Documents obtained under the Official Information Act by the Israel Institute of New Zealand show that, for the first time ever, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) briefed the minister about hate and incitement to violence taught in NZ-funded UNRWA schools. However, officials maintain it is still acceptable for New Zealand taxpayers to continue funding the hateful curriculum.
The briefing document states
Members of the public have alerted officials to allegations of online hate speech and support for terror groups by UNRWA staff. New Zealand has investigated all allegations with UNRWA, other donors, [redacted] and with Five Eyes members to ascertain the validity of these claims. We are satisfied that these issues are not systemic within UNRWA. … In response to media allegations that UNRWA-supplied textbooks promote anti-Semitism and terrorism, officials have confirmed that the Palestinian Authority, not UNRWA, is responsible for the final curriculum and production of textbooks.MFAT briefing to the minister, March 2020
This is the first time that MFAT officials have briefed the minister about such issues. Documents previously obtained by the Israel Institute of New Zealand showed that officials also failed to record issues when they were raised in meetings. This might partly explain why Kate Bradlow, the NZ lead on donorship [sic] to UNRWA has decided that “New Zealand is confident in the operational quality, integrity and value of UNRWA”.
However, the attempt to justify continued taxpayer funding of hate is deeply concerning. It is correct that the textbooks used in UNRWA schools are supplied by the Palestinian Authority, but it should not matter where the texts came from – they are being used in UNRWA schools (and UNRWA continually employs staff who incite violence on social media and/or are affiliated with terror groups). It is astounding that NZ government officials feel so comfortable effectively saying “we don’t mind funding an organisation that teaches hate and incites violence because they get the material from somewhere external.”
MFAT have already acknowledged that they do not fund any other organisation that promotes hate, whether self-created or imported from another organisation. Furthermore, MFAT have never publicly condemned the use of these textbooks (or their manufacture by PA, or the employment of terrorists by UNRWA, or other UNRWA failings) nor called for reform of UNRWA – they have only ever praised the organisation.
MFAT states they are committed to “making our aid effective and to delivering value for investment of taxpayer funds”. To this end, MFAT has a clear policy for evaluating aid. It includes an ‘impact’ criteria, which measures “the positive and negative changes produced by the development intervention, directly or indirectly, intended or unintended”. MFAT has also recently promoted its transparency credentials with respect to aid (it is noteworthy that the UNRWA funding does not appear in the provided data about NZ aid). However, there has been no independent, MFAT evaluation of New Zealand’s aid to UNRWA.
The European Union recently funded a report from the German Georg Eckert Institute investigating Palestinian Authority textbooks which did not find much to be concerned about. However, the institute examined books used in Israel’s Jerusalem municipality Arab schools, not those used in the Palestinian territories; mistranslated basic Arabic; showed a lack of familiarity with Palestinian culture; and, bizarrely, cited of non-existent research.
There is abundant evidence that the Palestinian Authority textbooks de-legitimize both Israel’s existence and the very presence of Jews in the country – including the denial of the existence of Jewish holy places there – demonize both Israel and Jews, and advocate violence instead of educating peace and coexistence. According to a 2019 study by The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance for School Education (IMPACT-se), in the Palestinian Authority curriculum
“there is a systematic insertion of violence, martyrdom and jihad across all grades and subjects in a more extensive and sophisticated manner, embracing a full spectrum of extreme nationalist ideas and Islamist ideologies that extend even into the teaching of mathematics and science, including: physics, chemistry and biology…”2019 IMPACT-se report
An even more recent report of the 2019-2020 curriculum shows that there have been no significant changes made and in some ways the problem has gotten worse. Palestinian children are being taught that Jews control finance, media, politics and indeed the entire world. For example, a caricature of an arm wearing a Star of David wrapped around a globe appears. The textbooks also hail the early 20th-century Palestinian nationalist Khalil al-Sakakini, who endorsed terrorism, claimed Jews controlled the media and supported Nazi Germany. Jews are also called “enemies of Islam” in the textbooks and accused of trying to kill the Prophet Muhammad. Furthermore, the Jews are blamed for desecrating the tombs of early Muslim heroes, including companions of Muhammad.
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) even made comment on the textbooks in 2019, saying it was “concerned” about school textbooks and curricula including “hate speech against Israelis” which it found “fuels hatred” and “may incite violence” and “antisemitism.”
This incitement and hate is not new – reports like this have been produced for years. A 2017 report from UNWatch, entitled “Poisoning Palestinian Children” highlighted similar concerns and UNWatch has also repeatedly found UNRWA staff glorifying violence against Jews online. In 2019, UNWatch executive director, Hillel Neuer, pointed out that UNRWA did not appropriately respond to teachers promoting hate online.
“Despite our prior identification of UNRWA teachers who endorse Hitler and call for killing Jews, I am not aware of a single UNRWA teacher who has been fired as a result.”Hillel Neuer
While it is a positive step that officials are now briefing the minister about some issues with UNRWA, MFAT officials’ excuses for continued funding of an organisation that teaches children to hate is deeply concerning. It is especially hypocritical as MFAT has been deeply involved in the Christchurch Call that focuses on eliminating incitement from social media.