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‘Unacceptable’: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders Slam Decision to Pause UNRWA Funding

Progressive lawmakers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders demanded the U.S. restore funding for UNRWA — the UN agency dedicated to Palestinian refugees — after the State Department paused certain funding for it due to allegations some of its members took part in Hamas’s October 7 terrorist attack.

The congresswoman reacted to the decision to pause funding on X, writing “Cutting off support to @UNRWA – the primary source of humanitarian aid to 2 million+ Gazans – is unacceptable. Among an organization of 13,000 UN aid workers, risking the starvation of millions over grave allegations of 12 is indefensible. The US should restore aid immediately.”

Sanders agreed, releasing a statement reading: “Obviously, it’s not acceptable for any of the 13,000 UNRWA employees in Gaza to be involved with Hamas, and allegations against the 12 people charged must be investigated. However, we cannot allow millions to suffer because of the actions of 12 people. The U.S. and other countries must restore funding to stave off this humanitarian catastrophe.”

After Israel had presented evidence that 12 UNRWA employees, including teachers, took part in Hamas’s October 7 attack — doing everything from helping to abduct an Israeli to distributing ammunition to stealing a soldier’s body to infiltrating Israeli territory — more than a dozen countries paused funding to the agency. 

The State Department said in a statement: “The United States is extremely troubled by the allegations that twelve UNRWA employees may have been involved in the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel.  The Department of State has temporarily paused additional funding for UNRWA while we review these allegations and the steps the United Nations is taking to address them.”

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that approximately 10 percent of UNRWA employees are linked with terrorist groups such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad. With a staff of about 12,000, it means the estimate is that around 1,200 UNRWA employees in Gaza are terrorist-linked. Among male employees, 23 percent are believed to have ties to terrorist groups — which is higher than the general male population. 

Democratic Majority for Israel wrote that the revelation demonstrates a “complete disregard for the UN principle of neutrality” and that “UNWRA is an obstacle to major peace that requires the top-to-bottom reform”

Additionally, about half of UNRWA employees are estimated to have a close relative who is part of such terrorist groups — and a telegram group of 3,000 UNRWA employees was recently found by UN Watch to have celebrated Hamas’s October 7 attack.

The additional information suggests the problem is much more widespread than Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders let on when explaining their stances.

Many of Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders’s colleagues disagreed with their assessment. Republican Senator Pete Ricketts from Nebraska wrote “The time to permanently ban U.S. taxpayer funding of UNRWA is NOW. When Biden took office, he reversed Trump’s policy ending UNRWA aid. Since then, Biden has given UNRWA more than $730 million. Not a penny more! We must pass @SenatorTimScott and my Stop Support for Hamas Act.”

However, others claim that cutting off funding to an organization that provides such a significant portion of aid to Palestinians qualifies as collective punishment — especially at a time when millions face food insecurity, displacement, and lack of access to medical care.

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Talk of Gaza Ceasefire Continues as Israel Strikes Hamas Positions

Israeli soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip. Photo: Reuters/IDF Handout

Israeli forces carried out new air strikes in Gaza on Wednesday as Hamas studied a new proposal for a ceasefire and the release of hostages held in the Palestinian enclave seized following the Islamist organization’s pogrom of Oct. 7 in southern Israel, in which more than 1200 people were killed amid widespread atrocities.

Witnesses said Israel had stepped up air strikes on Gaza City in the north, and bombarded parts of Khan Younis in the south, despite what appeared to be the most serious peace initiative for months in the Israel-Hamas war.

World powers hope to prevent a wider conflict, but tensions in the Middle East remained high after Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels said they would keep attacking US and British warships in the Red Sea in solidarity with Palestinians.

Relations between Tehran and Washington are also tense after the deaths of three US soldiers in a drone strike in Jordan that American officials blamed on Iran-backed militants. Washington has not yet outlined its response, but Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said on Wednesday they would respond to any US threat.

The Gaza health authorities, which are entirely controlled by Hamas, said 26,900 Palestinians had been killed during Israel’s military response. No breakdown of military to civilian casualties has been issued, however.

A senior Hamas official told the Reuters news agency that the Gaza ceasefire proposal currently on the table involved a three-stage truce, during which Hamas would release the remaining civilians among hostages captured on Oct. 7, then soldiers, and finally the bodies of dead hostages. The civilian hostages would be freed over a six-week pause in fighting, in exchange for three times as many Palestinian security prisoners released from Israeli jails, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

The outline has been partly accepted in principle by Jerusalem and is being weighed by Hamas leaders, the report said, adding that even if the terror group accepts it, many hurdles remain and numerous details will have to be hammered out over some time — and major disagreements sure to come up will have to be overcome — before a deal can be struck.

The proposal followed talks in Paris involving intelligence chiefs from Israel, the US and Egypt, with the prime minister of Qatar.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated his vow not to pull troops out of Gaza until “total victory”.

Israel says it will not stop fighting until Hamas is eradicated. Hamas says it will release its remaining captives only as part of a wider deal to end the war permanently.


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Media Outlets Continue to Conceal the Appalling Truth About UNRWA

Palestinians pass by the gate of an UNRWA-run school in Nablus in the West Bank. Photo: Reuters/Abed Omar Qusini.

Following the release of evidence by Israel that Palestinian UNRWA employees took part in the Hamas massacre on October 7, most of the organization’s major donors have suspended funding to the Palestinian refugee agency.

The United States, UNRWA’s biggest donor, was the first to announce its decision to withdraw aid, in a statement that said officials were “extremely troubled” by the allegations that Palestinian agency workers participated in the kibbutz atrocities, kidnapped Israeli hostages, and helped coordinate the movement of weapons that were used in the attack.

According to a dossier handed over to the US State Department, at least 1,200 UNRWA employees were found to be members of either Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

When it comes to @Refugees, most are looked after by the UNHCR. However, Palestinians have their own agency, @UNRWA.

So what’s going on here?

— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) January 27, 2024

None of these revelations, however, will come as a surprise to anyone who’s a bit more clued up about UNRWA’s chequered history.

What we (and other organizations) have repeatedly demonstrated over the years, is how UNRWA is completely rotten to its core.

From UNRWA employees discovered to be members of terrorist groups, to teachers in its schools who encouraged students to murder Jews, and the agency’s facilities being used as terror bases, UNRWA has repeatedly shown that it is corrupt, inefficient, and, as the evidence indicates, exacerbating the plight of Palestinians.

Despite all of this — specifically, the disturbing truth about UNRWA being laid bare — a strange incredulity emerged among media outlets regarding the latest revelations. This was followed by a rush to either downplay the findings or engage in excessive handwringing about the potential consequences for Palestinians without UNRWA.

The BBC, for example, obscured the horrifying accusations against UNRWA that resulted in it being defunded, by referring to the situation as a “diplomatic storm” in the headline of a piece that suggested heartlessness by donor states that have removed the “lifesaving assistance on which two million Gazans rely…”

Indeed, the whole piece reads as a sort of press release for UNRWA, which is described in positively glowing terms as running Gaza’s “medical and educational facilities, including teacher training centres and almost 300 primary schools — as well as producing the textbooks that educate young Palestinians.”

While the BBC does reference some of UNRWA’s troubling history, it frames these issues as mere accusations from Israeli governments, which have “long denounced the agency’s teaching and textbooks for, in their view, perpetuating anti-Israel views.”

A note to the BBC: children’s textbooks that explicitly call for the genocide of Jews, encourage youngsters to become suicide bombers, and glorify Palestinian terrorists go beyond “perpetuating anti-Israel views.”

Is UNRWA finally facing a reckoning? Maybe.

The US has pulled funding and the UN Secretary-General is allegedly horrified, despite knowing UNRWA’s history. What happens next? We’ll have to wait and see, but we’re not holding our breath.

— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) January 27, 2024

The BBC also dismisses criticism of UNRWA as suggestive of the agency becoming “something of a political football” while its “very existence is criticised by Israel as entrenching the status of Palestinians as refugees, encouraging their continued hopes of a right of return to land from which they were driven in 1948 or during successive wars.”

Unsurprisingly, given its sympathetic tone, the piece fails to clarify that barely any of the 5.9 million Palestinians deemed “refugees” worldwide were actually alive in 1948. Additionally, it omits that UNRWA’s definition of refugee status diverges from all accepted definitions, being so broad that it allows inheritance of this status from parents and grandparents.

Likewise, Newsweek also steered its coverage away from the unmasking of UN workers as terrorists to focus on UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ plea for donors to carry on funding the organization on the grounds that humanitarian workers in the region “should not be penalized.”

While the piece quotes Guterres at length, including his praise of UNRWA’s Philippe Lazzarini, Newsweek doesn’t actually bother to go into any real detail about the latest allegations or any of the other claims made against UNWRA over the years.

The Guardian went even further, to emphasize how “outraged” aid agencies are at UNRWA’s defunding.

With no mention in the headline of what prompted the funding cut — details of which are buried toward the bottom of the story — the piece also ignores the many other accusations against UNRWA that stretch back years.

Meanwhile, Sky News’ Diplomatic Editor Dominic Waghorn was apparently so desperate to rehabilitate UNRWA’s image that he desperately attempted to discredit one of the journalists who wrote a Wall Street Journal exclusive that revealed some 10 percent of UNRWA’s 12,000 staff members in Gaza have links to terror groups.

Is the @cjkeller8 behind WSJ report that 10 percent of UNRWA staff have Islamist links the same Carrie Keller Lynn who served in the Israeli military and is a close friend of a pioneering IDF propagandist?

— Dominic Waghorn (@DominicWaghorn) January 30, 2024

UNRWA benefits from the halo effect. We’ve repeatedly observed how the media portray UNRWA as a paragon of virtue while simultaneously failing to scrutinize it as rigorously as they would any other organization receiving substantial public funding.

However, the incredulity displayed by numerous news outlets in response to the latest allegations is astonishing.

What more could it possibly take for UNRWA’s halo to finally fall in the eyes of the international media?

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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MSNBC: Four Months of Disinformation on Israel and Gaza War

An aerial view shows the bodies of victims of an attack following a mass infiltration by Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip lying on the ground in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, in southern Israel, Oct. 10, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ilan Rosenberg

Since the barbaric Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023 — an attack in which 1,200 women, children, and men were tortured, raped, and killed — MSNBC has churned out multiple biased reports. Mehdi Hasan’s recent departure from the network is a positive step, but it does not go far enough to address the problems there. Many of the network’s other commentators continue to distort events related to the war, which Hamas started.

CAMERA has examined nearly four months of MSNBC coverage. One common distortion we found was the presentation of Hamas casualty statistics without caveat, emphasizing the alleged number of civilian and child casualties, without noting that Hamas itself does not distinguish between civilian and combatant casualties. MSNBC has also presented these statistics without noting that Hamas recruits child soldiers; that some of those casualties have been caused by shortfalls of Palestinian rockets; that the numbers can’t be verified by any outside or unbiased source; and that the numbers of combatants the IDF claimed to have eliminated have not been subtracted from this number. Moreover, CAMERA noted at least two cases — NBC reporter Matt Bradley on January 25, and guest Kevin Baron on December 17 — in which MSNBC falsely characterized the entire Hamas-supplied casualty count as “civilians.”

Another recurring issue is the elevation of Jews who hold fringe positions and have limited credentials, such as Sarah Schulman, a fiction writer who teaches at the College of Staten Island and is an advisory board member of Jewish Voice for Peace (October 29); Daniel Levy, presented as an “Israeli peace negotiator,” but who never negotiated anything that was successful (December 14 and January 14); Masha Gessen, a staff writer at the New Yorker who has no particular expertise in the Middle East (December 17); Simone Zimmerman, co-founder of the fringe group IfNotNow (December 17); or even MSNBC’s own Peter Beinart. The vast, vast majority of both American and Israeli Jews support Israel in its defensive war against Hamas. But MSNBC presents such guests as if they hold expertise or authority, creating a false impression of a division in Jewish opinion about the war. Such individuals represent a tiny and extreme minority opinion at best, and are not representative of the Jewish community.

Perhaps most disturbingly, in two cases, we found that guests on the show had, functionally, called for the US to force Israel to surrender: Ilan Pappé on December 10 called on the US to “bring an end to the destruction of Gaza,” and Daniel Levy on January 14 called for the Biden administration to “use [its] leverage,” to curb Israel’s military campaign.

But another trend that we saw was an even more harmful form of misinformation by omission — specifically, minimizing or outright ignoring the 2005 Israeli withdrawal and complete disengagement from Gaza in order to blame Israel for the October 7 attack.

In 2005, Israel withdrew every single civilian and soldier from Gaza, leaving Gaza with a greenhouse agricultural business, a beautiful coastline for tourism, and the opportunity for the people to chart their own course for the future. In 2006, when the people of Gaza had the opportunity for freedom, and the opportunity to build a peaceful and prosperous society, they elected Hamas, a group dedicated to the destruction of Israel. On October 7, 2023, Hamas acted on that sentiment, starting the most recent war (it previously had started numerous others by attacking Israel in other ways). But in one segment after another, MSNBC commentators repeatedly ignored this, blaming Israel’s “siege” or “occupation” of Gaza, rather than the election of Hamas, for the October 7 attack as well as for the current war.

This first happened on October 9, just two days after the worst attack on Jews since the Holocaust. As previously noted by CAMERA, Joy Reid and her guests Peter Beinart, Ayman Mohyeldin, Ali Velshi, and Lt. General Stephen Twitty ignored Hamas’ dedication to genocidal violence against all Jews, as expressed in its charter and in its leaders’ rhetoric, omitted Israeli offers of Palestinian sovereignty and independence, and sought to imply that the carnage was inevitable due to Israel’s actions.

Reid did note that Israel withdrew from Gaza, and that subsequent to that withdrawal, Gaza elected Hamas, but she was either unable or unwilling to see the causal connection between the election of Hamas and Israel’s legal blockade of Gaza. Instead, she and her guests blamed Israel for the attack.

Later that month, on October 29, Sarah Schulman, as noted above, appeared as a guest on the network. She falsely claimed that, “for 75 years Palestinians have been murdered and displaced and incarcerated,” that “the conditions have been created that are completely untenable and they exploded,” and that “the violence is a consequence of the oppression,” even while insisting that she was not “excusing” Hamas’ attack. 

On November 19, guest Omar Baddar stated, “we are here in the first place precisely because Palestinians have been denied freedom for decade after decade.” His co-panelist Peter Beinart agreed, saying, “ultimately, it’s only if Palestinians have a path to freedom, and they can see that ethical resistance, not what happened on October 7, but an ethical fight for freedom, is working, that’s the only way ultimately you’re going to weaken Hamas and make it an irrelevant political force.” And on November 27, guest Noura Erekat claimed that “there’s no military solution to this. … You actually have to end the occupation.”

On November 28, guest Omer Bartov, a Brown University professor, repeated the trope, saying, “if you keep people under siege for 16 years without any hope, without proper sanitation, without proper education, with very heavy unemployment, a place where they cannot leave, it becomes a pressure cooker. And people will want to break out.” And on January 2, Peter Beinart, again, said that “this Israeli government isn’t offering any vision whatsoever that might suggest that after Hamas, Palestinians, even if they had a completely different kind of leadership, might have any path to freedom. It’s basically just offering occupation and, frankly, apartheid. … The only way, it seems to me, to undermine Palestinian support for the kind of horrifying attack that we saw on October 7 is by showing Palestinians that by ethical resistance, resistance that follows international law, that they can actually achieve their freedom.”

All of these commentators ignored the Hamas Charter, which states, “Israel will exist, and will continue to exist, until Islam abolishes it….” It further states, “The Prophet, Allah’s prayer and peace be upon him, says: ‘The hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, so that the Jews hide behind trees and stones, and each tree and stone will say: “Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him,” except for the Gharqad tree, for it is the tree of the Jews.’”

When the people of Gaza had freedom, in 2006, that is who they elected.

The war is not a consequence of the people of Gaza having been denied freedom by Israel, as so many of the MSNBC contributors want their viewers to believe. The war is a direct consequence of what happened when the people of Gaza had freedom. When MSNBC anchors allow guests and commentators to ignore Israel’s 2005 disengagement and Gaza’s 2006 election, they are promoting a form of misinformation.

Karen Bekker is the Assistant Director in the Media Response Team at CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.

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