Is Canada considering restoring funding to UNRWA?

Palestinians get their monthly food aid at an UNRWA distribution centre in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza last April ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH 90 PHOTO
Palestinians get their monthly food aid at an UNRWA distribution centre in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza last April ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH 90 PHOTO

As the Trudeau government continues to reverse foreign policy decisions of the Harper administration, questions are being raised whether that will include the resumption of funding for UNRWA, the UN agency that provides services to Palestinian refugees.

In a Feb. 5 article, the Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife reported that as part of a humanitarian package in the anti-ISIS mission, “the Liberals are expected to provide $15 million in annual funding to UNRWA… after the former Conservative government cut all $30 million in annual funding in 2009.”

Contacted by The CJN last week, Fife said, “I expect the announcement in a month’s time… The information came from a well-informed source.”


Asked to comment on Fife’s report, Global Affairs Canada stated: “The government of Canada provided $15 million in funding to UNRWA for humanitarian assistance in 2012. Canada has not yet made decisions on the allocation of new funding for humanitarian assistance stemming from the Feb. 8 announcement regarding Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. We are currently assessing the needs and programming options in the region. Canada remains concerned about the needs of vulnerable Palestinians and currently funds a substantial package of humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and Gaza.”

For many observers of the Middle East, UNRWA remains a problematic organization. Its staff in Gaza have been linked to Hamas; unions representing UNRWA teaches and workers have been taken over by Hamas; the terror group’s weapons were found in at least three UNRWA schools during Israel’s war with Hamas in 2014; the agency’s staff have ushered students to Hamas military training camps; and the curriculum at UNRWA schools has been called inflammatory and anti-Semitic.

Avi Benlolo, CEO of Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said his organization “is opposed” to funding UNRWA.

“This UN agency has been criticized for  aiding and abetting Hamas… It has also been criticized for employing people sympathetic to Hamas’ goal of destroying Israel, which would make it difficult to control the allocation of funds. I prefer that Canada set up its own agency on the ground with Canadian aid workers, not locals, to ensure the funds are used to assist the most vulnerable, especially children.”

Meanwhile, UN Watch, a Geneva-based NGO, published reports in August and November that accused dozens of UNRWA staffers of “using the imprimatur of their official positions to incite Palestinian stabbing and shooting attacks against Israeli Jews, with one calling on Facebook to ‘stab Zionist dogs.’

“UNRWA’s strategy of impunity, denial and deflection only enables more incitement and violence. It’s time to put an end to the pattern and practice of UNRWA school principals, teachers and staff members posting anti-Semitic and terror-inciting images, indicating a pathology of racism and violence within UNRWA,” wrote UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.


Contacted in Geneva, Neuer told The CJN that “UN Watch is concerned about these reports [of restored UNRWA funding]. We think it comes at the worst possible time.”

Neuer noted that at first, UNRWA denied UN Watch’s reports of incitement – UNRWA spokseperson Chris Gunness urged the media not to report them – then confirmed them and suspended four staff members. They should have been fired, Neuer said.

“If someone urges to stab Jews because they’re Jews and they’re suspended and then returned to the classroom, it’s absurd,” he said.

Neuer said UNRWA is a politicized agency that fails to conform to the United Nations’ stated goal of neutrality. It promotes a narrative of Palestinian return to Israel and its replacement. “It is subversive to peace, compromise and the two-state solution that Canada adheres to.”

David Bedein has been tracking UNRWA for years. As director of the Israel Resource News Agency and of the Center for Near East Policy Research, Bedein has reported on Hamas taking over two important unions representing UNRWA staff and on those same school workers leading thousands of students from ages nine to 16 to attend three-week Hamas military training camps.

Bedein said the Center for Near East Policy Research, along with the Lawfare Project and the Legal Forum for Israel, retained two Arabic-speaking experts in Islamic studies to review more than 250 text books used in UNRWA schools.


Among their findings were the “delegitimization of both Israel and of the Jews’ very presence in the country, demonization of Israel and the Jews, non-advocacy of a peaceful solution to the conflict and, instead, emphasis on a violent struggle for the liberation of Palestine without limiting it to the areas of the West Bank and Gaza. Jihad, martyrdom and the so-called ‘right of return’ are part and parcel of that violent struggle.”

Asked to comment, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs did not respond by The CJN’s deadline.