Sen. Marsha Blackburn expressed grave concern over allegations that a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) employee was involved in the detention of hostages taken by Hamas during the attack on Israel last November.
In a letter addressed to the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and UNRWA Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini, Blackburn highlighted the need for deep reforms within the UNRWA before the U.S. could consider further financial support.
Blackburn requested a response by December 18th, asking for clarification involving allegations made by Israeli reporter Almog Boker. Boker alleged that a UNRWA teacher had detained a hostage and demanded details about any investigation into these claims. He also sought an explanation of UNRWA’s process for ensuring its facilities were not inadvertently supporting terrorist activities.
The UNRWA denied the allegations, calling them “unsubstantiated.” Despite repeated requests, Boker did not provide any additional information. The Agency urged the journalist to provide “immediate clarification” or to delete his post.
In response, Boker held firm on the authenticity of his claims and pointed out that providing more information could put other hostages in danger. Blackburn noted that should these allegations be proven, the U.S. ought to withdraw funding from this organization, calling it “terrorist-sympathizing.”
The UNRWA has faced a string of allegations in the past, including accusations of direct support for Hamas, corruption, and teachers celebrating the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The agency’s credibility took another hit when the Israel Defense Forces found dozens of rockets and explosives hidden under UNRWA boxes in a residential home.
An @UNRWA employee allegedly aided Hamas in detaining and keeping an Israeli citizen hostage.
— Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) December 4, 2023
The London-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education echoed Blackburn’s concerns, pointing out that UNRWA has long been suspected of fostering a culture that implicitly promotes violence and terrorism.
With these persistent controversies surrounding UNRWA, several countries, including Germany, have reassessed and conditioned their aid towards the agency. In contrast, the Biden administration resumed funding for UNRWA after the Trump administration halted it in 2018.
While the allegations against UNRWA have yet to be definitively proven, Blackburn’s calls for an investigation further underscore the increasing global scrutiny the agency faces over its operational practices and affiliations. As the debate unfolds, the future of the agency’s funding and its role within the UN framework hangs in the balance.
In a letter addressed to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield and United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., called for an inquiry into accusations that UNRWA employee was involved in the hostage situation during the Hamas attack on Israel in October.
The allegations were initially brought forward by Israeli reporter, Almog Boker, who claimed a UNRWA employee had detained a hostage for nearly 50 days. Blackburn insisted on a detailed report on the accusation by Dec. 18 and a comprehensive outline regarding UNRWA’s procedure to ensure that its facilities aren’t exploited for supporting terrorist activities.
Responding to Boker’s claims, the UNRWA, entangled in previous allegations of corruption and direct complicity with Hamas, labeled them as ‘unsubstantiated’ after Boker failed to comply with their requests for more information.
In the midst of these back-and-forth claims and counter-claims, Blackburn averred that if the allegations were verified, the United States should promptly cease funding to the UN organization. “Not one more U.S. taxpayer dollar should go towards funding UNRWA,” she stated.
Moreover, the UNRWA faced another setback when the Israel Defense Forces discovered explosives stashed inside UNRWA boxes in a residential home. The discovery further undermined the UN agency’s credibility.
Adding to the controversy, the CEO of the London-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, Marcus Sheff, lambasted UNRWA for creating a hospitable environment for terrorism. He called on the United States to follow Germany’s lead and freeze its funding to UNRWA until it initiates a pro-peace curriculum.
Germany recently announced its decision to cease its funding to UNRWA amid reports of multiple controversies involving the group, including inciting violence, disseminating antisemitic material, and connections to the Hamas attack on Israel in October.
In the recent past, the Trump administration had stopped UNRWA funding in 2018, but the Biden administration quickly restored it and went ahead to become the largest donor to the agency in July 2022.
Against this backdrop, it is crucial to remember that allegations remain as such unless compelling evidence surfaces or a credible investigation takes place. The concerns expressed by Blackburn now add to the growing scrutiny of the UNRWA, bringing its future role and funding under the spotlight.