Ottawa backs Israel at UN, then gives UNRWA $25M
During the 2015 federal election campaign, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals challenged the Conservative claim that its support of the State of Israel was unmatched by any other political party. Not so, argued the Liberals. They, too, would back Israel through thick and thin.
Last week, the Trudeau government put its Middle East policy on display in two forums connected to the United Nations. Earlier in the week, Canada voted against or abstained in a series of anti-israel resolutions brought before the United Nations General Assembly in its annual binge of Israel-bashing. In doing so, it mirrored the votes taken by the previous Conservative government of prime minister Stephen Harper, which had billed itself as one of Israel’s staunchest friends.
But only days later, the government announced it would restore funding – subject to certain safeguards – to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides services to Palestinian refugees. Ottawa pledged $20 million for education, health and social services, while another $5 million was earmarked for help to those affected by the Syrian civil war.
Harper’s government had cut all annual funding to the agency.
Critics assailed the move to resume funding UNRWA, noting that it had repeatedly been linked to Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization, and that teachers and other UNRWA staff had been posting anti-semitic material online, along with praise of Hitler and support for the Palestinian side in their conflict with Israel.
In announcing the allocation, International Development Minister Marieclaude Bibeau said, “Millions of Palestinian refugees across the Middle East have the right to receive basic services such as health care and to send their children to school.
“We want to see Palestinian refugee children in classrooms where they can learn universal values of tolerance and respect. Vulnerable Palestinians deserve all the opportunities they can to contribute positively to their communities and Canada’s funding will help to better the lives of millions of refugees.”
The allocation announcement included assurances from the government that it would include “robust oversight mechanism and an enhanced accountability network,” such as “screening of UNRWA staff, strong anti-terrorism provisions in the funding agreement and training of UNRWA employees on appropriate and neutral use of social media.”
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said that the “issues surrounding UNRWA are far more grey [than the UN votes], as all other G7 states fund UNRWA and not even Israel has encouraged us not to fund UNRWA.
“In 2010, Canada cut funding… in light of concerns related to issues such as links to terrorist groups and bias shown by UNRWA staff. A number of these concerns were legitimate and needed to be addressed. Other G7 countries made the decision not to cut funding but rather to work with UNRWA to address those concerns that were legitimate. These countries, including the United States, have asked Canada to join them in funding UNRWA, but to also join them in ensuring that strict compliance measures are in place along with robust accountability requirements.”
He added: “After extensive review and due diligence, Canada agreed to provide funding for one year but has insisted on the strictest monitoring and accountability from UNRWA that has been required by any country.… This is a one-year funding agreement. Canada will review results achieved based on this contribution before determining whether to fund UNRWA next year.”
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center CEO Avi Benlolo said: “While FSWC views this renewed partnership with concern, all involved parties have taken a measured and seemingly responsible approach. FSWC will continue monitoring the situation on the ground.”
The Conservative critic for international development, Dean Allison, said the funding announcement “is a very troubling one.
“UNRWA schools have been used on numerous occasions as storage facilities for Hamas rockets to be used against Israeli civilians. Hamas has launched thousands of rockets exclusively intended to kill Israeli civilians, and it has been verified that some of the rockets have come from UNRWA sites.
“It is also well documented that UNRWA employees and facilities have served as breeding grounds for anti-israel and anti-semitic sentiments promoting violence and terrorist activity. Known examples and evidence come from UNRWA operated schools where teachers have been known to promote hate and intolerance towards Jews, and encouraging children to stab and kill Jews in pursuit of jihad and eliminating Israel as a country,” he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 20.