Israel Tried To Warn Biden Admin About UNRWA. A Top US Official Declined the Meeting, Emails Show.

USAID head Samantha Power declined meeting with Israeli ambassador Gilad Erdan during 2021 Hamas conflict

Samantha Power (cropped from Ali Moustafa/Getty Images)
April 24, 2024

When Israel's ambassador was denied a meeting with the Biden administration in May 2021, he was looking to raise concerns about American funding to the United Nations' Palestinian aid agency, whose employees went on to participate in Hamas's Oct. 7 terror strike last year, internal government emails show.

Samantha Power, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), declined to take a meeting with Gilad Erdan, then the Israeli ambassador to the United States, when the Jewish state was locked in its 2021 conflict with Hamas, the Washington Free Beacon reported in February, citing internal USAID emails.

A new tranche of scheduling memos from that time shows that Power personally declined to meet with Erdan until the war with Hamas was over. The memos also show Power's staff warned her that the Israeli ambassador would likely raise concerns about the Biden administration's decision to restart funding to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The agency has been engulfed in controversy since reports showed that several of its employees helped Hamas kill more than 1,200 Jews.

The memos indicate that Israel was attempting to warn the Biden administration about UNRWA's links to Hamas and signal concern with the aid group's employment of individuals affiliated with the terror group. The United States restarted millions of dollars in taxpayer funding for UNRWA just weeks before Erdan requested the meeting with Power and the 2021 conflict with Hamas broke out.

In the previously unreported scheduling memo, Power says she wants to defer the meeting until Israel inks a ceasefire with Hamas, a move that increased pressure on the Jewish state to scale back its military operations in the Gaza Strip. The Biden administration has employed similar tactics in recent months as it again attempts to pressure Israel into ending its war on Hamas and begin pumping millions of aid dollars into the war torn Gaza Strip.

"Let's revert after Gaza war (not before)," Power wrote in the margins of the memo prepared by her staff, who had recommended she take the meeting.

The memo informed Power that the Israeli ambassador may "voice concerns about [U.S. government] support for UNRWA," which could have contributed to the USAID leader's hesitance to discuss the issue.

Power's staffers eventually informed their colleagues in the region that the meeting would not take place.

"The Administrator [Power] would like to take the meeting with the Ambassador but wants to hold until there is a ceasefire or resolution to the currently [sic] escalation of the conflict," a scheduler in Power's office wrote in a May 18 email.

That note, as well as the scheduling memo, was produced through a Freedom and Information Act request and provided to the Free Beacon by the Center to Advance Security in America (CASA), a government watchdog group.

CASA director James Fitzpatrick said the memo indicates the Biden administration did not want to address Israel's concerns about UNRWA at a time when it was just starting to pour millions into the aid group's coffers.

"Given that it has since been uncovered that UNWRA employees were involved in the Hamas attack on innocent Israeli citizens, it is extremely disturbing that Ambassador Erdan's concerns were not addressed in a timely manner by USAID and Power," Fitzpatrick told the Free Beacon. "The administration's priority should be meeting and conferring with our allies about their concerns, whenever possible, not putting conditions on meetings when they are responding to terrorist attacks."

Power played a central role in restarting American funding to UNRWA, which was frozen under the Trump administration because of the aid group's anti-Israel bias and suspected links to Hamas.

Israel has been a vocal opponent of this funding, publicly and privately pushing the Biden administration to reconsider its financial support for UNRWA, which has totaled millions in recent years.

The United States froze UNRWA funding earlier this year, after it became clear that around a dozen of the aid group's employees participated in the Oct. 7 attacks. Israel estimates that around 10 percent of UNRWA's workforce is affiliated with Hamas.

Amid the funding freeze, the State Department has continued to work with UNRWA, saying the U.N. agency serves a "critical role" delivering aid in the Gaza Strip. Power said in February that the Biden administration "will not be abandoning UNRWA."

USAID's global funding initiatives have also been plagued by poor oversight.

The agency funneled nearly $1 million "to a terror charity in Gaza involved with the son of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh," a watchdog group reported earlier this month.

USAID has faced Republican pressure in Congress for awarding taxpayer funds to groups with alleged ties to terrorism. The agency's inspector general is reportedly investigating claims that at least $110,000 in funds were sent to a charity tied to Pakistani militant groups.