WASHINGTON — House representatives and experts are calling for urgent changes to United Nations humanitarian agencies involving Palestinian youth education on Israel over fears that the programs are spreading antisemitism.
“Hatred is taught,” said Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “It’s being taught with aggressiveness every single day to the youngest of Palestinians. That is child abuse.”
Other members of the committee also accused the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) of perpetuating antisemitic narratives. Rep. Kathy Manning, D-N.C., said UNRWA is among the bodies of the U.N. that has a “single-minded, negative focus on Israel.”
UNRWA did not respond to several requests for comment. According to its website, UNRWA has operated in the Middle East for nearly 75 years “providing free basic education for some 543,075 Palestine refugee children.” The U.S. reinstated funding for UNRWA after Donald Trump halted American-backed finances during his presidency.
Lawmakers said they recognize UNRWA is a backbone to humanitarian assistance offered in Gaza, but asserted that bias and discrimination run rampant in their curricula.
“Many U.N. agencies provide essential services, such as vaccines for children, in countries where neither the host government nor any alternative can or will provide those services,” said Manning. “At the same time, I have also long raised concerns about the problematic content in textbooks used by UNRWA schools in the West Bank and Gaza. We will continue to insist that this content be removed.”
In efforts to address this, the House passed the Peace and Tolerance in Palestinian Education Act last Wednesday. The law requires the U.S. secretary of state to annually oversee educational materials in schools in Gaza or governed by the Palestinian Authority.
Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said that congressional actions can’t stop at observation.
“What is taught comes down to the teacher,” he said. “And we know many staff have an affiliation or affinity for Hamas that has to change.”
Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, also shared Schanzer’s sentiment, citing a U.N. Watch report released Monday that claimed UNRWA teachers made statements that celebrated the Hamas attacks.
“The U.N. has failed,” Neuer said. “Its actions only incentivize Hamas to continue their strategy using Palestinians as human shields and maximizing casualties.”
Committee members said they warned of increasing levels of antisemitism in the U.N. in response to the Israel-Hamas war. Smith among others called for the disbandment of UNRWA entirely.
But Jonathan Lincoln, interim director for the Center for Jewish Civilization, said “replacing UNRWA with other U.N. agencies is unrealistic due to its entirely unique operational structure.”
“Despite its shortcomings, the U.N. is far too important an organization for the US to disengage from,” Lincoln testified. “This is for the sake of Palestinians, Israelis and the world.”
Ranking Member Susan Wild, D-Pa., called for “robust, pro-active diplomacy on the stage.” Manning said this could be achieved if the U.S. continues to be part of the conversation with UNRWA.
“U.N. agencies are imperfect. And in certain cases they’re even seriously flawed,” Manning said. “At the same time, the United States tends to have more influence when we have a seat at the table.”