Jewish NGO Project: UNRWA Textbooks

Joan Lurie, ICJW Representative to the UN in New York, reports on the meetings of the Jewish NGO caucus to discuss UNRWA textbooks at the UN during May 2018, and on her campaign to raise awareness on this issue with Ellen Fawer of Jewish Women International.

At the London ICJW Executive Committee meeting in November, 2017, I reported on the beginnings of the JNGO project on reforming United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) educational materials. It is our belief that the current materials used to educate over half a million Palestinian children are the biggest obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.   We understand very well that this problem has been around for decades and the world has chosen to ignore it.  So, why now dedicate ourselves to the problem?  Many recent events and personnel have come together to provide an atmosphere in which something may get done!

We have Ambassador Nikki Haley of the US at the UN, and UN Secretary General Guterres has voiced concerns. No prior Sec. Gen. has ever objected to the books. The Israeli Ambassador to the UN has said it is about time to go after these books, and the United States Congress is clearly concerned as well. This is very important as the USA is the largest single funder of UNRWA, contributing almost 40% of the total budget.

It is also noteworthy that the textbooks currently in use are even more extreme than those used in the earlier years of the 21st Century. For example, the books published in 2007 said that the readers should defeat and expel Israel. Current books (2017) do not even use the word Israel but rather say the reader is to fight “the worldwide Zionist conspiracy”. When maps are displayed, there is never a state of Israel. The latest maps also expunge any city built by the Jews – for example, neither Tel Aviv nor Haifa ever appear. This philosophy permeates all subjects, not just history and geography. For example, subtraction is taught by asking: if you have five Jews and kill three, how many are left? (2nd grade math.)

Since the JNGOs picked this as our project in December, 2017, we have tried to learn as much as possible about the issue, to meet with experts who have been studying UNRWA educational practices for decades and to decide on the best possible course of action going forward.

The Mission, History and Development of UNRWA

Before reporting on our efforts, it is probably appropriate to include a brief history of UNRWA, its formation, growth, mission etc. See the history of the organization on Wikipedia which includes key dates and UNRWA’s bizarre definition of refugees. It also emphasizes that UNRWA has become an enormous enterprise. There are many other entities in the UN which also exist simply to maintain the huge Palestinian refugee population but that is beyond the scope of this report. More information can be found online!

Recent Events Regarding UNRWA Textbooks

A very short review of recent key events regarding the textbooks:

  • September, 2017 – Dr. Arnon Groiss and others published a study (in English) including translations of much of the Arabic material. This 200+ page study was supported by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The resulting volume provides more than adequate evidence that any education guided by these books will lead to a generation with unrealistic goals of vilifying Jews and capturing all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. These students will not be capable of negotiating peace with the Israelis.
  • This study has been presented to the Secretary General of the UN and to many US Congressman.
  • Senator Risch of Idaho led an effort in Congress to have the General Accounting Office assess whether the US should continue to fund these books. The GAO report was completed at the end of April, 2018.
  • We cannot get the report as it has been classified by the State Department and is only available to those with a Secret Security Clearance. This action is inexplicable; surely there is no reason to believe that objecting to spending US tax dollars on these egregious books could be a matter of national security.
  • We have been meeting with several people who may be able to reach out to the State Department – we consider this our most urgent goal.

The JNGO Project where are we?

We have formed a steering committee of Jewish NGOs at the UN in New York; Ellen Fawer of Jewish Women International and I are the co-chairs. The purpose is to promote this project. The committee has identified several areas where we can help. Since the US is the single biggest contributor to the UNRWA budget, our goals include:

1. Influencing the US Congress. (See above on the GAO report)

2. Awareness – it has come to our attention that many people (even Jews committed to Israel) do not understand what UNRWA is. They often believe that Palestinian refugees are taken care of by the High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) an office which does indeed handle all other refugees in the world.

3. UN – We continue to interact at various meetings with other UN entities. Several weeks ago, for example, I distributed a report on our meeting with Darko Mocibob.

4. Israel – since Danny Danon has become Ambassador to the UN, the Israeli government has decided, at the highest levels, that it is time to “fix it or nix it” referring to UNRWA. Nevertheless, there are factions in Israel which still believe it is unwise to try to reform UNRWA by taking away some of their financing. Israel fears that it will then have to take over the responsibility of taking care of the Palestinian refugees.

In April, David Bedein and Dr. Arnon Groiss visited New York and presented the results of the latest study of the textbooks used by UNRWA. Presentations were made at several synagogues. Ellen Fawer of Jewish Women International and I wrote a report on these presentations – click here to download our report.

David and Arnon met, at the US Mission to the UN with one of Ambassador Haley’s staff, Ms. Samantha Sutton.

In pursuit of these goals, over the past five months, we have made contact with many experts in this arena. We continue to be impressed with the dedication of many of these people and their organizations over decades of working to ensure that Palestinian children are not taught simply to revile Jews and kill Israelis.

  • David Bedein, Director, Israel Resource News Agency, Center for Near East Policy Research.
  • Arnon Groiss and the Wiesenthal Center (Rabbi Cooper)
  • Sarah Stern of EMET
  • Hank Sheinfopf, PR person who has also put us in touch with a member of the Trump administration, Curtis Ellis, who may be able to help find out where in the State Department the GAO report is currently held.
  • Debbie Soffen, a pediatrician who is committed to showing the world that the education being provided to Palestinian children constitutes a form of societal child abuse.
  • Rabbi Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in LA who financed the 2017 text book study.
  • Ambassador Richard Schifter of AJIRI.