Canada’s recent pledge to give $10 million in emergency humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza has met with skepticism from Jewish groups.
B’nai Brith Canada and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) worry that the body through which the aid will be channelled, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), continues to foment anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment, and has ties to Hamas, which Canada considers to be a terrorist group.
The $10 million “will help meet the urgent humanitarian needs” and provide food assistance to over one million people and other “essential humanitarian assistance,” International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced earlier this month.
She said the money is intended for the “poorest and most vulnerable Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza.”
In a statement, B’nai Brith said that over the past few years, “numerous” examples have surfaced of textbooks used in UNRWA-run schools that foment “anti-Semitic and anti-Israel bias, even hatred.”
B’nai Brith cited a recent review by Princeton University Islamic scholar Arnon Groiss, which found that UNRWA teaching materials described Jews as the “Devils aides,” erased Jewish religious and historical links to Jerusalem and described all of Israel as “occupied Palestine.”
There have also been “persistent concerns” regarding the presence of Hamas members in UNRWA schools and facilities, B’nai Brith stated.
“We respect the underlying humanitarian goals of Canada’s contribution to UNRWA,” said B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn. “But one of Canada’s goals is to promote the establishment of a law-based, peaceful and prosperous society. We believe strongly that, in the education field, UNRWA has not sufficiently demonstrated its commitment to, and compliance with, these objectives.”
He called for a “rigorous review” of how Canada deals with the agency.
“Canadians deserve to know that their international aid dollars are not supporting terrorism or incitement in any way, shape or form,” said Mostyn.
In her statement, Bibeau said Canada continues “to exercise enhanced due diligence regarding its funding” to UNRWA.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government eliminated aid to UNRWA in 2010 over the agency’s alleged ties to Hamas. But the Conservatives did provide $14 million in emergency food support to the agency in 2012.
In 2016, the federal Liberals restored funding to the agency, in the amount of $25 million. It renewed that commitment last year.
CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel said that while his organization supports Canadian humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians and others in the region, “All donor countries should demand greater accountability and transparency from UNRWA.”
CIJA said it has met with UNRWA officials, including the agency’s West Bank director, Scott Anderson, and Washington director Elizabeth Campbell, “to convey our concerns and get a direct report from the agency.
Canadians deserve to know that their international aid dollars are not supporting terrorism.
– Michael Mostyn
“We have also engaged the government of Canada to express our serious concerns about UNRWA’s shameful record, including the agency’s disturbing links to Hamas. We note that the government of Canada has taken this matter very seriously and has imposed significant oversight measures.
“While there have been positive early signs that these have had an effect, there is much work to be done by the international community,” Fogel said. “We urge Canada and all donor countries to hold the agency responsible for any and all violations.”
B’nai Brith also noted that a direct dialogue between it and UNRWA was initiated earlier this year.
In January, the U.S. government announced that it would provide US$60 million ($75 million) to UNRWA, but withhold a further US$65 million indefinitely.
Main photo: Palestinians receive their monthly food aid from a UN distribution centre in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip on Sep 14, 2011. ABED RAHIM KHATIB, Flash 90