FLASHBACK: Congressional Dems Defend UN’s Anti-Semitic Palestinian Relief Agency

Agency-funded schools have glorified terrorism and encouraged martyrdom, according to a report

Palestinian children attend a class at the UNRWA elementary school in Shati refugee camp in Gaza City
Palestinian children attend a class at the UNRWA elementary school in Gaza City (AP)
October 19, 2023

Dozens of congressional Democrats in 2018 urged the U.S. government to reinstate funding for the United Nations' refugee agency in Gaza, which is known for sympathizing with terror groups and indoctrinating local children with anti-Semitic curriculum.

After the Trump administration in 2018 pulled funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), calling the agency "irredeemably flawed," an array of top House and Senate Democrats petitioned the administration to reverse the decision. While those Democrats—including Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Reps. Pramila Jaypala (Wash.), Ted Lieu (Calif.), and Mark Pocan (Wis.)—claimed that the aid was needed to combat extremism in Gaza and elsewhere, UNRWA has in many cases been a driving force of that extremism.

An independent watchdog in March, for example, found that the agency funds Palestinian schools that "regularly call to murder Jews and create teaching materials that glorify terrorism, encourage martyrdom, demonize Israelis, and incite anti-Semitism." According to the report, 133 of the agency's staffers were also "found to promote hate and violence on social media" by praising terrorist attacks on Israel and expressing support for terror group Hamas. Evidence has also emerged since Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel that UNRWA aid has gone to the group's terrorists—the agency on Sunday indicated that Hamas members in Gaza stole fuel and medical supplies meant for the general public. While the agency later walked back the claim, U.N. officials cited in the Times of Israel said the incident occurred.

The widespread push from congressional Democrats to reinstate UNRWA aid—and largely ignore the agency's terror ties—reflects the left's alignment with top anti-Israel groups and actors. In addition to UNRWA, dozens of Democratic congressional members in 2019 privately issued letters of support to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an anti-Israel advocacy group that is now blaming the Jewish state for the Hamas terror attacks that killed more than 1,400 Israelis, including women and children. That attack, the council said, stemmed from the "Israeli government's apartheid policies" and other "root causes of Mideast violence."

Markey, Murphy, Brown, Jayapal, Lieu, and Pocan did not return requests for comment. In total, 102 House Democrats and 34 Senate Democrats signed letters urging the Trump administration to reinstate UNRWA aid in 2018. Those letters argued that withholding funds could "worsen the humanitarian crisis" and "spark an uprising." One letter, led by Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.), specifically cited UNRWA-funded schools, saying the lack of funds would be "devastating" for those schools and their attendees.

Congressional Democrats eventually got their wish in 2021, when the Biden administration approved a $150 million payment to the UNRWA, with hundreds of millions of dollars to follow in 2022 and 2023. While the agency, which did not return a request for comment, pledged to remove anti-Semitism from its textbooks, a 2022 report found that those books still contained incitement to violence against Israel. The agency last year moved to hide educational materials from its online portal.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, has expressed concern that its resumption of aid in Gaza could help terror groups such as Hamas. A March 2021 internal State Department memo, which was obtained by the Washington Free Beacon earlier this year, cited a "high risk" that Hamas and other terror groups "could potentially derive indirect, unintentional benefit from U.S. assistance to Gaza."

"Notwithstanding this risk, State believes it is in our national security interest to provide assistance in the West Bank and Gaza to support the foreign policy objectives," the memo said.