During the 2015 federal election campaign, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals challenged the Conservative claim that its support of the State of Israel was unmatched by any other political party. Not so, argued the Liberals. They, too, would back Israel through thick and thin.
This week, the Trudeau government put its Middle East policy on display in two forums connected to the United Nations. Earlier this month, Canada continued to vote against or abstain on a series of anti-Israel resolutions brought before the United Nations General Assembly in its annual binge of Israel-bashing. In doing so, it mirrored the votes taken by the previous Conservative government of prime minister Stephen Harper, which had billed itself as one of Israel’s staunchest friends.
But only days later, the government announced it would restore funding – subject to certain safeguards – to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides services to Palestinian refugees. Ottawa pledged $20 million for education, health and social services, while another $5 million was earmarked for help to those affected by the Syrian civil war.
Harper’s government had cut all annual funding to the agency.
Critics assailed the move to resume funding UNRWA, noting that it had repeatedly been linked to Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization, and that teachers and other UNRWA staff had been posting anti-Semitic material online, along with praise of Hitler and support for the Palestinian side in their conflict with Israel.
In announcing the allocation, International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said, “Millions of Palestinian refugees across the Middle East have the right to receive basic services such as health care and to send their children to school.
“We want to see Palestinian refugee children in classrooms where they can learn universal values of tolerance and respect. Vulnerable Palestinians deserve all the opportunities they can to contribute positively to their communities and Canada’s funding will help to better the lives of millions of refugees.”
The allocation announcement included assurances from the government that it would include “robust oversight mechanism and an enhanced accountability network,” such as “screening of UNRWA staff, strong anti-terrorism provisions in the funding agreement and training of UNRWA employees on appropriate and neutral use of social media.”
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said that the “issues surrounding UNRWA are far more grey [than the UN votes], as all other G7 states fund UNRWA and not even Israel has encouraged us not to fund UNRWA.
“In 2010, Canada cut funding… in light of concerns related to issues such as links to terrorist groups and bias shown by UNRWA staff. A number of these concerns were legitimate and needed to be addressed. Other G7 countries made the decision not to cut funding but rather to work with UNRWA to address those concerns that were legitimate. These countries, including the United States, have asked Canada to join them in funding UNRWA, but to also join them in ensuring that strict compliance measures are in place along with robust accountability requirements.”
He added: “After extensive review and due diligence, Canada agreed to provide funding for one year but has insisted on the strictest monitoring and accountability from UNRWA that has been required by any country.… This is a one-year funding agreement. Canada will review results achieved based on this contribution before determining whether to fund UNRWA next year.”
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center CEO Avi Benlolo said: “While FSWC views this renewed partnership with concern, all involved parties have taken a measured and seemingly responsible approach. FSWC will continue monitoring the situation on the ground.”
The Conservative critic for international development, Dean Allison, said the funding announcement “is a very troubling one.
“UNRWA schools have been used on numerous occasions as storage facilities for Hamas rockets to be used against Israeli civilians. Hamas has launched thousands of rockets exclusively intended to kill Israeli civilians, and it has been verified that some of the rockets have come from UNRWA sites.
“It is also well documented that UNRWA employees and facilities have served as breeding grounds for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments promoting violence and terrorist activity. Known examples and evidence come from UNRWA operated schools where teachers have been known to promote hate and intolerance towards Jews, and encouraging children to stab and kill Jews in pursuit of jihad and eliminating Israel as a country,” he said.
“In their pursuit of a UN Security Council seat, the Liberals have compromised Middle Eastern security even further while risking Canadian tax dollars falling into the hands of terrorists. This has happened before with UNRWA, and the risk of it happening again is too great for the government to take.”
Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Rafael Barak, appeared to take comfort in assurances that Canada would monitor how the money was spent.
In a release, the embassy stated, “Israel is confident that Canada’s contribution through UNRWA is aimed to offer humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in need. We feel reassured that Canada remains mindful to Israeli concerns and will keep a close eye on where Canadian’s money is going, this due to past experience when UNRWA schools were used to hide missiles and weapons for Hamas and other terrorist organizations, and senior members of UNRWA use and abuse the organization, in order to incite violence against the State of Israel and its citizens.”
Nevertheless, in Israel, David Bedein, director of the Center for Near East Policy Research, pointed out that UNRWA had been caught diverting funds to Hamas and that a documentary aired last summer showed students at UN schools in Gaza voicing their support for ISIS.
A Center for Near East Policy Research report published last week that studied 110 textbooks used in UNRWA schools in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem between 2014 and 2016 reported they “adopt a threefold attitude of delegitimization, demonization and indoctrination to future war for the destruction of the State of Israel.”
“There is no rational reason in the world for Canada or any nation to dump cash on UNRWA, which will simply wind up in the coffers of Hamas,” Bedein said.
In Canada, David Cape, chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said the organization supported humanitarian aid for those in need, such as those caught in the Syrian civil war, but “we continue to have serious reservations about UNRWA, an organization that is implicated with terrorist groups such as Hamas. Hamas is notorious for diverting funds and materials provided by the international community intended for humanitarian aid to terrorist purposes.”
CIJA said it appreciated that the government put in place measures to ensure accountability and oversight of the funds. “We will continue advocating for strong, concrete accountability measures to ensure that Canadian aid is being used to advance peace and improve the quality of life for Palestinians without putting at risk the security of Israelis.”
B’nai Brith Canada expressed “outrage” at the funding decision.
“To turn over $25 million in aid to an agency that has supported the Palestinian Authority’s sustained campaign to rewrite Judeo-Christian history, incite violence, and delegitimize the state of Israel is an insult to Canadian taxpayers,” said CEO Michael Mostyn. “While the government is introducing anti-terrorism provisions, which is commendable, there is no mention of preventing indoctrination and incitement, which frequently leads to violence. Incitement has been one of the primary complaints the world has had in regards to UNRWA, and it has not been addressed in this announcement.”
Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, said he’s “deeply concerned about this decision. Although the Canadian and French governments claim that this is about helping, the reality is that UNRWA is a political weapon aimed at Israel, in which the Arab regimes have for decades been exploiting Palestinians as pawns in a political campaign to erase Israel’s international legitimacy and to sustain grievances.
“UNRWA is not about resolving problems or settling refugees. On the contrary. It is about perpetuating conflict and grievances,” he said.
Neuer noted that UN Watch had reported on dozens of Facebook and other Internet posts by UNRWA personnel praising terrorism, attacking Jews, applauding and quoting Hitler. These findings, which are “systematic and pervasive,” have been reported to UNRWA and “UNRWA does nothing,” he said.
He called on Canada to support an inquiry into UNRWA teachers’ incitement to anti-Semitism and racism.
However, Neuer, said he was pleased with Canada’s voting record on Israel during the UN’s “legislative season.”
Canada’s voting record under Trudeau matches that under the Harper government, as well as that of the current U.S. administration, he stated.
He noted that in May, Canada vocally opposed a move at the UN’s World Health Organization that accused Israel of violating Palestinian rights to health.
But he questioned why a resolution advanced by Canada, focusing on Iran’s human rights violations, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly’s human rights committee on Nov. 15, included seven paragraphs “of false praise” of purported improvements in Iran’s human rights culture.