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Haley Campaign Press Release - ICYMI: Inside Nikki Haley's Push to Cut Funding to Anti-Israel U.N. Palestinian Refugee Agency

October 24, 2023

By: Zach Kessel
Online here

In 2021, President Joe Biden restored funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) without grappling with the factors that led the Trump administration to cut off funding to the agency in 2018.

Despite pushback from the State and Defense Departments, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley led the charge to halt taxpayer dollars from going toward the organization after learning that the money was being used to spread antisemitic hate and terror in the region.

The U.S. initially froze about one-third of the money earmarked for UNRWA in early 2018 and, when the agency refused to reform, the Trump administration cut all funding in August of that year.

Carrie Filipetti, executive director of the Vandenberg Coalition and former senior policy adviser to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations (USUN), explained the rationale behind that highly controversial decision in an interview with National Review.

Haley's concerns about UNRWA, Filipetti said, arose from reports that the textbooks the agency provides to schools in Gaza and the West Bank contain rhetoric inciting violence against Israel and inculcating hatred of Jews within Palestinian children. Poems in textbooks the U.N. sends, according to an Israeli watchdog organization, teach students about the "hobby" of dying as a martyr by killing Israeli civilians. Lessons describe Jews as impure and "inherently treacherous," and accuse the Jewish people of defiling the Holy Land with their presence.

"Ambassador Haley's perspective on all of this was to investigate, to get access to the textbooks that were being used in these facilities,'" Filipetti told NR, "and it really did bear out that this was promoting hatred, violence, and terrorism."

Textbooks are not the only reason some in the Trump administration were skeptical of UNRWA. The organization's website, aside from educational efforts, describes its activities as including health services, micro-finance loans, and refugee protections. But its definition of who qualifies as a refugee differs starkly from its parent body.

The U.N.'s definition of "refugee" excludes any individual who has "acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality." And the only Palestinians who are officially recognized as refugees by the U.N. are those who lived in "Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict."

In 1965, though, UNRWA changed its eligibility requirements to include third-generation descendants, and in 1982, it amended its rules once again. Those revisions, which are currently in effect, grant refugee status to all descendants of male Palestinian refugees, including legally adopted children, regardless of whether they hold citizenship elsewhere. That expansion of the definition of "refugee" means UNRWA recognizes those with very little connection to the former British Mandate as rightful occupants of Israeli land. Foundation for Defense of Democracies senior adviser Richard Goldberg told NR this poses a clear threat to Israel.

"[UNRWA is] dedicated to growing generations of Palestinians with the belief that they are oppressed by Israel and that they are waiting for the time in the future when they will return to their historical homes and kick out the Jews," he said.

Moreover, Palestinian terror groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the terror group responsible for the recent Gaza hospital blast that Hamas blamed on Israel — often use UNRWA buildings for military purposes. In both 2021 and 2022, the agency reported discovering tunnels underneath its school buildings in Gaza, and in 2021, the Israel Defense Forces published evidence that Hamas had launched rockets from a site near UNRWA buildings.

Despite UNRWA's assertions that the funding it disburses goes toward legitimate ends, there is a strong track record of humanitarian assistance to Gaza being used in service of terror. Hamas, for instance, has publicly advertised that it digs up water pipes in Gaza to fashion into rockets it then launches into Israel.

According to Goldberg, there is no way to ensure the aid reaches its intended target.

"We do not get an independent audit conducted by the United States; we have to rely on the U.N.'s auditing of their books" Goldberg told NR. "We are not allowed to vet UNRWA staff, beneficiaries, or contractors through U.S. counterterrorism vetting. They merely certify to us that they've checked and they don't give money to terrorist organizations, and we write them checks."

Goldberg explained why UNRWA's in-house audits are insufficient to ensure that its aid does not fund terrorism.

"The UN does not recognize Hamas or Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad or a number of other terrorist organizations as terrorist organizations — they consider them political parties," he told NR. "UNRWA will not discriminate against somebody if they are a member of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, because that would be political discrimination in UN assistance."

Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a Hamas founder, agrees. Yousef, who served as an undercover informant for the Israeli intelligence services from 1997 to 2007, told CNN's Jake Tapper in a Monday interview that U.S. and European aid to Gaza should be cut off until Hamas is defeated.

"You know, the United States and Europe have been very generous with the Palestinian people but their leadership steal the money all the time," Yousef said. "They steal the aid. So much aid came into Gaza, Hamas used all that aid to build tunnels under the ground and now look at the chaos they are creating."

UNRWA had a chance to address these concerns before the U.S. delegation decided to cut off funding in 2018.

Filipetti explained that the delegation requested that UNRWA do away with textbooks that promote violence but UNRWA representatives said they would not do so because those books are written by partner nations, which in the case of Gaza means the books are produced by Hamas.

The agency also attempted to guilt the U.S. into continuing to provide money.

"When we were threatening to pull the funding, many countries — and UNRWA itself — said they were going to have to close, that all the schools and all the refugee camps would have to close, so we as the United States by pulling our funding would essentially cause this mass crisis," Filipetti told NR.

At that time, Haley argued that Arab states, if they were so concerned with the plight of the Palestinians, should fund UNRWA rather than the U.S. In a July 2018 speech at the UN Security Council, Haley called on those Arab nations to live up to their rhetoric.

"No group of countries is more generous with their words than the Palestinians' Arab neighbors and other OIC member states," Haley said, referring to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. "But all of the words spoken here in New York do not feed, clothe, or educate a single Palestinian child."

Ultimately, Filipetti told NR, Haley "called their bluff."

"She pulled U.S. taxpayer support from UNRWA, and the entire amount was backfilled, primarily by the Arab world," Filipetti said.

The attack of October 7 has ratcheted up pressure on the administration to stop the flow of funding to the UNRWA. White House officials have insisted that the agency is a reliable partner whose on-the-ground presence is vital for the provision of much needed humanitarian aid. But on October 16, UNRWA posted on X that the U.N. body's headquarters in Gaza City had been robbed. "A group of people with trucks purporting to be from the Ministry of Health of the de facto authorities in Gaza, removed fuel and medical equipment from the Agency's compound in Gaza City," the post read.

The "de facto authorities" in Gaza are members of Hamas, which was elected to power in 2006 and gained full control over the Gaza Strip in 2007 after a bloody conflict with Fatah, the ruling party in the West Bank. UNRWA deleted the post shortly after its publishing.

Nikki Haley, Haley Campaign Press Release - ICYMI: Inside Nikki Haley's Push to Cut Funding to Anti-Israel U.N. Palestinian Refugee Agency Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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