A LIVELY Opinion published in last week’s Intermountain Jewish News has garnered calls for boycott from a top advocate for Palestinian refugees.
The op-ed by Bassem Eid, “As a proud Palestinian, I say: Palestinians must reform UNRWA,” was based on remarks the author planned to deliver at a special presentation hosted by the Henry Jackson Society at the British Parliament on Dec. 4.
The opinion piece, which was critical of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, was first published in the Jerusalem Post. Its publication has elicited calls for a boycott of that newspaper by the UNRWA spokesman, Chris Gunness.
Gunness took rapidly to Twitter, where he called the op-ed “anti-UNRWA garbage” and urged his followers to “Boycott the Jpost! don’t read their lies.”
He also called the Jerusalem Post “ultra right,” the op-ed “rabid” and singled out editor-in-chief Steve Linde for censure.
“The call to boycott our newspaper by a senior staff member of a UN body is unbecoming,” said Linde. “It is an unacceptable breach of protocol and neutrality [Gunness] is supposed to uphold.”
A Post editorial in response to Gunness’ calls for a boycott said, “While unabashedly pro-Zionist, the Post regularly festures writers with diverse political opinions.
“We are open to publishing op-ed in our pages by Palestinians and Israelis from across the political spectrum.”
The editorial also criticized Gunness for failing to speak out against discrimination in the Gaza Strip, where UNRWA is an influential political and social player.
EID’S CRITIQUES of UNRWA focused on five key areas. He called for:
- Auditing UNRWA, which operates with a billion dollar plus budget;
- Introducing the standards of the UN High Commission for Refugees, namely, encouraging permanent settlement among Palestinians living outside of Gaza and the West Bank.
UNRWA defines Palestine refugees as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” The definition extends to male descendants of the original refugees and also includes individuals who have gained citizenship elsewhere.
- Canceling aspects of the UNRWA curriculum, namely, those focused based on principles of jihad. UNRWA adopts local curriculums formulated by host countries and has been criticized heavily for teaching anti-Israel hate in its schools.
- Demanding that UNRWA schools conform to the UNRWA slogan, “Peace starts here.”
- Dismissing UNRWA employees affiliated with Hamas, for example educators who are members of the teachers’ union, which is controlled in Gaza by Hamas.
UNRWA HAS come under increasing criticism for its lack of neutrality and adoption of a political role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Gunness has described UNRWA in the past as “A stakeholder in the outcomes of any peace process. . . the agency could serve as a facilitator and advisor to refugees.”
Rocket caches were discovered on three occasions in UNRWA schools during the Gaza war in July, 2014.
A UN spokesman said they had spoken to Gunness who told them he was not calling for a boycott against a media outlet, but objecting to a single article. UNRWA has not commented on Gunness’ tweet.
The US is UNRWA’s single largest donor. In 2013 the US gave the organization $213 million.
UN Watch, a Geneva-based NGO monitoring the UN and specifically the UN Human Rights Council, wrote a letter to the American ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, on Dec. 9 asking her to hold UNRWA and Gunness to account.