Lawmakers Call for Immediate Freeze on U.S. Funding to Palestinian Refugee Agency

A UNRWA office in the Gaza Strip (Said Khatib/AFP via Getty Images)
April 22, 2021

A group of 21 Republican senators is pressing the Biden administration to immediately cut U.S. funding to the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency, citing its anti-Israel bias and ties to regional terror groups.

In a letter sent Thursday to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the senators, led by Jim Risch (R., Idaho), slam the Biden administration for allocating $150 million in aid to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides educational and humanitarian services to Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. American funding to UNRWA was frozen in 2018 by the Trump administration after it determined the agency's anti-Semitic and anti-Israel agenda was too toxic to pay for.

The Biden administration moved almost immediately after taking office to restart funding to UNRWA, money that was allocated with no strings attached. Risch, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and his colleagues are pressuring the State Department to freeze these funds until the agency implements a series of reforms, including cutting ties with terror groups and erasing anti-Semitism and extremism from its lesson plans.

"We are concerned that this administration's decision to resume U.S. assistance to UNRWA was made in haste, without any actionable attempt to secure much-needed and meaningful reforms of the agency," the lawmakers write in the letter, which was signed by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.), Bill Hagerty (R., Tenn.), Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), and Rick Scott (R., Fla.), among others.

The Washington Free Beacon first reported last week that UNRWA continues to mainstream anti-Semitism in the classroom even though it has promised not to. Undercover videos taken by a watchdog group during the last year show UNRWA teachers promoting violence against Israel and using educational materials that call for the Jewish state's destruction. The findings, captured by the Center for Near East Policy Research, an Israeli investigative group, were presented last month to a bipartisan gathering of congressional staffers.

The Biden administration should have not resumed funding before first extracting promises from UNRWA that it would implement widespread reforms, according to the senators. Their concerns include the agency's hiring of "individuals affiliated with Hamas" and promotion of "material that is anti-Semitic, such as encouraging the destruction of the state of Israel and supporting martyrdom and/or violent jihad."

"It is troubling that these issues regarding the impartiality of UNRWA, including its education system, have yet to be sufficiently addressed despite this administration's decision to restore U.S. funding," they write.

Before American taxpayer funds reach UNRWA, the administration should verify that the aid agency is not hiring employees who are affiliated with Hamas, Hezbollah, or any other terrorist group, according to the senators. The United States also should require independent verification that UNRWA textbooks are free from "extremist and anti-Semitic content."

The State Department should also implement a policy that automatically freezes American aid to UNRWA if its facilities continue to be used by terrorist groups to house weapons and conduct terror operations, according to the demands set forth in the letter.