Antisemitic scandal sparks DFAT probe

January 18th, 2021

The following article has been published in The Australian.

Richard Ferguson, The Australian, January 18, 2021

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is investigating revelations the UN’s top Palestinian aid agency — to which Australia contributes $10m a year — has been publishing violent, anti-Semitic materials in Gaza Strip and West Bank classrooms.

Maths equations counting the number of “martyrs” in the First Intifada between Israel and Palestine claim Israel is dumping toxic waste into the West Bank, and multiple mentions of “jihad” have been found in school ­materials given to students in ­Palestinian areas.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East has apologised for the school materials, claiming they were quickly produced by teachers when the Palestinian Territories went into various COVID-19 lockdowns last year.

  • Australia has already slashed it contributions to the trouble UN agency in the past year, and a DFAT spokesman said it warned UNRWA it had a responsibility to remain impartial in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“DFAT is making further inquiries into this matter,” the spokesman told The Australian.

“UNRWA has a fundamental obligation to remain unbiased and impartial while it delivers its humanitarian mandate. DFAT has reiterated to UNRWA the importance it places on non-­discrimination, equality and neutrality in the education programs that UNRWA supports.”

Commenting on the revelations, the chief executive of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Peter Wertheim, said: “We have never objected to Australia providing aid which genuinely benefits needy Palestinians. But UNRWA is now doing far more to perpetuate conflict between ­Israel and the Palestinians.

“Instead of nurturing young Palestinians with the knowledge they will need to lead satisfying and productive lives as citizens in a future Palestinian state, UNRWA is feeding their hearts and minds with the poison of ­racism and violent extremism.

“It is time for Australia to look for new, more constructive partners through which to channel its assistance.”

A report from Israeli group The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education said the school materials circulated by UNRWA in March and October last year contained multiple anti-Israeli and antisemitic references.

Textbooks said Israel wanted to take Palestinian lands for strategic value, made comparisons between Israeli prisons and the Spanish Inquisition, and referred to Israel as “The Occupation”, “The Zionists” and “The Enemy”.

An UNRWA spokesman has said in a statement that the materials should never have been published and they got into the hands of children as a result of corona­virus lockdown transitions.

“As soon as the issue was identified, the agency conducted a thorough review of the material that UNRWA developed and took steps to address it,” he said.