging in non-neutral behaviors online.”

It also took a shot at UN Watch, saying the independent watchdog has “a deep history of unfounded and politically-driven assertions against” UNRWA.

In an interview from Geneva, Neuer called on Canada to take the issue “seriously.”

“I would hope the Canadian government would stand by Canadian values and demand that UNRWA do much more than attack us,” he said.

UNRWA’s response was to note that in previous reports over a five-year period, UN Watch identified a total of 101 cases where UNRWA personnel allegedly posted content on social media that breached guidelines, including the neutrality policy.

UNRWA said it found that 57 percent of the allegations could not be tied to personnel employed by the agency at the time of the reported incident. Personnel who were found in violation, it said, were either censured and/or subjected to financial penalties.

“But they’re still teaching,” Neuer observed. “So what UNRWA is saying is they have people teaching students who have glorified Hitler, who have glorified terrorism and antisemitic conspiracy theories, and it’s OK to have them teaching in a classroom.

“There’s no reason the Canadian government should accept this.”

In a lengthy reply to the UN Watch report, Global Affairs Canada told The CJN the following:

“Canada is concerned by the allegations that certain employees of UNRWA posted comments on social media that appear to violate UN values, including the principle of neutrality.

“Canada and like-minded donor governments are engaging closely with UNRWA as it follows up on these allegations.

“Humanitarian principles, including neutrality, represent a core commitment and value of UN staff, as well as a key element of UNRWA’s regulatory framework.

“Neutrality is central to UNRWA’s operations and a condition for many donors, including Canada, to provide funding.”

The government’s reply noted UNRWA’s response to the allegations, saying the agency “is actively assessing each allegation of inappropriate use of social media.”

Neuer said Ottawa appears to be treating the issue as though the problem lies with social media posts.

“The problem isn’t the Facebook post; you can delete that,” he said. “If you have a racist teacher, then that person is removed. That’s what happens in Canada.”

Part of Global Affairs response to the UN Watch report continued: “Canada and other donor governments expect UNRWA to uphold UN values and humanitarian principles, including neutrality, in all its activities. Canadian funding reinforces UNRWA’s ongoing efforts in this regard, including work by UNRWA staff to identify, monitor, and follow up on violations of these principles.”

Neuer said he’s disappointed with Ottawa’s response. Canada is failing its duty, he added.

“Canada is a leader is the world in the fight against racism. It’s a leader in support for democracy and human rights at the UN, but they don’t seem to support that kind of an education for Palestinian students, (one) free of racism and antisemitism.”

He asked: “Are these people (named in the report) still teaching and if so, why? That’s my question for the Canadian government. If these people are still teachers, then the system is failing. That’s the bottom line.”

Last December, Canada announced $90 million in new funding to UNRWA over three years. The Liberals reinstated funding in 2016 after Stephen Harper’s Conservatives froze it because of the agency’s ties to terrorist groups.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center again called on Canada to suspend its funding to UNRWA in the wake of the UN Watch report. Last January, it called for a freeze on funding to the agency following a report that hateful teaching materials were used at UNRWA-run schools.

Neuer is not calling on Canada to defund UNRWA.

Rather, he wants this country not to “betray Palestinian students’ right to an education. They have a right to have teachers who support Canadian values, human rights, democracy and peace, which are the UN’s professed values.”

In January, Karina Gould, Minister of International Development, announced Canada would investigate teaching materials used in UNRWA-run schools, following a report by an Israeli watchdog that found textbooks and other classroom materials contained incitement to violence and demonization of Israel and Jews.

UNRWA operates 710 elementary and preparatory schools in its five fields of operation, including eight secondary schools in Lebanon, providing free basic education for some 539,000 Palestinian children.

Neuer reiterated that this latest report is not just about hateful social media posts from some educators at UNRWA schools.

“It’s about having racist and terrorist-supporting teachers. I hope the Canadian government acknowledges that. That’s all we’re asking for.”