January 31, 2024
Jewish groups and the Coalition are calling on Australia to permanently suspend funding to the peak Palestinian aid organisation after Israeli intelligence revealed about 10 per cent of its staff had links to militants.
The UN Relief and Works Agency terminated the employment of nine staff after Israeli authorities provided the organisation with information detailing their involvement with the October 7 terrorist attacks.
UNRWA confirmed it had launched an investigation “to establish the truth without delay”, making clear that anyone involved in the October 7 attacks would be held accountable.
Israeli documents, shared with US officials, listed 12 UNRWA staff allegedly involved in the attack and claimed that about 10 per cent of UNRWA’s 12,000 staff had links to Islamic militant groups. The materials have not been shared with the UN.
The revelations follow years of tension between UNRWA and Israel, with concerns the UN organisation’s education program for thousands of Palestinian children was teaching them anti-Semetic lessons.
Jewish groups said Australia needed to permanently withdraw all financial support for UNRWA and ensure the organisation was dismantled.
“UNRWA cannot continue and aid to Palestinians has to be directed through other means, most logically the UNHCR,” Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-chief executive Alex Ryvchin said.
“The latest revelations from leaked UNRWA staff chats show how widespread support for Hamas atrocities is in the organisation. It is rotten to the core and Australia now has no choice but to announce its permanent withdrawal of support and call for its abolition.”
Australia Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said Australia should “never go back” to handing over taxpayer dollars to UNRWA with no strings attached.
“While it is essential that timely aid continues to actually reach the Palestinians, the world community, with Israeli and Egyptian co-operation, needs to find ways to drastically reform how such aid is delivered – perhaps by giving the UN High Commissioner for Refugees the same responsibility for the Palestinians it has for every other refugee population in the world,” he said.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong last week announced she would “temporarily suspend” the $6m in funding announced for UNRWA earlier this month until the organisation’s investigation was concluded.
The $6m funding package was announced just a day before the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees confirmed he had requested an independent review into claims by pro-Israel groups of unchecked pro-Hamas activity in UNRWA.
Opposition Home Affairs spokesman James Paterson said the fresh details contained in the newly-released Israeli intelligence only added to “the considerable evidence” that UNRWA was not a reliable steward of taxpayers’ money.
“Surely complicity in terrorist attacks is the final straw even this government can’t ignore?” he said.
The government confirmed its position had not changed since the temporary pause in funding was announced on Saturday.
Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham said funding needed to be provided through only “credible and trusted international partners”.
Liberal senator and former ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, said his main message on his return to Australia had been that UNRWA was “part of the problem”.
“That has manifestly been demonstrated to be the case here. It’s shocking but it shouldn’t surprise anyone that UNRWA, which employs tens of thousands of people in Gaza ends up working inevitably hand in glove with the occupying authority of Gaza, which is Hamas,” he told Sky News.
“It’s clear now that some of their employees were actively involved into the terrorist attacks.”