Congress Wants to Defund the U.N.’s Anti-Semitic Palestinian Refugee Agency

Rep. Chip Roy (Getty Images)
February 24, 2023

Republicans in Congress are working to defund the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency, which allows terrorist groups to store weapons in its facilities and distributes educational materials that advocate for Israel’s destruction.

Legislation circulating in the House and Senate would freeze more than half a billion dollars in U.S. taxpayer assistance to the U.N.’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

The legislation—spearheaded by Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member James Risch (R., Idaho) and Rep. Chip Roy (R., Texas)—would block further resources to the group until the Biden administration can certify to Congress that UNRWA has implemented reforms that include cutting relations with terror groups and washing its educational materials of anti-Israel agitprop.

"UNRWA has a long history of employing people connected to terrorist movements like Hamas, promoting anti-Semitic textbooks, and using its schools to store Hamas weapons," Risch said in a statement provided to the Washington Free Beacon. "It is unthinkable that U.S. taxpayer dollars would be used to help fund such an organization. This legislation will cease U.S. contributions to UNRWA unless the administration certifies that the agency is not affiliated with U.S. designated foreign terrorist organizations and does not support anti-Semitic rhetoric."

The legislation, which failed to pass last Congress, is likely to receive wide Republican backing in both the House and Senate, though the Biden administration is certain to balk at efforts that would disrupt its diplomacy with the Palestinian government.

After the Biden administration approved $150 million in aid for the group in 2021, the State Department determined in a non-public report to Congress that UNRWA incites violence against Jews and allows armed Palestinian militant factions to use its facilities. While these infractions breach funding guidelines set forth by the United States and were frozen during the Trump administration, the Biden administration sent another $680 million in aid in 2022. Already, $50 million has been approved for the group in 2023.

UNRWA has been a diplomatic flashpoint for some time due to its relationship with Palestinian terrorists. UNRWA’s educational resources—which are used to teach scores of Palestinian children—are routinely found to contain "material that encourages jihad, violence and martyrdom, promotes anti-Semitism, and promotes hate, intolerance, and lack of neutrality," according to an Israeli watchdog group.

In order for the United States to keep providing UNRWA money, the State Department would have to certify every 180 days that the organization does not have ties to terror groups, has not engaged in terrorist activity, and has not disseminated anti-Israel or anti-Semitic materials, according to the legislation.

The United States must also certify that "no UNRWA facility has been used by a foreign terrorist organization or as a tunnel for terrorist activities." This requirement is meant to address the use of UNRWA facilities by Hamas terrorists to store missiles and build underground tunnels into Israel that can be used to conduct terror operations. Another requirement would require the administration to certify that UNRWA does not employ anyone tied to a terror faction.

"UNRWA has failed to meet previous commitments to stop its hostility towards Israel, and it is an obstacle to peace," Roy said in a statement provided to the Free Beacon. "Israel is one of our greatest allies and closest friends; we cannot say we truly stand with them while helping prop up a corrupt organization like this. If our actions do not match our words, then our word means nothing."

There are few signs that UNRWA is attempting to implement reforms. The State Department in 2022 found hundreds of examples in which the organization was involved in "armed incursions," "the use of weapons in or near facilities," and the construction of at least two tunnels under its schools that enabled terrorists to move weapons and personnel, according to a report submitted to Congress.