The recent violence in Gaza (promoted as the “Great Palestinian Return March”) was accompanied by an entirely predictable flood of condemnations from the United Nations, the media and political leaders around the world. Under the guise of innocent protests and demonstrations, Hamas brought tens of thousands of people to the Gaza border, to act as human shields for efforts by Hamas terrorists to burst through (or over) the security barrier.
Sticking with the storyline, pundits repeated Palestinian accusations of IDF war crimes, while ignoring the billowing black smoke from tires that were set alight as a cover for attempts to infiltrate Israeli towns a few miles away, as well as the burnt wheat fields that were torched by flaming kites. Not waiting for the result of IDF investigations into what appeared to be accidental deaths amidst the violence and chaos, and replacing a complex and difficult reality with public relations slogans, the uninformed allegations dominated the debate and triggered some precipitous comments from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
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As in the previous Gaza wars, the United Nations, its associated institutions and their NGO allies, led by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, are playing a leading role in this demonization campaign. And, once again, taxpayer funds from the countries that support the UN agencies are being misspent on these activities.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), an agency that was “temporarily” created for Palestinian refugees in 1949, led the propaganda charge, through social media posts and press interviews done by its commissioner general, Pierre Kraehenbuehl, and problematic long-time spokesman, Chris Gunness. Their high-frequency stream of posts closely followed the Hamas propaganda line, never mentioning terrorism, turning everyone in Gaza into a victim and repeatedly attacking the IDF. Their adherence to the victimization narrative was tighter than that of Hamas, whose officials proudly declared that most of the people killed in the clashes were members of terror groups. Indeed, a review of extensive PR activities on behalf of the Palestinian cause shows how UNRWA scrupulously avoids any references to “terror” or Hamas.
The Palestine branch of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) followed the same strategy of rarely mentioning Hamas or terror and turning a blind eye to the recruitment and use of children in terrorist operations. Instead, UNICEF diverted its resources, which are supposed to be used to provide health care and education to children, to a political campaign against the Israeli decision to change the location of a small structure used for a school that had been built illegally as part of the ongoing confrontation. None of the UNICEF posts and press statements noted the detailed Israeli High Court decision, which concluded that the building could not remain.
Responding in part to the blatant propaganda campaigns, and in an effort to trigger a long overdue change, the U.S. government has suspended funds to UNRWA. Recently, both the Swiss and Australian foreign ministers criticized the agency, as well. And in Israel, the role of UNRWA in perpetuating the Palestinian refugee return myths that fuel the conflict is starting to come under the microscope.
As a major contributor to the UN and its many agencies, the Canadian government has yet to comment on these developments. At the end of 2016, the Trudeau government renewed funding to UNRWA, after it was halted by the previous Conservative government. The renewal was accompanied by guidelines meant to prevent the money from being diverted from humanitarian activities and to ensure that UNRWA remain neutral – a dimension that has been clearly absent in its recent activities.
While the UN continues to be seen as a noble international institution that promotes peace and other good causes, the reality, particularly when it comes to Israel, is unfortunately very different. The longer it takes for donor countries to seriously confront the UN propaganda machine, the more damage will be done.