Lawmakers Press Biden To Pull Support for Incoming Red Cross Leader

Pierre Krähenbühl led UNRWA, known to employ Hamas affiliates, for five years

Pierre Krähenbühl (Diario de Madrid/Wikimedia Commons)
March 29, 2024

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers is pressing the Biden administration to pull support for Pierre Krähenbühl's appointment as the next leader of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), citing his "troubled tenure" at the helm of the U.N. Palestinian aid group now known to employ scores of Hamas militants.

Krähenbühl is slated to take the ICRC's reigns on April 1 after spending five years leading the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a Gaza Strip-based humanitarian group that employed more than a dozen individuals who participated in Hamas's Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel. At least 10 percent of UNRWA's workforce, or around 1,200 employees, are believed to be affiliated with Hamas, with some using the aid group's facilities to plan attacks and store weapons.

"Mr. Krahenbuhl's tenure at UNRWA disqualifies him for this role, especially at a time when ICRC's impartiality is under question for its posture toward the Israel-Hamas war," the lawmakers, led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), wrote in a letter sent earlier this week to the State Department and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "Under Mr. Krahenbuhl's leadership, however, UNRWA employees displayed a clear bias against the State of Israel as he tolerated a climate of antisemitism and incitement."

"We've begun the necessary work to hold UNRWA accountable for its alliance with terrorism and the myriad ways it systematically betrayed its mission," Issa told the Free Beacon. "That means senior personnel who failed to correct course have no business being handed the reins of the ICRC."

The letter comes amid mounting concerns from lawmakers in Congress and outside advocacy groups about Krähenbühl's neutrality and history of scandal while serving as UNRWA’s leader. A 2019 U.N. investigation into  "sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination, and other abuses of authority for personal gain" at UNRWA under Krähenbühl's leadership found evidence he had "serious managerial issues." This finding led the United Nations to place him on administrative leave before he ultimately resigned from the post.

Questions about Krähenbühl's ability to lead the Red Cross, which has ramped up its aid operations in Gaza in the months since Hamas launched its war, are also being raised at a time when the Red Cross is facing allegations of anti-Israel bias. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Red Cross earlier this year of failing to provide medicine to Israeli hostages held captive by Hamas.

"Given the vast scope of Mr. Krahenbuhl's problematic tenure at UNRWA, and the ICRC's need to reestablish impartiality with respect to Israel, we believe that his demonstrated lack of discretion and impartiality makes him thoroughly unqualified to assume the leadership role of the ICRC," the lawmakers wrote. "With this in mind, we urge you to use your roles to persuade the ICRC to reconsider this appointment."

They also want the State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a Red Cross partner, to provide them with information about any steps they take to pressure the Red Cross into reconsidering Krähenbühl's appointment.

The lawmakers also provide evidence that the Palestinian Authority "devoted 'an enormous amount of time and money' toward developing a curriculum which centered on jihad, antisemitism, and hate" for UNRWRA schools.

UNRWA, the lawmakers say, "accepted [the authority's] radical content 'without changing a line,'" resulting in at least 100 Hamas terrorists who were educated by the aid group in Gaza to participate in the terror group's raid on Israel.

Additionally, "UNRWA's Gaza staff regularly posted antisemitic content and called for violence against Jews" while Krähenbühl was in charge, according to the lawmakers. "Employees reporting to Mr. Krahenbuhl also demonstrated disturbing anti-Israel biases in their official capacities."

Toby Dershowitz, the managing director of FDD Action, a nonpartisan advocacy organization affiliated with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, said Krähenbühl's time at UNRWA proves the prospective Red Cross leader is unfit to helm another aid group working in Gaza.

"Krahenbuhl's tenure at UNRWA was filled with controversy, alleged corruption, anti-Semitism and reportedly mismanagement of funds as well," Dershowitz said. "On his watch, Hamas built terror tunnels underneath UNRWA facilities, and UNRWA used Hamas's playbook in its curriculum."

Congress, she said, "is right to call out Mr. Krahenbuhl's record and to urge that he not be permitted to take the helm of the ICRC."

Update 1:04 p.m.: This piece has been updated since publication to correct Toby Dershowitz's title. She is the managing director of FDD Action.