The latest allegations of corruption and abuse at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, also known as UNRWA, prove the Trump administration was right to stop spending taxpayer dollars on the organization.
According to a confidential report by the UNRWA ethics office, its top management, including Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl, allegedly “engaged in sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination, and other abuses of authority.” The allegations include of an improper relationship between Krahenbuhl and his senior adviser Maria Mohammedi that resulted in a “toxic environment,” causing “frequent embarrassment.” Mohammedi allegedly was also granted a “fast-track” to promotion to a position that Krahenbuhl created.
In the past decade alone, the United States poured more than $3 billion into UNRWA. The Trump administration cut funding in 2018, a decision U.S. Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt assured was “in part due to UNRWA’s unsustainable business model and fiscal practices.” Now, Greenblatt has called for the UNRWA ethics probe to be as transparent as possible in order to ensure the organization did not improperly use U.S. tax dollars.
Established in 1950, UNRWA was created to assist Palestinian refugees following the 1948 Arab-Israeli crisis. But since its inception, it has been an ineffective and corrupt mess.
As pointed out in a report by attorney Ran Ban-Yoshafat of Kohelet Policy Forum, an organization I have been working with this past summer, the UN violated its charter to treat all categories of people equally when it established UNRWA. While the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is tasked with assisting refugee groups across the globe, UNRWA was created explicitly to support only one group of refugees: Palestinians. Thus, in creating UNRWA, the UN unfairly discriminated in favor of Palestinian refugees.
The UN’s unfair discrimination extends farther. The UN definition for a “Palestinian refugee” is far more expansive than its definition for other refugee populations. The UN made the identity of a Palestinian refugee a unique and heritable status (on the father’s side), one that could be passed down from grandparents and great-grandparents, no matter where the child is located.
This classification structure is unusual, illogical, and not used with any other refugee group, explaining why the Palestinian-Arab refugee population is the only one to grow, rather than shrink. The Palestinian-Arab “refugee” population has grown from less than one million in 1948 to more than five million today.
Such a classification system also allows countries like Lebanon to refrain from making any efforts to integrate the 1 million Palestinian-Arabs living in Lebanon, since Lebanese officials can claim they are refugees and deny them citizenship, leaving them to suffer in refugee camps.
This perpetual refugee status also allows some Palestinian-Arabs to hold onto an impossible notion of “returning” to Haifa or Jerusalem when it’s not remotely feasible. The return of millions to an already well-populated area is not physically or economically possible. In short, UNRWA’s categorizations keep Palestinian-Arabs stateless and in a cycle of perpetual poverty, being fed false hopes for outcomes that never will reach fruition.
Furthermore, UNRWA has had troubling links to terrorist groups. As Bar-Yoshofat points out in his report on the UN, Hamas has routinely employed UNRWA-funded schools and medical centers as headquarters for its terrorist activities, and Hamas members appear on UNRWA’s payroll.
Given UNRWA’s ties to Hamas, it is unsurprising that UNRWA-funded schools systematically expose refugee children to a litany of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda, with their staff often engaging in Holocaust denial and spreading graphic imagery of Jews as apes and pigs. The curriculum at UNRWA-funded schools foments hatred and protects terrorists, only perpetuating the conflict UNRWA ostensibly seeks to mitigate.
“UNRWA is an institutional embodiment of the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias: special organization dedicated to keeping the Palestinian refugee issue from 1948 perpetually alive as diplomatic tool against Israel, long after Palestinian refugees themselves have gone,” said Eugene Kontorovich, director of the International Law Department at Kohelet Policy Forum and head of the Center for International Law in the Middle East at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia School of Law.
Given that UNRWA was created in violation of general principles of refugee law and has helped promote lawless behavior, it is not surprising that the organization’s leaders consider themselves above the rules. And until Trump, this was all done at U.S. taxpayer expense.
When the Trump administration cut funding to UNRWA last year, it was widely criticized as part of a “dangerous” withdrawal from international institutions by a rogue, isolationist president. Now, given the recent allegations, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland have suspended payments to UNRWA also. The internationalists are now singing Trump’s tune.
As Ruthie Blum of Jewish News Syndicate retorted last week, “Nothing short of shutting down UNRWA will be satisfactory since its very existence is a criminal scam. But the likelihood of its closure in the near future is slim to zero. In the meantime, let us take some comfort in the agency’s well-earned public humiliation.”