Home News Canada Growing calls to defund UNRWA, after scathing report

Growing calls to defund UNRWA, after scathing report

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A UNRWA school in the West Bank. GUILLAUME PAUMIER, CC-BY

Jewish advocacy groups are calling on the federal government to cut funding to a United Nations agency that oversees the plight of Palestinians, amid a damning report of mismanagement and wrongdoing at the UN body.

B’nai Brith Canada has started a petition calling on Ottawa to suspend funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). And the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) called for “a total moratorium on new funding for this tainted agency until a full investigation is completed and real change is implemented.”

The demands from the Jewish organizations came on the heels of a leaked internal report that revealed, according to media accounts, “credible and corroborated” allegations of “serious ethical abuses.”

The report, which was sent to the UN secretary general in December and obtained by Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse (AFP) late last month, alleged that senior UNRWA management engaged in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives,” AFP reported.

The charges are now the subject of a UN investigation.

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Jewish groups and UN watchdogs have long raised alarms about UNRWA, alleging the theft of funds by Hamas and the funding of educational materials that vilify Jews and Israel.

The recent revelations are “further evidence of why Canadian taxpayers should not be footing the bill for this organization in its current state,” said Michael Mostyn, the CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “Canadians would never tolerate this level of mismanagement in a domestic charity or arm of government, so why are we bankrolling it overseas?”

Switzerland and the Netherlands announced that they were freezing funding to the agency after the UN report was made public. The United States stopped sending it money last year, calling UNRWA “irredeemably flawed.”

Former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government eliminated aid to UNRWA in 2010 over the agency’s ties to Hamas. The Liberals restored funding in 2016 and Canada has since committed $110 million in support for the agency.

Barbara Harvey, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, told The CJN that Canada “has met its current funding obligations and has no new funding obligations currently pending” to UNRWA.

Harvey said the government “is concerned by the allegations of wrongdoing within UNRWA.… Canada expects that the process that the UN and UNRWA are following to investigate and address any wrongdoing is rigorous and fair. We value accountability and transparency and we will review the outcome of the investigation.

“Our number 1 priority is to contribute to meeting the basic education, health and livelihood needs of millions of Palestinian refugees, especially women and children.”

In the past, the government has defended its UNRWA contributions, saying that they come with significant oversight.

In a CJN interview last November, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “If you could imagine a world in which there was no money for UNRWA, where would the funding come from? It would be obvious that it would come from sources with less and less oversight. By being part of the machinery of funding of UNRWA, we are able to make sure that there’s an accountability, a transparency and a positive benefit, not just for Palestinians, but for stability in the region, which is something Canada will always support.”

If elected prime minister, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer would “immediately” cut Canadian funding to UNRWA, Simon Jefferies, a spokesperson for Scheer, wrote to The CJN.

Scheer and the Tories “have long expressed concerns with UNRWA, especially surrounding their ties to Hamas, the anti-Semitism harboured by employees and now these new allegations of misconduct,” Jefferies added.

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