Activists and experts demand German transparency on UNRWA support

Germany is currently the top donor nation to UNRWA, contributing nearly $170 million in 2019. 

By Josh Hasten, JNS

The Jerusalem-based Center for Near East Policy Research held a Zoom seminar this week in order to share research about the prevalence of anti-Israel hate education as an official part of the curriculum within Arab schools for children of all ages in the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria, and Jerusalem being run by the UN Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA).

The audience for the information session, delivered mainly in German, was journalists, influencers and policymakers throughout Germany, as that country is currently UNRWA’s top donor nation, contributing nearly $170 million in 2019.

Germany stepped into that role following the Trump administration’s decision that the United States would stop funding UNRWA after a $60 million pledge was fulfilled in January 2018. A U.S. State Department press statement in August of 2018 indicated that “the United States was no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden of UNRWA’s costs that we had assumed for many years.”

The statement cited UNRWA’s “business model and fiscal practices that have marked UNRWA for years” as being “unsustainable” while taking UNRWA to task for “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries.”

Author, journalist and publicist Alex Feuerherdt, co-author of Vereinte Nationen gegen Israel. Wie die UNO den jüdischen Staat delegitimiert (“United Nations against Israel: How the UN Delegitimizes the Jewish State”), told JNS that his aim was to find ways “to pressure the German government, which just hands money to UNRWA” without demanding transparency. “There are no conditions connected to this funding,” he said emphatically.

Feuerherdt said that “in Germany a lot of people say ‘never again’ [because of the Holocaust], but if Germany votes against Israel at the United Nations General Assembly and funds UNRWA, which incites young people towards anti-Semitism, how is that taking responsibility for the past?”

He shared that a visit alongside Israeli exchange students who lost family in the Holocaust to the Bergen-Belsen death camp in 1987 had a major impact on his views about Israel. “I come from the German left-wing, and there is hatred of Israel on the German left. It is our duty as leftists to support the Jewish state. I’m motivated to convince other leftists to think this way as well.”

Schoolbooks ‘call for destruction of entire country’

David Bedein, who runs the Center for Near East Policy Research and who has been documenting anti-Israel hate education spewed in UNRWA-run schools for years, told JNS that over the past several years, the focus of textbooks in the Palestinian Authority and Hamas schools run by UNRWA has been on the so-called “right of return.”

In other words, he explained, “the schoolbooks are not just focused on establishing control over all of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, but they call for the destruction of the entire country.”

Bedein said it is imperative for German policymakers to know that “the PLO texts used in UNRWA schools do not advocate peace and instead seed an armed rebellion, while failing to recognize Israel as a sovereign state and refusing to recognize the presence of its nearly 6.8 million Jews in the country, as well as holy places to Judaism.”

One example he gave is that “UNRWA has introduced a new schoolbook that features Dalal Mughrabi, whose terror squad commandeered a bus and murdered 38 [Israeli] passengers, including 13 children, as a role model for UNRWA pupils. In the new UNRWA text, Dalal is portrayed in full terror garb, followed by a lesson plan that presents her life story for adulation and emulation.”

He added that “Germany, more than any other nation, should be extra-careful while dealing with issues closely connected to the well-being of the citizens of the Jewish state. … There are 6 million reasons we have to hold Germany responsible.”

Bedein recently established the website unrwa-monitor.com to highlight the hate education featured in the books used in UNRWA-run schools.

Arnon Groiss, an expert on school textbooks throughout the Middle East, told the Zoom audience, the main focus of PA textbooks utilized by UNRWA is “the delegitimization of Israel and the Jews in what they call ‘Palestine.’ ”

He added that “the maps cover the whole country of Israel, and the name ‘Israel’ isn’t even used. It’s called the Zionist occupation. It’s as if Jews have no history here and no holy places.”

He said that in one particular text, schoolchildren in third grade are taught that “after the liberation of Palestine, it will be time to exterminate the foreigners,” in reference to the Jews still living in Israel.

Look to the future

While she wasn’t on the Zoom call, former Knesset member Einat Wilf, who recently co-authored the book The War of Return on the subject of the Palestinian refugee issue, told JNS that “as much as it would like to think otherwise, by funding UNRWA, Germany is funding one of the foremost organizations designed to extend the conflict by leading generation after generation of Palestinians to believe they can undo the outcome of the war of 1948 and erase Israel through the mechanism of ‘return.’ ”

She added that “through its substantial funding of UNRWA, Germany is ensuring that Palestinians will never have a leader like Willy Brandt, who was able to tell the German refugees from World War II to look to the future rather than cling to old dreams.”

“Had the German refugees from the eastern territories been treated like the Palestinians, war in Europe would still be ongoing, and tens of millions of Germans would be living in slums bordering on Poland, considering themselves refugees generation after generation, nurturing old resentments and engaging in armed and bloody terrorist attacks against the citizens of Poland,” she continued. “Germany wouldn’t want that for itself. It’s not clear why it wants that for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Bedein says his agency’s work in taking UNRWA to task is making an impact.

During a virtual meeting held by UNRWA on Nov. 10, the organization’s commissioner general, Philippe Lazzarini, warned that “external highly organized individuals and organizations constantly allege and depict UNRWA as an agency that incites violence and promotes anti-Semitism in its schools” are causing “significant reputation damage” with financial implications.