The U.S. Must Withdraw All UNRWA Funds
By: Morgan Ortagus
The United States’ financial support of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), bankrolls an agency mired in antisemitism and terrorism. Today, the United States remains UNRWA’s primary global financier. Because of UNRWA’s controversial activities, the use of American taxpayer dollars could violate U.S. laws against supporting terrorism. Therefore, at a minimum, the Biden Administration must implement crucial reforms to UNRWA, echoing the action taken by President Trump. Should President Biden refuse to execute these necessary reforms, the next Republican administration would be forced to withdraw U.S. funds once more.
UNRWA, established in 1948 to assist Palestinian refugees, has degenerated into a bastion of extremist indoctrination and a conduit for terrorist sympathies. The terror attack on October 7th has brought those sympathies into stark relief. For example, one UNRWA teacher, Osama Ahmed, could not contain her glee, taking to Facebook that very morning to exclaim: “Allah is Great, Allah is Great, reality surpasses our wildest dreams.” Not to be outdone by the teaching staff, Iman Hassan, a principal, rationalized the massacre as “restoring rights” and “redressing” Palestinian “grievances,” while an UNRWA school administrator named Hmada Ahmed, posted “welcome the great October.”
UNRWA staff’s animus against Israel isn’t new. In 2017, UN Watch reported that 40 UNRWA teachers were promoting terrorism and antisemitism on Facebook. By 2023, that number had surged to 150. UNRWA’s educational materials have been previously cited for breaching U.S. fund-use guidelines for inciting hatred, including omitting the state of Israel from classroom maps. Excluding Israel from maps in the Middle East does not comport with UNRWA’s stated humanitarian mission.
UNRWA staff’s embrace of terrorist sympathies, however, is not nearly as concerning as the agency’s material support of terrorism. UNRWA reportedly dispersed $122,000 to a Hezbollah-owned hospital in Beirut, constructed by Arch Consulting: a company sanctioned by the U.S. for terrorism in 2020.
Then-Secretary Pompeo stated in 2021 that less than 5% of UNRWA's 5 million registrants meet the internationally recognized refugee criteria, casting doubt on the agency's adherence to standards. Furthermore, UNRWA lacks an independent oversight board, with accountability falling to a biannual audit by the People’s Republic of China’s representative to the UN Board of Auditors, which raises questions about the rigor of financial and operational scrutiny. More troublesome, UNRWA's vetting process for staff relies on UN lists that fail to classify Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as terrorist organizations.
The Trump Administration's decision to cut off funding to UNRWA was a clear solution to these disturbing realities. Yet, the Biden Administration's restoration of over $730 million in aid, without enforcing stringent reforms or accountability measures, is a deeply troubling step backward. This blind financial aid serves as an endorsement of UNRWA's current state, rife with corruption and malfeasance.
Absent a return to the Trump Administration's tough stance, the Biden Administration should reform and develop real standards for the use of our aid dollars. To do anything less is to be poor stewards of the precious resources American taxpayers have provided. Future funding should be conditional on a comprehensive overhaul of UNRWA, including eradicating extremist elements and revamping its educational content.
Legislative steps such as Senator Hagerty’s UNRWA Reform Act mark the beginning of a necessary shift. The U.S. must develop a robust oversight system for all foreign aid, and implementing clear standards will allow for more thorough congressional oversight.
Our taxpayer dollars should never again contribute to organizations that defy our core values and legal standards. The U.S. cannot claim to fight terrorism on one hand while bankrolling it on the other. Our nation's commitment to peace, security, and ethical governance demands nothing less than a complete reevaluation and restructuring of our support for UNRWA. It's high time America took a hard line.
Morgan D. Ortagus is the Founder of Polaris National Security, the host of “The Morgan Ortagus Show” on Sirius XM, and has served in multiple diplomatic positions in the Bush, Obama, and Trump Administrations.