Our Petition to The Simon Weisenthal Centre Regarding its Condemnation of UNRWA
We the undersigned decry the decision by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre to designate the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) as fifth in its 2018 list of “Top Ten Worst Global Anti-Semitic Incidents.” This designation is wholly unfounded, belies the historical injustices committed to Palestinian refugees from 1948 onward, and plays into a long-standing partisan campaign designed to unfairly delegitimize UNRWA as a purveyor of support for Palestinian refugees – which came full circle in the US government’s recent decision to defund UNRWA.
Wiesenthal claims that UNRWA activities are “Enablers of Hamas’ massive child abuse with a ‘peace’ curriculum that erases Israel.” Yet in its mischaracterizations it wholly ignores the palpable dangers facing education for Palestinians as a result of Israeli occupation, both the military occupation of schools in Gaza as well as the regular demolition and closure of schools operating in the West Bank. The NGO Save the Children states that the most significant challenges in the Palestinian education sector are security risks across the Palestinian territories, which preclude children, parents, and faculty from having safe access to schools. To that end, 2016 witness 256 separate instances of violations to the right to education in the West Bank, affecting 30,000 students. The realities of military occupation by Israel are the biggest impediment to advancement in children’s education, yet the Wiesenthal Centre offers not even perfunctory pushback in this respect, instead lending its largesse firmly behind the forces of occupation.
This impediment give rise to the question, precisely what kind of answers would enemies of refugee rights and supporters of indefinite military occupation expect to hear from school children when they are asked about precisely the ongoing occupation that not only displaced their families from their ancestral homelands but continues to stymy their access to a quality education unencumbered by violence? In ignoring these dynamics entirely, the Wiesenthal Centre makes clear that, despite its purported role as a human rights organization seeking to extirpate racism and xenophobia, that it clearly has a vested interest in safeguarding the Israeli occupation; its attacks on UNRWA thus must be seen as part of an ongoing campaign on its behalf to deflect even legitimate criticism of Israel and its policies. Indeed, Wiesenthal’s attacks on UNRWA are fully consistent with its established tendency to smear attempts on behalf of individuals and organizations to non-violently boycott economic activity with Israel as per the demands of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, to the detriment of meaningfully addressing the human rights imperatives for Palestinians UNRWA crucially alleviates. In October 13-14 2018, the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) convened a workshop on Palestinian refugees under threat, which also inaugurated the cultivation of a Global Expert Network on the question of Palestine. The findings of that workshop were unanimous, by all experts, that the demonization of UNRWA by the United States is not about UNRWA as such as none of the explanations offered for its defunding pass muster. Rather, American belligerence toward UNRWA in fact is targeting the refugee question more broadly, essentially seeking to redefine Palestinian refugees out of existence. However, as our experts made clear both in conversation and in forthcoming publications, the legal justifications offered for this kind of assault on UNRWA have no basis in international law; the assault on UNRWA, instead, is tendentious at its core. The Wiesenthal Centre’s posturing here, moreover, is part of the same frivolous strategy, to inaccurately demonize UNRWA in order to attack the issue of Palestinian refugees more broadly, essentially seeking to redefine them out of existence – a fact belied by Wiesenthal’s enthusiastic support for the US defunding of UNRWA.
Accordingly, we the undersigned call on the United Nations body of organizations to stand firmly against this tendentious reporting and deliberate distortion of UNRWA and its noble work in servicing the Palestinians and their just cause.