Andrew Scheer announced last week that if elected, he would eliminate Canadian support for UNRWA, a United Nations agency that provides assistance to millions of Palestinian refugees. A leaked internal audit alleging mismanagement at the top of UNRWA has given the Israel lobby an excuse to demand ending Canadian funding for the organization. Destroying UNRWA is part of the Trump administration’s plan to compel the Palestinians to accept the so-called “Deal of the Century”. Read more.
A leaked internal report from the ethics office of the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) has alleged “abuses of authority” among the organisation’s senior management team, sending shock waves through the UN system.
According to Swiss Info, most of the allegations relate to the personal relationship of UNRWA boss Pierre Krachenbuhl and another senior executive which created a “toxic work environment” at the top of the organization. Switzerland has temporarily suspended its annual contribution to UNRWA pending further investigation. (Krachelbuhl is a Swiss national).
The Trump administration cut off its own contributions to UNRWA last year. According to the New York Times, the move was pushed hardest by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser on the Middle East, as part of a plan to compel Palestinians to drop demands for those refugees to return to their homeland.
The Trump attack on UNRWA had already caused consternation among the millions of Palestinian refugees who depend on the organization or education, health care and in some cases (including Gaza) for food.
So far the allegations of malfeasance at UNRWA are unproven. “An investigation of the allegations contained in the report is ongoing”, said a spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General. “Until then the Secretary General is not in a position to make any further comments on this matter.”
But the unproven nature of these allegations has not prevented the Israel lobby in Canada from seizing on them to renew their attacks on UNRWA and demand its dismantlement.
“Why hasn’t this latest scandal persuaded Canada to cut off UNRWA?“ wrote Vivian Bercovici, in a scathing op ed in the National Post. Bercovici, who served as Canada’s Ambassador to Israel under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was a self-declared fan of Israeli prime minister Netanyahu while she was in office.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), Canada’s largest pro-Israel lobby organization weighed in with a lurid campaign called “Stop UNRWA”, inviting CIJA members to pressure the Canadian government to stop its funding of the organization. “Sexual misconduct. Nepotism. Discrimination. Retaliation. Abuses of authority for personal gain”, a scandalised CIJA tells its members, urging them to “Tell Ottawa we refuse to pay for UNRWA corruption“.
For its part, B’nai Brith Canada launched a petition demanding that the Government of Canada immediately suspend its support for UNRWA.
Eager to pick up right wing support from the Israel lobby, Andrew Scheer has jumped on the bandwagon. “A Scheer government will immediately withdraw Canadian funding from UNRWA”, said a Scheer spokesperson.
At the time of writing, it is still unknown whether any of the allegations is well founded. If they are, corrective action certainly needs to be taken.
However, it is hard to imagine that any of the financial malfeasance by the 4 or 5 top executives named in the report (like taking business class airline seats while other executives had to fly economy class) could have abused more than .1% of the organizations $1.3 billion (US) annual budget. Calling for Canada to stop funding UNRWA, seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
A not-so-hidden agenda
CIJA and B’nai Brith’s alleged concern over financial probity and protecting Canadian tax dollars rings hollow when one considers their actions (or inactions) in the face of mismanagement allegations against some other organizations.
The Jewish National Fund (JNF), for example, which is partially funded by Canadian tax dollars, has been repeatedly cited for mismanagement and fraud. Earlier this year, an Israeli cabinet minister urged that the JNF (in Hebrew KKL) be disbanded because of mismanagement, but that call didn’t even get a raised eyebrow from CIJA. Recently JNF’s American branch was outed for fraud by Jewish Forward magazine.
Kushner, CIJA, B’nai Brith, Bercovici, Netanyahu and company would like to see UNRWA disbanded completely in order to weaken and eventually extinguish, international support for the Palestinian right of return. Currying their support, Scheer has jumped in.
What should Canada do?
The allegations should be taken seriously of course.
But Palestinian refugees should not be forced to suffer if there is corruption by senior UN officials. Canada didn’t cut support to the International Red Cross after officials defrauded that organization of funds earmarked for Ebola aid in West Africa. Canada has not stopped post-earthquake assistance to Haiti in spite of the rampant corruption there. Corruption at the top of large international organizations is unfortunately not unusual. (Think FIFA, or the Olympic Games for example.)
Those who have a political motive for undermining UNRWA are cynically using the allegations of mismanagement by a few senior people at the top of the organization as a way to discredit the work of the organization itself.
So far, the Trudeau government has resisted these calls. “We will review the outcome of the investigation. Our number one priority is to contribute to meeting the basic education, health and livelihood needs of millions of Palestinian refugees, especially women and children,‘ a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada told the Ottawa Citizen.
Instead of cutting off funding to UNRWA, Canada should urge the UN Secretary General to finish his investigation rapidly and respond appropriately, so UNRWA can continue with its valuable humanitarian mission.
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