UNRWA is worse than you think

For far too long this UN agency has provided moral cover to the anti-Semitic haters of Israel.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics World

I long ago lost faith in the left. But even I wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told me that one day they would spend Holocaust Memorial Day cheering an organisation whose members stand accused of slaughtering Jews. That as everyone else was lighting candles for the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis, they would be swarming the internet to praise and even fundraise for a group whose staff are suspected of massacring Jews. That on the very day we remember the worst act of anti-Semitism in history, they’d be heaping love and cash on an organisation whose people allegedly played a part in the worst act of anti-Semitism of the 21st century. The left is bad, I know, but are they that bad, I’d have wondered?

Now we know the answer to that question. It’s yes. Yes they are.

This is the story of UNRWA – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. On Friday, it announced that it was investigating allegations that 12 of its employees in Gaza took part in the Hamas pogrom of 7 October. Israel alleges that these UNRWA staff, people literally on the payroll of the UN, carried out acts including abduction, distributing ammunition, coordinating attacks and actual murder. UNRWA says it has dismissed the suspects and is investigating the claims.

In response, some Western nations, including the US, the UK and Australia, have suspended funding to UNRWA. As well they might. Who wants their hard-earned tax dollars going to an organisation that reportedly harbours neo-fascists? Which allegedly counts among its workforce Jew-haters of such a twisted, devoted nature that they’re willing to assist in the worst anti-Semitic rampage since the Holocaust? Suspending the flow of money to UNRWA while officials figure out whether its staff really did take part in that racist, rapacious onslaught against Jewish men, women and children seems a reasonable decision to me.

The woke left sees it differently. UNRWA is great, they say. It’s essential to the wellbeing of Palestinians, especially in wartorn Gaza, they cry. And every government that has suspended donations is now complicit in Israel’s ‘genocide’. These are the murky depths of doublespeak to which the left has now sunk: to express concern about a group’s possible links to genocidal terrorism is ‘genocidal’; to try to keep your money out of the pockets of people who allegedly helped to coordinate the worst act of racist violence of the 21st century is ‘racist’. War is peace, freedom is slavery, not wanting Jews to be butchered is fascism. The moral contortionism is painful.

Most striking is the left’s attempts to downplay the seriousness of the charges against UNRWA. These people pose as ‘anti-fascists’ yet they seem alarmingly blasé about the possibility that a UN agency employed people of such an intense fascistic persuasion that they were happy to take part in an orgy of anti-Jewish murder. It’s ‘10 or 12 individuals’ from a ‘workforce of 13,000’, said LBC’s James O’Brien. This is a man who said the right-wing media’s defence of Boris Johnson during Partygate was proof that Britain is moving in a ‘fascistic direction’. It seems a handful of pro-Boris thinkpieces is fascism, but ‘10 or 12’ UN employees allegedly kidnapping and murdering Jews is not something we should overreact to.

The Guardian’s Owen Jones dismissively says these are ‘allegations against 0.04 per cent of [UNRWA’s] staff’. Is there an acceptable number of alleged Jew-killers for a UN agency to employ? If 12 isn’t a particularly big deal, how about 50? Or 100? A hundred alleged pogromists would still only be 0.77 per cent of UNRWA’s workforce – is that cool?

Mehdi Hasan speaks of ‘the alleged acts of a handful of UNRWA employees’ and slams the ‘demonisation campaign’ against UNRWA. This is the same Mehdi Hasan who once said Donald Trump’s description of lefties as ‘vermin’ was ‘right out of Hitler’s Nazi propaganda playbook’ and that Trump should ‘terrify’ us all. If a privileged member of America’s media elites can feel ‘terrified’ of Trump’s bluster, surely Jews can feel terrified of Jew-killers, even if it is ‘just’ 12. To a Jew, a ‘handful’ of murderous anti-Semites is still a terrible thing.

The speed with which the woke left went from handwringing over racists to saying, ‘Well, it’s only 12 racists’, has been mind-blowing. These are the kind of people who denounce gender-critical feminists as ‘fascist-adjacent’ if some alt-right arsehole attends one of their demos. Who will damn the entire Tory party as irretrievably Islamophobic if one of its lowly local councillors makes a joke about Muslims. Who insisted that Wayne Couzens – the London police officer who murdered Sarah Everard – was not a ‘bad apple’ but rather was symptomatic of the entire sexist, murderous rot of the Metropolitan Police. ‘Sarah Everard’s killer isn’t one bad apple – the whole police force is rotten’, cried Novara Media in 2021 – a mag whose fanboys are no doubt all over social media saying the 12 alleged Jew-killers in UNRWA were just bad apples. Funny that.

When a British cop was unveiled as a misogynistic murderer, the left cried ‘Defund the police!’. Yet when 12 employees of UNRWA were accused of taking part in a carnival of racist rape and murder they said the opposite: fund UNRWA; give it more money. In response to Britain and other nations’ suspension of donations to UNRWA, the activist class took to X to drum up support for UNRWA. They seem blissfully unaware of how horrendous, how sick, these optics are. It boils down to this: within hours of Israel saying, ‘We believe UNRWA staff participated in the mass murder of Jews’, leftists were on social media saying, ‘Give money to UNRWA’. In all my years observing the left’s abandonment of reason and Enlightenment, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as appalling as that.

Most importantly, they’re just wrong to push the ‘bad apples’ argument about UNRWA. To haughtily tweet about the tiny percentage of UNRWA staff who are alleged to have bloodied their hands on 7 October. To go around saying ‘10 or 12’ possible pogromists does not a wicked organisation make. For the truth is that UNRWA has long been morally and politically compromised. The Wall Street Journal reports on intelligence dossiers that suggest up to 10 per cent of UNRWA’s employees have links with ‘Islamist militant groups’. A study of a Telegram channel made up of 3,000 UNRWA-employed schoolteachers found thousands of messages praising Hamas’s pogrom and expressing hatred for Jews. Analysts have found that some UNRWA-run schools ‘glorify terrorism, encourage martyrdom, demonise Israelis and incite anti-Semitism’. The truth about UNRWA, as a writer for Haaretz put it, is that it is ‘riddled with Hamas’.

And yet on Saturday, Holocaust Memorial Day, we had the chilling spectacle of the West’s supposed anti-fascists rattling the tin for UNRWA. We witnessed the self-righteous woke classes helping to fundraise for an organisation that is ‘riddled’ with links to a terror outfit that was founded with the express purpose of killing Jews and destroying Israel. The very people who claim to hate racism spent a day when we remember the victims of the worst act of state racism in history drumming up support for a UN agency that is ‘riddled’ with supporters of an avowedly racist terror group. We must be nearing the nadir of woke, surely?

To be clear, there are few easy options when it comes to UNRWA. Even Israeli observers admit that UNRWA, for good or ill, remains ‘essential’ to the functioning of Gaza. This is an organisation that oversees vast swathes of social and educational life in Gaza, as well as providing health and welfare. And yet the bourgeois illusion that UNRWA is a good, neutral body that just happens to have a few bad actors in its ranks is dangerously simple-minded. In truth, UNRWA has helped to institutionalise a Palestinian politics of grievance, increase both local and global hatred for Israel, and provide spaces in which Gazan Islamists have been able to indoctrinate a new generation with their Jew hate that masquerades as ‘Palestinian liberation’. Liberating Gaza from UNRWA ought to be at least a medium-term goal of everyone who cares about Israelis and Palestinians.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World


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