Republicans Equate Aid Workers With Terrorists In Hearing On U.N. Funding

Republican lawmakers repeatedly equated aid workers with Hamas terrorists during a heated hearing Tuesday as they called for the U.S. government to permanently stop funding the United Nations agency responsible for helping Palestinian refugees in Gaza.

Last week, the U.S. and more than a dozen other countries paused aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the largest aid organization in war-torn Gaza. The sanctions came in response to an intelligence report from Israel alleging that 12 of UNRWA’s roughly 13,000 employees were involved Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that some 10% of the organization’s staffers have ties to Islamist militant groups, citing intelligence documents.

“The United Nations relief workers agency is a terrorist-supporting entity, ladies and gentlemen,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) said at Tuesday’s House Foreign Affairs committee hearing.

Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) called UNRWA, the primary source of humanitarian aid to millions of people in Gaza, the “identical twin” of Hamas.

Without evidence, Rep. Rich McCormick (R-Ga.) claimed that Hamas was far more deeply embedded in UNRWA than Israeli intelligence suggested.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: Demonstrators stage a protest during a hearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Accountability of House Foreign Affairs Committee at the U.S. Capitol on January 30, 2024 in Washington, DC. The subcommittee held a hearing titled “UNRWA Exposed: Examining the Agency’s Mission and Failures.” (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 30: Demonstrators stage a protest during a hearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Accountability of House Foreign Affairs Committee at the U.S. Capitol on January 30, 2024 in Washington, DC. The subcommittee held a hearing titled “UNRWA Exposed: Examining the Agency’s Mission and Failures.” (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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“Those 12 employees are just the tip of the iceberg when you talk about possibly thousands of employees’ loyalty to Hamas and antisemitic and anti-American interests,” he said.

Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) pointed to a lack of Hamas mentions on UNRWA’s social media pages as proof of the agency’s complicity.

“It is clear that UNRWA would never use its platform to speak out against Hamas, because it is in cahoots with Hamas,” he claimed.

HuffPost reached out to UNRWA for comment Tuesday evening and has yet to hear back.

The agency confirmed last week that it had ended “several” employees’ contracts following Israel’s reports and that it had ordered its own investigation into the matter. But its commissioner general, Philippe Lazzarini, said over the weekend that the decision to halt funding is unconscionable.

“It would be immensely irresponsible to sanction an Agency and an entire community it serves because of allegations of criminal acts against some individuals, especially at a time of war, displacement and political crises in the region,” he said.

Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) echoed those sentiments at Tuesday’s hearing.

“The horrifying and inexcusable actions of roughly a dozen people should not speak for the over 13,000 UNRWA employees in Gaza,” he said.

The entire population of Gaza is currently facing famine unless Israel restores access to food, clean water, sanitation and other essentials, the World Food Program warned last month.

“Humanitarian aid and conflict zones must continue. And it’s difficult under the best of circumstances. And we know that conditions in Gaza are far from that,” Crow continued.

Republicans argued at the hearing that other agencies, such as the U.N. High Commission for Refugees and the World Food Program, could take on the work of UNRWA, which has been delivering aid in the Palestinian territories since 1949.

But relief experts say that’s an unreasonable proposal. Expecting other aid groups to fill in the gaps left by UNRWA is “magical thinking,” Janti Soeripto, president and CEO of Save the Children, told HuffPost on Monday.

The latest conflict in the region erupted when Hamas killed about 1,200 Israelis in an attack in October. Israel launched an offensive in response, and more than 26,000 people in Gaza have been killed in the resulting war.

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