By Ada Hos-Peles, The Jewish Post Correspondent
StandWithUs, the international education organization has launched its campaign to change UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the way it has been functioning to date.
The campaign began with two briefings in New York City at Temple Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue by Representative Steve Rothman (D-NJ), author of H.Con 29, a resolution calling for transparency in UNRWA's textbooks and ridding the agency's payroll of terrorists.
Esther Renzer, international president of StandWithUs who flew in from Los Angeles headquarters for the event, welcomed everyone at both programs, and emphasized that the "Reform UNRWA Now" campaign, reaching SWU's 70,000 activists, is a way to educate the pro-Israel community and encourage them to take action by urging elected officials to use taxpayer dollars towards preparing young Palestinian minds for the eventuality of peace by teaching peace. “Our mission is education," she remarked. "We know its power to bring about understanding and conversely, to incite hatred...especially in impressionable children. That is why we are informing the public about the misuse of UNRWA schools which could and should be promoting tolerance and understanding. We believe that through awareness and a grassroots call to action, we can truly foster dramatic change in UNRWA because our tax dollars are such a big part of its budget. But we must assert ourselves now. If we support Rothman’s resolution, and continue to demand that Congress link its funding to UNRWA reforms, then we may see a new beginning on a road to peace. We are deeply committed to this effort".
StandWithUs is urging it’s membership and the public to lobby their legislators to support H. Con 29 and demand accountability and reform from UNRWA. Congressman Roth-man was introduced by investigative journalist Joel Mowbray, a specialist on UNRWA. He reminded attendees that, "the need for taxpayers is to see how their money is being utilized. $185 million was spent last year through UNRWA on Palestinian refugee camps, all without transparency. As a journalist, I can attest that the most important aspect of government is that it be transparent and accountable to the taxpayers who fund it." Mowbray pointed out former top Islamic Jihad rocket maker Awad Al-Qiq, who was killed in an Israeli air strike last May. "Al-Qiq was the headmaster and science instructor at an UNRWA school in Rafah, Gaza. If his night job was making rockets, what do you think he was doing during the day with his students in the science lab?"
Congressman Rothman reviewed his efforts to stop US funding of UNRWA until there are measurable reforms. He sits on the House Appropriations Committee, the only House committee with the power to authorize money. Rothman was the Northeast Chairman of the Obama Election campaign and one of his aides now works for the President, granting him easier access to the White House. A leader in reforming UNRWA, Rothman’s efforts began with a letter to the heads of the UN agency. He urged them to find a way to stop hiring terrorists, establish a better screening process when they hire staff, and that their textbooks must be put up for public review on the Internet to ensure they are not spreading hatred towards Israel and inciting children to violent jihad. There was a back and forth correspondence and Rothman finally approached Secretary of State Rice (and before that, Colin Powell) seeking their help. Finally, after working together with Republican Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL), Rothman authored H. Con Res 29 which now has more than 25 co-sponsors in the House. The Congressman was clear that he is not advocating for the US to stop humanitarian aid, but that it is imperative for taxpayers to be assured that their money in not being allocated to fund terrorism. He urged the crowd to lobby the Administration and their legislators to support H Con 29 and demand accountability and reform from UNRWA.
UNRWA has provided an internationally-funded system of schools and social services for the 1948 Palestinian refugees and their descendants for the past 60 years. But its humanitarian mission has been compromised, according to accumulating evidence. Too often, its social services and schools incite hatred for Israel and Jews and glorify terrorists. Many refugee camps are terrorism centers. Confirmed terrorists are on UNRWA’s payroll. US taxpayers have funded over one-fourth of UNRWA’s budget since its founding in 1949.
“UNRWA has been a major obstacle to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict,” contends Roz Rothstein, “Because UNRWA runs refugee schools, it could have been teaching peace all these years. Just the reverse has been true. We have been paying for hate education. Rep. Rothman has been a leader in the effort to reform the Agency, and his bill is one vital step in ending this misuse of our taxpayer money, abuse of Palestinian children, and perversion of American values.”
Since its inception eight years ago, SWU, a pro-Israel advocacy organization, has worked on campuses and the communities to educate about the Arab-Israeli conflict. The non-profit organization hosts speakers and conferences, offers website resources and creates brochures and materials about Israel that are distributed globally. Based in Los Angeles, SWU has offices across the U.S., in Israel and the UK. It has become a leader on college campuses, empowering student leaders and providing them the facts and tools necessary to fight anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism and to run events that teach about Israel.