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Employee at USAID Contractor Celebrated Terrorist Attack Against Israeli Civilians

'The news is sweeter than a tray of knafeh [dessert] after iftar,' tweeted Rawan Abu-Salhieh

Israeli security and medical personnel secure the scene of an attack in Tel Aviv, Israel on March 29 / Reuters
• April 12, 2022 4:59 am

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Just hours after news broke that a Palestinian terrorist gunned down several Israeli civilians last week, an employee for one of the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) top contractors took to Twitter to celebrate the attack.

"The news is sweeter than a tray of knafeh [dessert] after iftar," tweeted Rawan Abu-Salhieh, who was working at the time as a Jordan-based employee for Proximity International—a prime contractor for USAID that is engaged in several projects that receive U.S. aid dollars. The April 7 terror attack in Tel Aviv killed three Israelis and left six wounded.

Abu-Salhieh routinely celebrates terror attacks on Israel and promotes accounts that encourage violence against Jews, according to a Washington Free Beacon review of her Twitter account. In one Twitter post from two weeks ago, Abu-Salhieh retweeted a graphic that praised a March 29 terror attack in Israel, stating, "shoot and don't have mercy" and describing the assailant as a "heroic martyr." At least a dozen other tweets and retweets contain similar rhetoric in support of terrorism against Israel. Abu-Salhieh deleted her account last week after her comments came under scrutiny from regional observers. Abu-Salhieh's public LinkedIn profile also disappeared shortly after Free Beacon inquiries about her posts; and a Proximity official said she no longer works for the organization, though she was employed when some of her most controversial tweets were published.

Abu-Salhieh's role at an organization that receives U.S. government funding is renewing concerns about USAID's vetting process, which was cited by a government watchdog group in 2021 for its failure to ensure that grantees are not tied to terrorism. Former USAID officials told the Free Beacon that the agency turns a blind eye to contractors that have ties to terrorism and employees who support it. They say this failure to perform oversight work on grant recipients endangers the foreign aid system and allows taxpayer funds to enrich Israel's detractors.

"When someone like the woman who has been flagged is working on a variety of different USAID contracts, the onus is on USAID to actively vet," Bonnie Glick, former deputy administrator at USAID during the Trump administration, told the Free Beacon. "The vetting of key staff should disqualify the contract or grant recipient if they have key personnel who are acting in ways that are anathema to USAID's values."

Proximity International's CEO, Courtney Brown, condemned Abu-Salhieh's rhetoric when reached for comment by the Free Beacon and disclosed that she is no longer an employee of the organization, though she was at the time several of her most controversial tweets were posted. Brown said her departure from the organization was in motion prior to the Free Beacon‘s inquiries, but due to the company's human resources policies, would not disclose the reasons she parted ways with Proximity.

"Proximity International is actively working to promote peace in the Middle East and around the world," Brown said. "We were founded to amplify the voices of individuals and marginalized people groups believing those voices are foundational to achieving peace in the turbulent contexts in which we work. The views of the individual, whether Proximity employee or not, are not shared by us nor do they reflect the values we hold as an organization."

A USAID spokesman confirmed that Proximity is a partner implementing programs as part of its Accountability and Research Team (ART), which performs research and analysis work for USAID's stabilization projects in Syria. USAID, the spokesman said, does not directly employ Abu-Salhieh, but is "in contact with Proximity International and looking into this to ensure appropriate administrative actions are taken. The U.S. government considers expressions of support for violence reprehensible."

The United States, the official added, "stands resolutely against the terrorism and senseless violence of recent weeks. USAID finds any expressions of support for this violence completely reprehensible. USAID remains committed to working with partners across the region to ensure both Israelis and Palestinians enjoy equal measures of security, freedom, and prosperity."

Abu-Salhieh's defunct LinkedIn page showed she worked for a handful of organizations that have received money through USAID’s funding channels. She has been employed with Proximity International for more than a year, during which time she tweeted and retweeted several posts encouraging violence against Jews.

Proximity has documented its work as a prime contractor for USAID, and as recently as 2020 wrote about the process by which it receives government funds. The company is currently seeking employees to carry out a range of USAID funded projects in Syria, and other areas, according to its website, which lists at least 15 openings.

A May 2021 post from Abu-Salhieh appeared to mock an incident in which bleachers collapsed beneath a group of Orthodox Israeli Jews during a synagogue celebration, leaving two people dead and several injured. "Glory to God, even the ground can't hold them up," Abu-Salhieh wrote.

Abu-Salhieh's support for terrorism stretches back to at least 2015, when she retweeted photos of an Israeli stabbing victim with a caption that states: "May God not heal you and may our Lord defend the operative." A 2016 posting appeared to endorse a terror shooting that killed four Israelis ("News that makes the heart happy"). She also retweeted an account that applauded the deaths of several Jews who were trampled during a 2021 Jewish celebration ("May God take all of them and rid the Earth of them").

Abu-Salhieh also appeared to support the European Union's 2014 decision to remove Hamas from its terrorism list, writing, "Hope this will change something."

In addition to these postings, Abu-Salhieh tweeted photos at USAID events and posing with agency personnel. Last week, she posted a job opening for a USAID-funded project in Syria on her now-deleted LinkedIn Page.

Glick said the onus is on USAID to vet the contractors and employees who receive American funding to perform work overseas. In most cases, the agency acts as a pass-through for government funding and is responsible for those with which it partners.

"All key personnel who pass vetting should know that all members of their teams are also subject to vetting and must all represent USAID's values and mission," Glick said. "If an implementing partner is out of sync with USAID values and out of sync with USAID's mission, which never includes efforts to incite violence against Israel or Israelis, the partnership is subject to cancellation."

USAID has been dogged by accusations it does not properly vet its partners for ties to terrorism. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the federal government's oversight group, cited the organization in 2021 for faults in its vetting process that allowed taxpayer funds to make their way to organizations tied to terrorism.

From 2015 to 2019, USAID failed to ensure that taxpayer funds did not benefit organizations tied to terrorism, the GAO report states. While it did check its primary grantees for such ties, the agency "did not consistently ensure" that awards these entities made to others, known as subawards, were compliant with "antiterrorism requirements," according to the GAO's findings.

Published under: Israel, Terrorism, USAID