NGO Monitor’s legal advisor Anne Herzberg appeared at the Knesset on Monday, March 7th, to take part in the Knesset Task Force for UNRWA Policy Research.
The meeting discussed how Israel can continue to raise global awareness about UNRWA and the effects of the institutional antisemitism that is rife in the Palestinian education system. Prominent diplomats, journalists, academics and NGOs also attended the meeting which was chaired by MK Sharren Haskel.
Thank you to MK Haskel, members of the Committee, and Distinguished Guests,
I am the legal advisor of NGO Monitor and our UN representative. We are one of the only Israeli NGOs with UN ECOSOC status, giving us the ability to participate in various debates and sessions. As we have heard from the other speakers, UNRWA plays a manifestly counterproductive role in the region. But not enough attention is paid to the entire UN infrastructure operating in Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank. UNRWA is central in this architecture, but twenty other UN agencies operate here in concert with UNRWA. Far from upholding the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence, these agencies are playing an overtly partisan role in close collaboration with the Palestinian Authority and terror-linked NGOs, to promote political warfare against and delegitimization of the Jewish state.
These activities directly feed into one-sided and false UN reporting on the conflict and bolster blatant attacks against Israel such as the current UNHRC Commission of Inquiry preparing to brand Israel with the apartheid and war crimes labels, through the International Criminal Court. These projects downplay and even erase Palestinian terrorism and incitement and are used to promote BDS and antisemitism. Several of the NGO partners, including one of the groups responsible for coordinating UN Humanitarian Country Team grants and advocacy, are closely tied to the PFLP terrorist organization. Just last week, I participated in 3 UN meetings where PLFP NGOs that partner with the UN on various projects promoted the apartheid slander and advocated for BDS and other punitive measures against Israel. Notably almost none, if any, of the UN’s Palestinian NGO partners supports the Middle East Peace Process and the UN policy of two states for two peoples.
It is also critical to note that this political warfare could not take place without the generous funding and partnership of these UN/NGO projects by the EU and many European governments. Europe contributes hundreds of millions of euros annually to activities that delegitimize the country and prolong the conflict. In the more than 20 years that this money has flowed into UNRWA and other UN-NGO projects, far from promoting peace, co-existence, and laying the groundwork for a functional Palestinian state and civil society, these activities have shown few positive and demonstrable results. As we have heard, Palestinian incitement and terrorism, anti-normalization, and rejectionism remain the dominant ethos.
In addition, in closely documenting UN-NGO partnerships and EU and European government funding, we have seen that transparency regarding these activities has actively decreased. Rather than removing terror affiliates from the system, UN databases have become more opaque and now often hide the groups they are working with, shielding their activities from public accountability. In addition, we note the increase in defamatory attacks on our organization by UN officials and funders of UN projects because we have dared to expose this massive abuse of taxpayer funds.
I will now highlight some specific examples.
The UN architecture here functions uniquely and this is a result of the overtly political and partisan nature of its activities and its choice of NGO partners. This political activity is expressly documented in the $1.3 billion 5-year UN Development Assistance Framework between 21 UN agencies and the PA to cover activities through 2022. The number one strategic objective in the UNDAF is not humanitarian but rather political, by “holding Israel to account” and “strengthening Palestine’s international status”. And the first part of this strategy is that “Human rights mechanisms are increasingly engaged to hold Israel accountable for its obligations under international law” – in other words attacking Israel at the UN and other international institutions.
Similarly, in December 2021, the UN released its Humanitarian Country Plan outlining $500 million in activities for 2022. The number one strategic objective in this plan is “holding duty bearers to account” aka lawfare against Israeli officials and other demonization and delegitimization campaigns. Almost $48 million is allocated for this advocacy. Shockingly, the Plan includes continuing grants and activities with the UAWC and HWC – PFLP affiliates and designated as terrorist organizations by the government. Multiple individuals from these NGOs are currently standing trial for the murder of 17-year old Rena Schnerb in 2019; others have plead guilty to membership in the PFLP and for diverting humanitarian funding to the terror group. Despite these illegal and immoral activities, the UN expressly incorporates them into its work in the region going forward.
Another UN-sponsored political warfare project is the :children and armed conflict NGO working group.” Headed by UNICEF, this working group includes UNRWA, other UN agencies, and several NGOs including PFLP affiliates. This Working Group compiles a so-called database of alleged violations by the IDF against children. The ultimate goal is to have Israel included on a Secretary General’s blacklist of entities that commit grave violations against children that triggers sanctions. Currently the list is made up of terror groups and armies of failed states. When I showed evidence of PFLP connections of some of the NGO partners and that children were present at their PFLP events to UNICEF officials, they were indifferent. They said that they were only barred from working with terror groups on the UN designated terror list. As you are aware, because of the institution’s hostility towards Israel, the UN refuses to designate any Palestinian terror groups.
All of these activities are documented on our website and I am happy to answer questions now or provide more specific details to those who are interested.
In conclusion, it is vital that the Knesset is taking a closer look at UN activities in the region. This inquiry must not end with UNRWA but be expanded to look at the work of all agencies operating here. The government should press UN officials to end their collaboration with PFLP- and other terror affiliated organizations. Israel is entitled to demand answers not only from the UN but from the EU and other governments that are paying for these destructive activities.