Knesset to vote on bill designating UNRWA a terror group, another stripping its immunities

Back in February, legislation that would prohibit UNRWA from operating on Israeli state-owned land passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset, 33-10.

By Troy Osher Fritzhand, JNS

Israel’s Knesset is set to hold a preliminary vote on Wednesday on two bills targeting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) over its ties to terrorism.

One of the bills, proposed by Knesset member Yulia Malinovsky (Yisrael Beiteinu), seeks to define the agency as terrorist organization and cut all official ties with it, while the other, tabled by MK Dan Illouz (Likud) seeks to strip UNRWA of various immunities it currently enjoys.

Back in February, legislation that would prohibit UNRWA from operating on Israeli state-owned land passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset, 33-10.

Malinovsky’s bill “will allow for a complete dissociation from the agency—no cooperation, no trade, nothing,” she told JNS.

“For years this organization has been cooperating with Hamas, and on October 7 even actively participated in the murder, kidnapping and rape of Israeli citizens,” she said.

“I expect every Knesset member who has integrity to vote in favor of this bill and do justice to the murdered, the injured, the kidnapped and all the citizens of Israel,” she added.

In February, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told journalists that 30 UNRWA employees participated in Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel, and that 1,468 of the agency’s 13,000 staff members in Gaza were members of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

He also shared the names and photos of 12 UNRWA employees Israel had accused in January of taking part in the massacre.

Also in January, a comprehensive report published by U.N. Watch documented a Telegram group for UNRWA teachers in Gaza in which many glorified the massacre and advocated the execution of Israeli hostages.

“This is the motherlode of UNRWA teachers’ incitement to jihadi terrorism,” said U.N. Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer at the time.

Illouz, whose bill seeks to strip UNRWA of immunities it enjoys with regard to taxation, lawsuits and more, told JNS that the agency “is not and cannot be part of the solution” in the Gaza Strip.

“UNRWA workers took an active role in the October 7 massacre. They assisted in the heinous attack,” he said.

“To make matters worse the organization has for years been a catalyst in perpetuating the conflict and depriving the Palestinian people of a nonviolent future. They are no longer a welcome entity and we will replace them with bodies that will actually carry out the humanitarian mission,” he added.

Read  Knesset set to vote on first reading of conscription bill

In December, it was reported that Israel’s Foreign Ministry had put together a classified report calling for the removal of UNRWA from the Gaza Strip.

The report’s recommendations set out a three-stage process for shrinking and eventually eliminating the agency: 1) Prepare a case detailing UNRWA’s cooperation with Hamas; 2) Reduce UNRWA’s field of activity and find replacement service providers; and 3) Transfer UNRWA’s responsibilities to another entity.

The refugee agency has pushed back against claims it engages in or encourages terrorism.

“Part of this campaign involves inundating donors with misinformation designed to foster distrust and tarnish the reputation of the agency,” said UNRWA head Phillipe Lazzarini in March. The agency is facing a “deliberate and concerted campaign” to undermine its operations, he added.