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UNRWA Meets the Spanish Inquisition

View of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash90.

JNS.orgThe collaboration between UNRWA, the U.N. agency solely dedicated to Palestinian refugees and their descendants, and the Hamas rulers of Gaza continues unabated.

Two episodes over the last week underscore that claim. On May 14, Israeli jets carried out a precision strike against a Hamas war room and weapons depot that was concealed beneath an UNRWA school in Nuseirat. Fifteen terrorists—10 of them members of Hamas’s elite Nukhba Force—were killed in the strike. Meanwhile, three days earlier, the Israelis released aerial surveillance footage of armed Palestinians in an UNRWA compound in the southern city of Rafah, where the IDF is facing off against four Hamas battalions. The video showed the gun-toting Palestinians milling inside the compound, from where they launched attacks on the gathering Israeli forces.

The intermingling of UNRWA facilities and personnel with Hamas and its nefarious aims has been a constant theme of Israeli messaging throughout the current war in the Gaza Strip. At the beginning of this year, it seemed as if other Western countries shared Israel’s concerns, with 18 of them, among them the United States, suspending funding to UNRWA. However, as the NGO UN Watch has documented, in the intervening period, nine of them have quietly restored their fiscal support. One of these countries was Germany, whose foreign ministry declared in an April 24 statement that UNRWA’s verbal willingness to implement the recommendations of an independent commission headed by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna was enough to turn the money faucet back on. Israel’s vociferous objections—pointing out that Colonna had elided Jerusalem’s claim that more than 2,000 UNRWA staff members retain ties with Hamas—made no difference to the Germans, nor to the Japanese, or the Canadians or the other six nations who resumed financial assistance to the agency.

In the midst of all this, UNRWA received an award from the government of Spain—one of the countries that has maintained its funding throughout the conflict triggered by the Hamas pogrom in southern Israel on Oct. 7. The spectacle of a U.N. agency that indulges a terrorist group, whose tactics include the mass murder and rape of civilians for the crime of being Jews, being feted like this is, of course, deeply regrettable. But looked at from another angle, it is highly appropriate.

The award presented to UNRWA director general Philippe Lazzarini by Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares during his visit to New York on April 19 inducted him into the “Royal Order of Isabella the Catholic.” The “Isabella” referred to here is Queen Isabella I of Castile, who ruled Spain alongside her husband, King Ferdinand II, from 1474 until her death 30 years later. In 1492, at the height of the Spanish Inquisition, Isabella and Ferdinand issued an order for the ejection of Spain’s Jewish population, estimated to have been 300,000-strong.

The king and queen’s announcement of the expulsion—known as the Alhambra Decree—is on display, fittingly, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Spanish Jews were given four months to pack up their belongings and settle their affairs, a chaotic and painful process that left Spain as a country economically and culturally impoverished. Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire, who offered shelter to some of these Jews (among them my own family, who lived for centuries under Turkish rule in the Balkans), poked fun at the Spanish monarchs, questioning the judgment of those who would degrade their own kingdom only to “enrich ours.” In making that observation, Bayezid inadvertently grasped one of the more curious aspects of Jew-hatred—that its advocates will push for it relentlessly, even when it doesn’t suit their own interests to do so.

One of the more curious aspects of Jew-hatred is that its advocates will push for it relentlessly, even when it doesn’t suit their own interests.

Few institutions would be as receptive as UNRWA when it comes to Spain expressing pride in a monarch who deservedly has the reputation as one of the worst persecutors of Jews in their history. The history of antisemitism has been captured in a simple formula: You have no right to live among us as Jews; you have no right to live among us; you have no right to live. Queen Isabella’s place on this spectrum is evident and unarguable. Equally, Hamas belongs there no less. The Iranian-backed organization doesn’t like Jews, doesn’t like Jews living among Muslims and doesn’t like Jews being alive at all. They may be separated by seven centuries, but Isabella and UNRWA, which has actively promoted Hamas-style antisemitism in its schools, have a huge amount in common when it comes to the Jewish people.

Were Hamas to succeed in its goal of eliminating Israel as a sovereign state, we might well expect an announcement to that end not dissimilar to the Alhambra Declaration. Those Jews who survived the destruction of their only state would, if they were lucky, be given four months to liquidate their assets, hand over their properties to “returning” Palestinian refugees and make their way out of the country. No doubt some would figure out a way to stay—probably by hiding their Jewish identities and attempting to integrate with the rest of the population, as those Jews who remained in Spain after the expulsion did. UNRWA, by a twist of historical irony, might even offer to shepherd their exit within parameters set by Hamas that would prevent forever any possibility of returning. While such a scenario may seem improbable today, if history has taught us anything, it’s that it’s not improbable tomorrow.

The history of antisemitism has been captured in a simple formula: You have no right to live among us as Jews; you have no right to live among us; you have no right to live.

Fundamentally, the problem here is that too many states—not just Turkey, Iran, Russia, North Korea, China and other citadels of authoritarian rule, but democracies as well—believe that the way to convince the Palestinians to accept peace is by kowtowing to their jealously guarded victimhood status.

By the end of this month, it’s likely that several European Union member states, including Spain and also Ireland, Malta, Slovenia and Belgium, will have unilaterally recognized an independent Palestinian state. Albares is one of the foreign ministers actively promoting the fiction that such a move will bolster, rather than undermine, the prospects for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel that will coexist peacefully.

Deep down, you have to believe that Albares knows that’s simply not true—that most Palestinians, as successive opinion polls since Oct. 7 have borne out, regard a state alongside Israel not as a final settlement but a step towards conquering the entire land “from the river to the sea.” These are the stakes that Israel has to contend with when it deals with diplomats and other foreign officials quietly sympathetic to the idea that the Jewish state shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Isabella the Catholic would be proud.

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One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves after attending a military parade to mark the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup, in the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus July 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Greek Cypriots mourned and Turkish Cypriots rejoiced on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of part of the island after a brief Greek inspired coup, with the chances of reconciliation as elusive as ever.

The ethnically split island is a persistent source of tension between Greece and Turkey, which are both partners in NATO but are at odds over numerous issues.

Their differences were laid bare on Saturday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attending a celebratory military parade in north Nicosia to mark the day in 1974 when Turkish forces launched an offensive that they call a “peace operation.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due later on Saturday to attend an event in the south of the Nicosia to commemorate what Greeks commonly refer to as the “barbaric Turkish invasion.” Air raid sirens sounded across the area at dawn.

Mitsotakis posted an image of a blood-stained map of Cyprus on his LinkedIn page with the words “Half a century since the national tragedy of Cyprus.”

There was jubilation in the north.

“The Cyprus Peace Operation saved Turkish Cypriots from cruelty and brought them to freedom,” Erdogan told crowds who gathered to watch the parade despite stifling midday heat, criticizing the south for having a “spoiled mentality” and seeing itself as the sole ruler of Cyprus.

Peace talks are stalled at two seemingly irreconcilable concepts – Greek Cypriots want reunification as a federation. Turkish Cypriots want a two-state settlement.

Erdogan left open a window to dialogue although he said a federal solution, advocated by Greek Cypriots and backed by most in the international community, was “not possible.”

“We are ready for negotiations, to meet, and to establish long-term peace and resolution in Cyprus,” he said.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but a shared administration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots quickly fell apart in violence that saw Turkish Cypriots withdraw into enclaves and led to the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The crisis left Greek Cypriots running the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004 with the potential to derail Turkey’s own decades-long aspirations of joining the bloc.

It also complicates any attempts to unlock energy potential in the eastern Mediterranean because of overlapping claims. The region has seen major discoveries of hydrocarbons in recent years.


Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, whose office represents the Greek Cypriot community in the reunification dialogue, said the anniversary was a somber occasion for reflection and for remembering the dead.

“Our mission is liberation, reunification and solving the Cyprus problem,” he said. “If we really want to send a message on this tragic anniversary … it is to do anything possible to reunite Cyprus.”

Turkey, he said, continued to be responsible for violating human rights and international law over Cyprus.

Across the south, church services were held to remember the more than 3,000 people who died in the Turkish invasion.

“It was a betrayal of Cyprus and so many kids were lost. It wasn’t just my son, it was many,” said Loukas Alexandrou, 90, as he tended the grave of his son at a military cemetery.

In Turkey, state television focused on violence against Turkish Cypriots prior to the invasion, particularly on bloodshed in 1963-64 and in 1967.

Turkey’s invasion took more than a third of the island and expelled more than 160,000 Greek Cypriots to the south.

Reunification talks collapsed in 2017 and have been at a stalemate since. Northern Cyprus is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, and its Turkish Cypriot leadership wants international recognition.

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Putin Jails US Reporter Gershkovich in Sham Trial

A Russian secret court found U.S. reporter Evan Gershkovich guilty of espionage on Friday and sentenced him to 16 years in a maximum security penal colony in what his employer, the Wall Street Journal, accurately called “a disgraceful sham conviction.”

Gershkovich, a 32-year-old Jewish American who denied any wrongdoing, went on trial in the city of Yekaterinburg last month after being accused of trying to gather sensitive information about a tank factory.

He was the first U.S. journalist accused of spying in Russia since the Cold War, and his arrest in March 2023 prompted many U.S. and other Western correspondents to leave Moscow.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Gershkovich did not commit any crime and has been wrongfully detained.

“We are pushing hard for Evan’s release and will continue to do so,” Biden said in a statement. “Journalism is not a crime.”

Video of Friday’s hearing released by the court showed Gershkovich, dressed in a T-shirt and black trousers, standing in a glass courtroom cage as he listened to the verdict being read in rapid-fire legalese for nearly four minutes.

Asked by the judge if he had any questions, he replied “Nyet.”

The judge, Andrei Mineyev, said the nearly 16 months Gershkovich had already served since his arrest would count towards the 16-year sentence.

Mineyev ordered the destruction of the reporter’s mobile phone and paper notebook. The defense has 15 days to appeal.

“This disgraceful, sham conviction comes after Evan has spent 478 days in prison, wrongfully detained, away from his family and friends, prevented from reporting, all for doing his job as a journalist,” the Journal said in a statement.

“We will continue to do everything possible to press for Evan’s release and to support his family. Journalism is not a crime, and we will not rest until he’s released. This must end now.”

Gershkovich’s friend, reporter Pjotr Sauer of Britain’s Guardian newspaper, posted on X: “Russia has just sentenced an innocent man to 16 years in a high security prison. I have no words to describe this farce. Let’s get Evan out of there.”

Friday’s hearing was only the third in the trial. The proceedings, apart from the sentencing, were closed to the media on the grounds of state secrecy.

Espionage cases often take months to handle and the unusual speed at which the trial was held behind closed doors has stoked speculation that a long-discussed U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange deal may be in the offing, involving Gershkovich and potentially other Americans detained in Russia.

The Kremlin, when asked by Reuters earlier on Friday about the possibility of such an exchange, declined to comment: “I’ll leave your question unanswered,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Among those Russia would like to free is Vadim Krasikov, a Russian serving a life sentence in Germany for murdering an exiled Chechen-Georgian dissident in a Berlin park in 2019.

Officers of the FSB security service arrested Gershkovich on March 29, 2023, at a steakhouse in Yekaterinburg, 900 miles (1,400 km) east of Moscow. He has since been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.

Russian prosecutors had accused Gershkovich of gathering secret information on the orders of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency about a company that manufactures tanks for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

The Uralvagonzavod factory, which he is accused of spying on, has been sanctioned by the West. Based in the city of Nizhny Tagil near Yekaterinburg, it has publicly spoken of producing T-90M battle tanks and modernizing T-72B3M tanks.

Earlier on Friday, the court unexpectedly said it would pronounce its verdict within hours after state prosecutors demanded Gershkovich be jailed for 18 years for spying. The maximum sentence for the crime he was accused of is 20 years.

Russia usually concludes legal proceedings against foreigners before making any deals on exchanging them.


Gershkovich, his newspaper and the U.S. government all rejected the allegations against him and said he was merely doing his job as a reporter accredited by the Foreign Ministry to work in Russia.

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is open to a prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich, and that contacts with the United States have taken place but must remain secret.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that Washington was working every day to bring home Gershkovich, former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan and other Americans.

He declined to go into details when asked why Putin would reach a deal on Gershkovich’s release ahead of the U.S. election.

“Any effort to bring any American home is going to be part of a process of back and forth, of discussion, potentially of negotiation,” Blinken said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

“Depending on what the other side is looking for, they’ll reach their own conclusions about whether it meets whatever their needs are, and we can bring someone home – and I don’t think that’s dependent on an election in the United States or anywhere else,” he said.

Mark Warner, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, called Gershkovich’s sentence “outrageous,” and said he thinks “it’s clear that the Russians view Evan almost as a bargaining chip at this point.”

Speaking in an interview with Reuters, Warner declined to discuss whether efforts are underway to arrange an exchange for Gershkovich’s release, but said “all options have to stay on the table” with regards to how the Biden administration responds.

Friends who have exchanged letters with Gershkovich say he has remained resilient and cheerful throughout his imprisonment, occupying himself by reading classics of Russian literature.

At court appearances over the past 16 months – most recently with his head shaven – he has frequently smiled and nodded at reporters he used to work with before he himself became the story.

Since Russian troops entered Ukraine in 2022, Moscow and Washington have conducted just one high profile prisoner swap: Russia released basketball star Brittney Griner, held for smuggling cannabis, in return for arms dealer Viktor Bout, jailed for terrorism-related offenses in the United States.

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VP Harris Hits Fundraising Trail Amid Ongoing Calls for Biden to Quit Race

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will headline a fundraiser in Massachusetts on Saturday as President Joe Biden faces continued pressure from fellow Democrats and big money donors to end his floundering campaign.

Biden and top aides on Friday vowed to continue with the campaign, even as major donors signaled they were unwilling to open their checkbooks unless the 81-year-old president stepped aside.

The crisis-in-confidence in Biden’s ability to win has placed a huge spotlight on Harris, widely believed to be the most likely replacement if he steps down.

Her fundraising events, including the one on Saturday in Provincetown, Massachusetts are getting added interest from donors who want to signal they are willing to coalesce around her potential bid for the White House, according to three Democratic fundraisers.

More than one in 10 congressional Democrats have now publicly called on Biden, who is isolating at his Delaware home with a case of COVID-19, to drop out following a disastrous debate last month against Republican former President Donald Trump that raised questions about the incumbent’s ability to win the Nov. 5 election or carry out his duties for another four years.

Biden’s campaign hoped to raise some $50 million in big-dollar donations in July for the Biden Victory Fund but was on track for less than half that figure as of Friday, according to two sources familiar with the fundraising efforts.

The campaign called reports of a July fundraising slump overstated, noting that it anticipated a drop-off in large donations due to vacations. It said the campaign still has 10 fundraisers on the schedule this month.

Harris assured major Democratic donors on Friday that the party would prevail in the presidential election as more lawmakers called for her running mate, Biden, to stand down.

“We are going to win this election,” she said on a call arranged on short notice to calm donors, according to a person on the call. “We know which candidate in this election puts the American people first: Our president, Joe Biden.”

Harris attended the call “at the direct request of senior advisers to the president,” one of the people said, an account confirmed by another person familiar with the matter.

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