(CNSNews.com) – A cash-strapped U.N. agency that suspended a Palestinian teacher in Lebanon for inciting terrorism on social media is now facing significant unrest, as Palestinian terrorist organizations condemn the decision.
Colleagues of the teacher went on strike to protest his suspension, and are now demanding that their employer, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), resolve the issue by the end of the month.
The crisis is the latest in a long series of controversies to dog the UNRWA, an agency whose funding is frequently targeted by conservative U.S. lawmakers. The U.S. is UNRWA’s biggest funder.
The agency’s services include education, health care, social services, refugee camp infrastructure, among others.
Reports in Lebanese media say UNRWA suspended Riyad Mustafa Nimer, with pay, on March 17 after a report by two non-governmental organizations highlighted provocative online activity of a number of teachers at UNRWA-run schools.
The report, by Geneva-based U.N. Watch and IMPACT-se (the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education), pointed to cases of alleged incitement by UNRWA teachers “in breach of the agency’s stated policies of zero tolerance for racism, discrimination or antisemitism in its schools and educational materials.”
In the case of Riyad Mustafa Nimer, the report noted that he posted on his Facebook page a video clip of a funeral of an Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terrorist whose cell carried out a series of attacks against Israelis before he was killed in an IDF raid in Nablus last summer. Nimer described the terrorist, Ibrahim Nabulsi, as a “pure soul.”
Nimer had also “liked” a Facebook post which praised a 2014 attack at a Jerusalem synagogue in which Palestinian terrorists armed with axes, knives and guns killed five Jewish worshipers – three of them U.S. citizens.
The post endorsed by Nimer described the gruesome attack on a place of worship as “a unique and heroic act of self-sacrifice.”
After the U.N. Watch-IMPACT-se report appeared, UNRWA issued a statement quoting its Deputy Commissioner-General Leni Stenseth as saying the agency “takes each allegation extremely seriously, no matter the source. Investigations are now underway. Should any misconduct be found, UNRWA will take the necessary disciplinary or administrative actions.”
UNRWA also sought to discredit the report and its authors, saying that several of the individuals named in it were no longer on UNRWA staff, and that some of the allegations had been raised previously and UNRWA was “already addressing” them.
It also accused the NGOs behind the report of having a track record of trying to “sensationalize [and] overstate” its problems.
Despite its defensive stance, UNRWA, without fanfare, suspended Nimer from his post at an UNRWA school in Nahr el-Bared, northern Lebanon.
According to Lebanese media reports, the move triggered an uproar, and a federation of UNRWA teachers and students took to the streets to protest the suspension.
The Lebanese office of Hamas, the Iranian-sponsored U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO) that controls the Gaza Strip, demanded that UNRWA reverse the decision, which it said was a violation of freedom of expression.
The pro-Hamas Palestinian Information Center said the U.N. agency had suspended Nimer “under the pretext of publishing patriotic material on social media, which it considered incitement and a violation of neutrality.”
A second Iranian-backed FTO, Islamic Jihad, also protested the move, with a spokesman saying the teacher’s suspension was “condemned by all sectors of the Palestinian people.”
The Islamic Jihad official, Jihad Muhammad, told the Quds Press news agency that UNRWA was operating under pressure from “the Zionist entity” and under constraints placed by the U.S. government when it restored funding.
Jihad Muhammad also took aim at U.N. Watch, complaining that the Geneva-based NGO “tracks UNRWA employees, issues reports to distort the agency’s role, and pressures it to influence donor powers to stop its contributions.”
Targeting US funding
Established by the U.N. in 1949 to meet the needs of Palestinians affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, UNRWA today takes responsibility for more than five million people it defines as refugees, in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.
The latest controversy comes at a sensitive time for the agency, which is already financially vulnerable and faces fresh defunding calls in the U.S. Congress.
Legislation introduced last month in the House and Senate seeks to cut U.S. funding unless the secretary of state certifies, among other things, that UNRWA is not employing anyone with links to U.S.-designated terrorist groups, or who has propagated anti-U.S., anti-Israel, or anti-Semitic rhetoric.
“UNRWA’s lengthy and detailed history of promoting anti-Semitism, violence, and terrorism through ‘educational’ materials, and its continued ties to Hamas, should completely disqualify this corrupt entity from receiving any U.S. taxpayer funding,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said when introducing the House measure.
The Trump administration cut funds to UNRWA in 2018, calling the agency “irredeemably flawed.”
The Biden administration said in April 2021 it intended to reverse the move, and three months later announced a “framework for cooperation” with the agency, committing it to “strengthened accountability, transparency, and consistency with U.N. principles, including neutrality.”
At a U.N. Security Council meeting last month, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield referred to the importance of supporting UNRWA, which she said “serves as a lifeline to Palestinians and plays an important stabilizing role in the region.”
“For our part, the United States has already announced nearly $50 million in support for UNRWA this new year,” Thomas-Greenfield told the council. “We call on our partners to provide early, predictable, and flexible funding to UNRWA to ensure the vital services it provides to the Palestinian people continue uninterrupted.”
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