Repeated exposure by pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon of incitement on the social media pages of self-described UNRWA teachers is having more of a technical effect than an ideological one, according to a report on the watchdog’s website on Thursday.
Over the past several months, Elder of Ziyon is not the only one who has been highlighting the issue of employees, particularly educators, of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Taking the ball and running with it, Hillel C. Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based non-profit human rights organization UN Watch, complained to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The Facebook posts and Twitter feeds in question are filled with antisemitic memes and pro-Palestinian terrorism cartoons – all encouraging the killing of Jews.
When asked by The Algemeiner in early September to respond to this phenomenon, UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness said, “We always investigate credible reports of neutrality violations by our staff and take appropriate action, including disciplinary action, where violations by UNRWA staff members are established. Our position on racism is clear. We condemn racism in all its forms.”
This statement came on the heels of a social media offensive Gunness launched against Neuer, whose integrity and reputation he called into question. And though the particularly violent Facebook page of an UNRWA school was shut down right around the same time, others began to appear.
Noticing that “it is has been more difficult to find antisemitic and terror-supporting posts by UNRWA teachers in the past week or so,” Elder of Ziyon says he discovered an article in the Arabic press indicating that UNRWA had indeed warned teachers to refrain from posting incendiary material. On November 4, the London-based Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper reported:
Sources from UNRWA in Palestine for Al-Araby said that Israel monitors Agency staff accounts and documents any posts from them that are attacking the occupation forces, or attacking the Agency. They name names and their positions, thus UNRWA staff, especially teachers, have come under control by the State of the occupation on the one hand and the Agency on the other.
The article goes on:
Sami Mshasha, Arabic spokesperson for UNRWA, told Al-Araby, “Everyone in the agency knows the concept of neutrality in all cases, and the employees must do their duties as fully as possible within specific parameters in order not to weaken its services to refugees.”
Elder of Ziyon writes: “UNRWA isn’t telling teachers that antisemitism and supporting stabbing Jews is wrong. Just that it makes UNRWA look bad.”
The teachers have called this a “harassment policy” which UNRWA decided to pursue, because the Palestinian teacher would feed their disciples in the spirit of the defense of the Palestinian territory and encourages them in any anti-Israeli attacks, in order to create a generation defending their land. There are now growing fears about control of teachers in their schools, that they are held accountable if they tell their students about violations of the occupation. This could threaten the future of thousands of teachers and workers in other sectors.”
Elder of Ziyon emphasizes the last sentence, to illustrate that indoctrinating pupils is widespread among UNRWA teachers, not merely the practice of a few lone extremists, as UNRWA has claimed. In addition, he writes, the above paragraph “means that UNRWA teachers are known to routinely go outside the official curriculum and incite against Israel, and now they are upset that this might threaten their jobs.”
The article backs up this assessment:
The director of one of UNRWA schools west of Gaza City, who preferred anonymity, told Al Araby that he was “surprised that UNRWA management notified teachers not to publish any entries against the occupation, to keep their jobs and livelihood.” This upsets him, pointing out that “it is natural that the teachers and staff at the agency express their solidarity with their country’s territory and attack the occupation. Their country was usurped and this must be taken into account.” He adds that the teacher are leaders, and should enhance the values of belonging to a nation.
Mohammed Mustafa (not his real name) is one of the teachers who received a warning from UNRWA management in the event that he continues his support of the current uprising, the issues of Jerusalem and attacking the occupation. His postings were documented and sent to the management of the Agency in Palestine. One of the posts said, “The Occupiers claim we are terrorists when we stab illegal settlers, and do not talk about the arson and murders committed by them.”
… Mustafa points out that this issue at present affects a large number of teachers, especially since they had received Agency warnings.
Despite the fact that social networking sites have served the Palestinian cause, we cannot turn a blind eye to their drawbacks. The occupation can monitor some activists and staff in various sectors, and keep track of most of their activities and their views on issues related to the occupation.
Elder of Ziyon concludes that his work has born fruit. “Many of the people I exposed have taken out their association with UNRWA in their profiles, and others took their pages down altogether,” he writes.
Two days earlier, however, as Elder of Ziyon notes, UNRWA commissioner-general Pierre Krähenbühl gave a speech to the UN General Assembly in which he refrained from mentioning incitement to kill Jews and Israelis on the part of staff members.
Instead, he first gave a sympathetic explanation for the phenomenon, and then reiterated UNRWA’s standard response:
UNRWA continues to operate in a highly polarized environment where emotions frequently run high. We enforce neutrality within our organization, but we are not immune from the context. There have recently been allegations of inappropriate statements by UNRWA staff, notably on social media. Let me state here unambiguously that UNRWA condemns any form of antisemitism or racism and its position on this issue is a matter of public record. We take every allegation seriously and when credible investigate it and will continue to take disciplinary actions as required.