Pro-Israel lobby groups attack Liberals over resumption of UNRWA funding



UNRWA (the UN’s relief agency for Palestinian refugees) runs schools and medical clinics for millions of Palestinians. Prime Minister Harper cut off Canada’s financial contribution in 2012. Mr. Trudeau just reinstated it. The Israel lobby is angry and wants it reversed. Read more…

Liberal Cabinet minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced the resumption of Canadian funding for Palestinian refugees last week, indicating that she would “rather see Palestinian youth in school than in the street”. The funding had been cut by Prime Minister Harper in 2010.


When Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau announced Canada would resume funding of UNRWA, Conservative members shouted “shame, shame”.

As soon as the announcement was made, Conservative leader Rona Ambrose was on the attack, as can be seen in this Toronto Star video clip.  (Apologies – you have to wait for a 30 second advertisement).

Tory foreign affairs critic Peter Kent said he was “horrified” by the decision.

Outside Parliament, Israel lobby organizations like Bnai Brith, The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and even the Israeli embassy immediately launched a counter offensive attacking the move.

B’nai Brith expressed “outrage”, even trying to link UNRWA to terrorism. It has launched a petition, demanding that the Canadian Government “provide evidence” that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) no longer engages in “problematic and dangerous behaviour”.

The Liberals were no doubt anticipating this attack. This probably goes some way to explaining why they dithered for over a year before finally restoring the funding to almost pre-Harper levels.

But the Liberals appear to have done their homework. The day after their announcement, US Secretary of State John Kerry issued a press statement indicating that  the USA “welcomed” the Canadian decision.

What to do?

UNJPPI, a human rights group associated with the United Church of Canada has already written a congratulatory letter to Mme. Bibeau. Given the campaign that is now being waged by the Israel lobby, other Canadians who support the Liberal decision might also want to write their own note of encouragement to Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau with a copy to their own Member of Parliament.

Ironically, the B’nai Brith petition demanding that the Government of Canada get “more evidence” on the activities of UNRWA is not such a bad idea. An all-party delegation to refugee camps in Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan or Syria (or even in the West Bank) would learn a lot about the living conditions of over 5 million Palestinian refugees and about the humanitarian mission of UNRWA itself.


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  1. UNRWA is entangled with Hamas, a totalitarian, antisemitic, jihadist organization, which has brought great suffering to the Palestinian people. In Gaza, Hamas stored weapons in UNRWA schools and maintained its military headquarters under the main hospital. Hamas has stolen millions of dollars intended for humanitarian aid to help Palestinians and diverted it to fund their military infrastructure, including tunnels which have been used to attack Israel. They have kidnapped and murdered Israelis. They have murdered Palestinians who they consider to be disloyal.

    It is impossible to fund UNRWA without funding terrorism and oppression of the Palestinians. That is why the Harper government cut off funding to UNRWA and that is why the Liberals are wrong to restore it.

    1. I’m not a fan of Hamas, but the blockade of Gaza is a brutal and inhumane action by Israel that persists 24hrs a day 7 days a week 365 days a year. Gaza is not a “normal” place to live: it is an enclave created by the displacements of native Palestinians in 1948 and denied the right to even catch fish off its coast (!!!). I want to see the suffering of the people there alleviated and so I support UNWRA which, by the standards of experts in humanitarian aid, does good work.

      1. Gaza wasn’t under blockade for decades after 1948. It was under Egyptian rule and then for 2 decades under a relatively peaceful Israeli rule. After a rebellion it became increasingly unmanageable. What prevents the Gazans from enjoying peace and prosperity is their unwillingness to live in peace with their eastern and southern neighbors. The political party that demands such a policy is Hamas.

        I agree that UNRWA has to cooperate with Hamas to operate on a large scale in their territory. But if you goal is alleviate suffering the cause of the suffering is the policies of Hamas. Gazans need to change the political opinions.

    2. @ David Roytenberg

      I attended UNRWA schools in a Palestinian refugee camp well before Hamas was formed. Today, I am a proud Canadian citizen with a full time job. I am not sure what life experience I would have had without getting the opportunity that UNRWA has offered to me and many people like me.

      Without UNRWA services, what is the alternative for young people in the refugee camps especially with what is going on in the region? The Canadian Liberal government did the right thing to restore Canada’s balanced and fair foreign policy and support stability in the Middle East.

      To understand UNRWA and its role, I believe we need to ask an important questions: Where did Palestinian refugees come from and why?

      People are invited to read this book by the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe: “The ethnic cleansing of Palestine”:

      UNRWA is an international response to the Zionist ethnic cleansing of native Palestinians in 1947- 1948 to create a Jewish state. To prove it, look at Palestinians who were displaced from their homes in 1947-48 in mandate Palestine and still live today in what became Israel. They are not allowed to return to their villages (that they lived in before 1948) although they are inside Israel. There is no UNRWA there! Israel has a problem with native Palestinians because of ideological reasons.

      The problem is the right-wing ideology that runs Israel today and pushes it to more militarization and more wars. This is the real and serious issue that people need to pay attention to. Listen to Israeli journalist Gideon Levy who served in the Israeli army and worked with former Israeli president Shimon Peres:

      He invites Israelis to wake up from their national state of denial.

      It is time for a serious discussion and reasonable solution. Blaming Palestinians because they became refugees is not a solution. We need a new language that does not reduce the world to “us” and “them” – white and black. We need a new imagination that takes us beyond the walls of ideology and denial.

      1. @Anonymous —

        I agree with you and moving away from “us” and “them” narratives. The problem with UNRWA is they do not. I think the easy solution is for Palestinians ethnics who live in Israel to work towards becoming fully Israeli. That means speaking Hebrew, attending Israeli schools, serving in the IDF… and also it means acting within the Israeli political process to address legitimate grievances like housing discrimination and job discrimination. The Israeli Arabs have access to schools. They would have access to even better schools if they assimilated.

        For Palestinian ethnics who live in 3rd countries to fully integrate into those countries. Again that gets rid of the need of UNRWA for most people.

        Finally for Palestinians who live in territories controlled by Israel to seek a stable relationship that meets both people’s needs. Israel is far richer than UNRWA. They are perfectly capable of providing a rich menu of social services if it were to their advantage to do so.

      2. @anonymous thanks for your reply. I agree with much of what you write. I’m glad that an UNRWA school helped you to get a good start in life.

        Like you I am a proud Canadian and like you, my ancestors fled their homes due to conflict and intolerance.

        I agree that it is important that we understand the historical background of the Palestinian refugees. My understanding of that history differs from yours. I suggest that you read “1948” by Benny Morris for an insight into why the Haganah drove Arabs from their homes and why they were not allowed to return.

        Finally, I agree that we need to find common ground and get beyond us and them. As long as Hamas controls Gaza that is not possible. That’s why I don’t want Canadian funds going to UNRWA as long as Hamas dominates Gaza.

    3. @ David Roytenberg

      I regret to know that your ancestors are refugees too. It is important that people try and find common grounds based on universal human rights values, especially when they have similar backgrounds when it comes to suffering exile.

      My understanding of what happened in 1947- 48 is based on personal life experience and research. My parents were both born in Mandate Palestine and became refugees in 1948. Ilan Pappe is a credible source as an Israeli historian. His book “Ethnic cleansing of Palestine” is supported by documents.

      Benny Morris is a well-known historian too. Morris himself talked about ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and mentioned that in one of his books. He was one of the “new historians” in Israel (with Pappe and others). He changed his views at a certain point. Norman Finkelstein and Morris debate this topic here:

      The Israeli siege of Gaza is not legal under international law, and UN report said that it should be lifted immediately and unconditionally. The Israeli siege is a collective and destructive punishment of 2 millions of women, children and men. People who believe in human rights and values should stand united against this open prison. There is nothing that can justify it. Israel imposes this illegal siege and not UNRWA. People of conscious should criticize Israel and put pressure on it to lift it.

      Hamas did not exist before 1987. Israel and the US were dealing before that with a mainly secular PLO. Many prominent Palestinian leaders were Christians. However, Israel and the US refused to make any reasonable offer that PLO was discredited at the end, and Arafat himself passed away under siege. Hamas is a response to the Israeli and US “rejectionism” doctrine. Noam Chomsky talks about this doctrine here:

      Away form political analysis and arguments, I believe there is a chance for truth and reconciliation to end this tragedy. It needs some courage to acknowledge what went wrong. It needs some political will. We, who live outside the region now, should encourage that. We should encourage truth and reconciliation to happen and heal the wounds.

      1. Palestinians clearly deserve a just and peaceful future — but basing history on Ilan Pappe’s book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” is questionable. What do you think of this video critiquing the book’s veracity and Pappe’s methodology?

      2. @Palestinian-Canadian, thanks for your reply. I’m still reading through Morris’ book and his arguments make sense to me. Here is what I understand of the events of that time based my reading of Morris’ book:

        The Jews had just come through the trauma of the holocaust and faced opposition under the leadership of Haj Amin al-Husseini who had openly supported the Nazis during the war and shared their ideology that Jews were subhuman and deserved to be exterminated.

        The passage of the partition plan was followed by violence against Jews in Jerusalem and on the roads. In the months thereafter there were attacks on isolated Jewish communities. K’far Etzion was depopulated. Ramat Yochanan was attacked. Jewish Jerusalem came under siege. Snipers began to attack Jewish neighbourhoods in Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem and other towns and cities.

        There was a mobilization of the Arab Liberation Army, consisting of several thousand volunteers from neighbouring states, which infiltrated into Palestine in early 1948. There was a clear expectation that all the neighbouring states would launch an invasion when the British mandate expired on May 15, which is exactly what in fact ocurred.

        The Jews therefore had a reasonable apprehension that they must secure control of the territory allocated to them in the partition plan before May 15, if there was to be any chance of defending their borders against invasion by conventional forces on that date.

        The Jews of Palestine understood that nobody would lift a finger to help them if they could not defend themselves. The death of the six million lay less than three years in the past. They were determined that they would not suffer the same fate. As a result, they seized territory and in many cases evicted the Arab inhabitants. In a few cases they committed atrocities, a fact of which I am ashamed.

        However, it is important to understand that the Palestinian Arabs had a choice. They could have accepted partition and then nobody would have lost their homes. Instead they tried to prevent partition by going to war against the Palestinian Jews. In the course of that war, they lost their homes. In the course of that war, the Palestinian Jews who lived beyond the armistice lines also lost their homes. Jews all over the Arab world also lost their homes, in Iraq, in Syria, in Egypt, in Morocco, in Tunisia, in Algeria, in Yemen.

        I think Morris has it right and that Pappe errs in putting all the blame on one side.

  2. I have visited both Jewish and Arab educational institutions and the contrast is like night and day. The Arab institutions are full of people eager to teach and learn but they are woefully under funded and poorly equipped.

    Whatever you might think of the Fatah and Hamas parties, the children and students in Palestine deserve help. They are not the militants, just people looking for education and medical care that is being denied them. The children we neglect today will be even bigger problems tomorrow.

    Until someone proposes a better way to help those children than funding UNRWA, we should support UNRWA.

    Critics of this support can always find fault with UNRWA. No human organization is perfect. Unfortunately, those critics offer no constructive alternative. They want us to just look the other way while innocent children suffer.

    1. I’ll provide a better way. Disband UNRWA and transfer responsibility for any refugees not resettled away from UNRWA to UNHCR. UNHCR has a 72 year (including IRO) track record of successfully resolving refugee crisis. UHRWA has a 67 track record of total exacerbating an existing one. UNRWA is the reason there still is a Palestinian refugee crisis. It was designed explicitly to prevent the Palestinian refugee situation from being solved and it has been successful in that cruel and noxious aim.

      1. I do not understand the logic in many of your views. You are saying that Hamas is the cause for the Palestinians suffering, yet if you had conversations with people in Gaza, they would tell you otherwise. To imply that they deserve to be blockaded and bombed because these descendants of refugees in an open air prison elected a government that opposes the state that displaced them then blockaded and bombed them is very callous in my opinion. If Hamas disappeared tomorrow, there would still be an occupation, a denial of rights of refugees and likely a blockade. To blame the victim, the displaced, the blockaded and the occupied for their suffering at the hands of the 4th largest military in the world because of their “political views” is such a strange stretch of logic. You are really going out of your way to blame a victim. If you asked any expert on refugees or humanitarian aid they would say that UNRWA fulfills its mission well. John Kerry applauded Canada’s decision to resume funding.

  3. @Shawn

    —- You are saying that Hamas is the cause for the Palestinians suffering, yet if you had conversations with people in Gaza, they would tell you otherwise.

    Obviously. If the Gazans agreed with me they wouldn’t be supporting a policy of “resistance”. One of us is wrong.

    — To imply that they deserve to be blockaded and bombed because … elected a government that opposes the state that displaced them then blockaded and bombed them is very callous in my opinion.

    I didn’t imply that. What I said was that they deserve to be blockaded and bombed because they engage in extensive regular cross boarder violence against both their southern and eastern neighbors. Attacking neighboring countries is a good way to get into wars. Being blockaded is an act of war. A people that bombs other countries invites being bombed.

    — If Hamas disappeared tomorrow, there would still be an occupation, a denial of rights of refugees and likely a blockade.

    Again the historical record shows that is false. In the more than two decades between the 1967 conquest of Gaza and the first intifada there was no blockade. There was free travel. As the violence increased the restrictions grew. History falsifies your position that Israeli violence towards and the blockage of Gaza is causeless.

    As for a “denial of the rights of refugees” I’m not sure what you mean. If you mean some supposed right of Gazans to live in Israel that likely would be denied. The USA and Canada are quite friendly with each other. That doesn’t mean they invite each other’s populations to freely permanently settle in the other country. That sort of relationship does exist between the states of the USA. And similarly that sort of close relationship exists between the provinces of Canada. It requires quite a lot of political integration to allow for the open migration of people’s and the Israelis and Gazans are far from such a relationship. Conflating a lack of that level of friendliness with the level of hostility implied by a blockade is a category error.

    — To blame the victim, the displaced, the blockaded and the occupied for their suffering at the hands of the 4th largest military in the world because of their “political views” is such a strange stretch of logic.

    That’s just an assertion. Bad political views lead to bad political actions lead to suffering. That’s normative.

    — If you asked any expert on refugees or humanitarian aid they would say that UNRWA fulfills its mission well.

    UNHCR addressed this issue themselves many times, “voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement are the traditional durable solutions”. Totally contrasting with UNRWA’s insistence on repatriation. They have also explicitly criticized UNRWA’s handling of Jordanian citizens of Palestinian ethnicity being labeled refugees. Are you going to argue that UNHCR is not an expert of refugees?

    In addition:

    The World Bank
    The USA’s GAO
    The Ford Foundation
    The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
    Center for Near East Policy Research
    Department of Political Science, Towson University,\
    Indiana University’s study of Gaza
    Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center
    Heritage Foundation
    Ben Gurion Research Institute
    and many more

    have all agreed with the position that UNRWA’s policies have blocked refugee absorption and thus prolonged for many decades a bad situation that normally could have been solved in a few years.

    And what’s really infuriating is that not only is UNHCR far better than UNRWA at resettlement they are also much better in negotiating voluntary repatriation in contested situations. In the last decade alone:
    Afgan refugees repatriated from Pakistan
    Afgan refugees repatriated from Iran
    Burundian refugees repatriated from Tanzania
    Sudanese from Uganda
    Somalis from Kenya
    Eritreans from Sudan
    Angolans from Congo
    Myanmar people from Thailand
    Congolese from Tanzania
    Bhutanese from Nepal
    As well as Liberians from a variety of countries.

    The Palestinian refugee crisis of the early 1950s was Israel’s doing. The Palestinian refugee crisis since then is UNRWA’s doing.

    Just to add though refugees is a distraction from the blockade and bombing. Gazans who are permanently resettled in Gaza regardless of the town of origin of their great grandparents. UNRWA encouraging Gazans to lay claim to foreign territory controlled by a government hostile to them is exactly the sort of dysfunction that leads to the Gazans being blockaded and bombed. Its exactly the sort of reason that UNRWA is an enemy of peace.

    — John Kerry applauded Canada’s decision to resume funding.

    John Kerry is an expert he is not all experts. His position on UNRWA is controversial even within the United States.

      1. First off your claim was all experts… You are changing the topic now to history not current day.

        Voluntary repatriation of refugees is almost always the preferred solution for the UN. There is nothing shocking that in 1948 that UN would have been pushing for such a solution in 1948. That doesn’t mean this is remotely applicable today. When repatriation proves impossible, and this happens quite often, UNHCR resettles refugees quickly in either the host country or another country. They aggressively provide cultural orientation, language and vocational training, as well as access to education and employment to ease the transition and the whole thing is wrapped up quickly. Repatriation if possible, resettlement if it is not is the international norm. UNRWA has insisted on violating the norm. UN resolution 194 concerned people who are almost all dead. They died as refugees not immigrants because of UNRWA.

        As for proportionality I’m not sure how that’s relevant to anything we’ve discussed above. Whether Israel’s actions are a proportionate response to Gazan aggression or not, doesn’t change the fact that they are a response to Gazan aggression. That was the point in question, proportionality is a distraction.

        I will address proportionality though. There is no question that Israel is much more effectual in its bombings than Hamas. Hamas is dangerously incompetent in continuing to instigate military attacks against itself and its population. Hamas lacks the strategic depth to withstand retaliation and the increasing levels of Israeli frustration are leading to ever increasing levels of violence directed against the Gazans when they choose to militarily engage Israel. The current Israeli strategy of undermining the economic infrastructure of Gaza if taken not much further than it was in 2014 would result in mass emigration from the territory; an outcome that Hamas likely does not desire. Between Hamas’ farming policies that have harmed water infrastructure, and Israel’s attacks on that infrastructure in retaliation it may already be too late to save Gaza has a home to 1.8m people rather than a much lower number like 300k without aggressive infrastructure improvements quickly. The Israelis are going to need to trust the Gazans if such improvements are going to be allowed and the Hamas government has worked hard to create distrust, I should comment with widespread popular support.

        Israel may or may not be failing in a strict sense of proportionality. Its unclear what level of violence is required is persuade the Gazans not to attack Israel. Low levels of violence seem to have little effect. Proportionality requires the minimum level necessary to halt an act of aggression it does not call for a level below that. I see no evidence that a much lower level of violence would have been successful in halting the missile attacks. If you have any serious analysis that a lower level would have worked, present it. Arab propaganda where rather impressive defeats are recasts as victories seem to make limited engagements problematic for first world powers. Healthy cultures are realistic about their military prowess, because close military contests are devastating, while defeats can often be fatal. Israel is not dealing with a healthy culture.

        Hamas is delusional. The Palestinians are delusional. One of the reasons I oppose BDS is because it encourages rather than discourages delusions among the Palestinians regarding the catalogue of horrific likely results of continuing “resistance” for another generation or two. They understandably don’t like the reality that their choices really come down to emigrating, dying in a pointless war or knowing that peace means is a good chance their great-great-grandchildren will be Hebrew speaking Jews. I fully understand why they hate that.

        But that doesn’t change the reality. Hamas attacks failed to devastating effect because Gaza is much weaker than Israel. Not because Israelis were especially cruel in repelling those attacks.

  4. hi, here is  the Peter Larson site I said I would send to Weldon. Will work on the questions later today. G

  5. @CD-Church-Host
    -The current Israeli strategy of undermining the economic infrastructure of Gaza if taken not much further than it was in 2014 would result in mass emigration from the territory; an outcome that Hamas likely does not desire.-

    Um. No one is allowed to leave my friend.

    Also: the israelis are the ones that have brigades preventing intermarriage with Arabs. Not the other way round.

    I support Palestinians because I believe land theft and occupation are wrong. BDS is the only way to pressure Israel to comply with international Law.

    1. @Shawn —

      — Um. No one is allowed to leave my friend.

      The Rafah crossing opens irregularly but it opens. Erez crossing is often open for emigration generally for education abroad. There is also a booming smuggling operation into Europe. The IMF has been estimating a net drain of 17k / yr and that’s not including the smuggling.

      — Also: the israelis are the ones that have brigades preventing intermarriage with Arabs. Not the other way round.

      I’m not sure what you mean by brigades against marriage to Arabs nor what this is in response to. Millions of Israelis are Mizrahi. There are no brigades preventing marriages to them. Just to pick an example from the hard right, Ayelet Shaked is 1/2 Arab 1/2 Ashkenazi and no one objects. Israelis religiously, socially, politically and officially work to fight racism.

      If you mean Jew and Muslim. Intermarriage of muslim women to non muslim men is punished severely. The Palestinians are starting to have a culture of honor killings. Heck the Palestinian courts have even acted against sects within Islam so for example Ahmadiyya’s marriages are dissolved.

      So I’m not sure what you mean, what you are responding to nor are your facts correct.

      — I support Palestinians because I believe land theft and occupation are wrong.

      Everyone is opposed to land theft including Israelis. They don’t permit theft in Israel. What the Palestinians often mean by land theft is a government disposing of property for common good and offering to compensate title holders. If you object to that you can fight the battle closer to home:

      As for occupation. An occupation is a situation where a hostile military enters a territory that it has no desire to govern long term and needs to setup a temporary administration. Once a military makes claims to being the sovereign power and not just the administrative power it is no longer an occupation. There is an occupation primarily because the UN keeps pretending that Israel isn’t making claim to being the sovereign power when they obviously are. Most ridiculously over territory that Israel has formally annexed. You want to end the occupation encourage Canada to recognize Israel as the governing power in the West Bank and not an occupying power. Quite the opposite of what BDS preaches.

      Now if by “occupiers” you mean people of the wrong race living in the wrong parcel of land, which is often what BDSers mean, then we simply fundamentally disagree. I believe firmly in the equal worth of all peoples.

      — BDS is the only way to pressure Israel to comply with international Law.

      The UN consensus is for a 2 state solution which most BDS proponents oppose. International law recognizes Israel as a legitimate state which BDS opposes. International law has no objection to seeing Israel as a nation, BDS denies the legitimacy of a Jewish nation. International law is not opposed to Jewish self determination. BDS is. Etc…

      It is hard to imagine a movement more opposed to the most core principles of international law than BDS. The absolute core of international law as it exists today is a set of doctrines designed to support the common welfare and enhance peace between nations. BDS seeks the destruction of a nuclear state with little regard for what that would mean for world pace.

      If we talk about more traditional international law and not just the UN, the core of international law since the 17th century is that the people of a territory share and jointly develop a common culture (a nation) allowing them to share common interests. This nation forms a government over that territory that represents the interests of the nation and the people’s of that territory (a nation-state). BDS is totally opposed to this concept. Since this is an UNRWA thread, UNRWA (and the anti-colonial movement more broadly) are opposed as well. BDS, UNRWA and the anti-colonial movement mostly argue for a concept of racial land entitlement where a parcel of land there are classes of whose status is determined by birth and unchangeable regardless of migration or citizenship status. That is the policies that led to doctrines like racial slavery in the USA or aristocratic government in Europe.

      Even on petty issues BDS is opposed to international law to its core. For example international law has for millennia supported ambassadors whose job is simply to faithfully represent the positions of their government to other governments. This system is designed to avoid wars and skirmishes due to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. The institution has lasted fore centuries because it is such a success. BDS has argued for the expulsion of Israeli ambassadors for faithfully representing the positions of the Israeli government because they are opposed to those positions.

      No Shawn, BDS is not about getting Israel to obey international law.

      1. @Church-CD

        The problem with everything you are saying is that it is completely out of touch with reality, fact and common sense.
        Adieu my message board friend.

  6. @CD-Host You address the issue of UNRWA, BDS and the Palestine Refugees with great clarity and intelligence. I appreciate your contribution to the discussion here.

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