US Taxpayer-Funded Official Speaks Before Hamas-Tied Terror Group

UNRWA spokesman delivered speech in front of group designated as terrorist organization

Chris Gunness / Twitter
October 29, 2015

A senior official with a U.S.-funded United Nations organization has come under scrutiny for delivering a speech this week before an anti-Israel organization that has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. Treasury Department for providing funds to the terror group Hamas.

Chris Gunness, spokesman for the U.S. taxpayer-funded UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), which operates Palestinian refugee camps known for promoting terrorism against Israel, delivered a speech earlier this week before Interpal, a UK-based charity organization, which is listed as a specially designated global terrorist organization for funneling money to Hamas.

Gunness’ appearance fueled accusations by many in the pro-Israel community that UNRWA is a biased organization that abuses the more than $200 million it receives annually from the United States.

UNRWA employees, including teachers at its Palestinian schools and others, have been caught making anti-Semitic statements, promoting hatred of the Jewish state, and accused of participating in terrorist training.

Gunness’s appearance before the Hamas-tied organization comes amid an effort on Capitol Hill to suspend UNRWA’s funding and hold it accountable for its ties to terror groups and incitement against Israel.

While UNRWA did not promote the event, pictures of Gunness speaking before Interpal appeared on Twitter earlier this week.

Gunness talked "about little Mohammad, who was blinded when an Israeli shell hit his home in July 2014," according to a tweet by Interpal.

Another user noted that the "UNRWA man tells the story of a child who froze to death [because] of slow pace of reconstruction in Gaza."

When asked about the event, Gunness directed UNRWA’s Washington, D.C., spokesman to submit a statement to the Washington Free Beacon.

"UNRWA Spokesman Chris Gunness spoke at an event in the UK Parliament sponsored and attended by British Members of Parliament about a project supported by a legally registered UK charity to help approximately 300 blind and visually impaired Palestinian children in Gaza in need of special assistance," UNRWA spokesman Chris McGrath told the Free Beacon.

While Interpal remains legal in the UK, it was designated by the United States as a terrorist organization in 2003.

"Interpal, headquartered in the UK, has been a principal charity utilized to hide the flow of money to HAMAS," according to the Treasury Department’s findings. "Reporting indicates it is the conduit through which money flows to HAMAS from other charities, e.g., the Al Aqsa Foundation, and that it oversees the activities of other charities."

"Reporting also indicates that Interpal is the fundraising coordinator of HAMAS, a coordination point for other HAMAS-affiliated charities," according to Treasury. "This role is of the type that includes supervising activities of charities, developing new charities in targeted areas, instructing how funds should be transferred from one charity to another, and even determining public relations policy."

"In the US, Interpal is listed as an organization involved in funding terror, and their ties with Hamas are well known and documented in detail," said Gerald M. Steinberg, president of the watchdog group NGO Monitor. "So INTERPAL's hosting of UNRWA's spokesman, Chris Gunness, is another reason for a full investigation of the UN organization and its employees."

"This agenda highlights the urgency of ending all funding for UNRWA, particularly the hundreds of millions provided every year by American, European, Canadian and Australian taxpayers," Steinberg said.

Gunness’s appearance before the organization prompted questions during Tuesday’s State Department briefing. Spokesman John Kirby declined to address the questions and would not say whether the Obama administration was concerned with this behavior.

Asked Wednesday to further address Gunness’ actions, State Department spokesperson Julia Mason told the Free Beacon that administration officials have repeatedly emphasized to UNRWA that it must strive to remain "free from bias."

"We have seen the reports on this event, though we did not attend," Mason said. "We understand that the UNRWA spokesperson attended an event at the British Parliament to benefit wounded Palestinian children, hosted by several of its members."

"We have long made known our commitment to UNRWA’s absolutely essential work in helping Palestinian refugees—including many refugee children," she added. "And we have made clear our position that UNRWA must be able to work independently and free from bias."

The State Department "regularly" discusses with UNRWA "the importance of maintaining the organization’s neutrality," Mason said. "That includes raising concerns regarding any engagements with U.S.-designated terrorist organizations."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.) filed legislation this week that would cut off U.S. funding to UNRWA as a result of concerns that the organization is promoting terrorism.

The bill would withhold U.S. contributions to UNRWA until officials can certify that no employees of the organization have ties to terrorism or anti-Semitic incitement.

UNRWA also would be forced to submit to an independent audit meant to determine if it is diverting funds to terrorist entities.

"In response to the increased terror and violence in Israel, we must hold those who are responsible for inciting this violence accountable and that includes UNRWA," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.

"The U.S. can’t continue to send $400 million to UNRWA while ignoring the systemic and endemic anti-Israel, anti-Semitic bias and the blatant incitement to violence we see from its employees," the lawmaker said. "UNRWA employees and facilities are consistently tied to foreign terrorist organizations and a full accounting of the agency’s affiliations should be required before another dime is spent on this divisive organization."

UN officials were recently forced to suspend several UNRWA employees after it was revealed by the NGO Monitor organization that they had sought to promote anti-Semitic violence. Several teachers at UNRWA-run schools promoted terrorist attacks against Israelis, according to NGO Monitor’s findings.