Battle gets nasty at
critical juncture for
U.N. agency aiding
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
rooks. Whores. That's what they
call each other in polite com-
UNRWA, the massive United Nations
bureaucracy that administers assis-
tance to the Palestinians, is locked in
an unseemly epithet-laden battle in
Washington with some pro-Israel figures
who say the relief agency should be shut
down because it has been co-opted by
They challenge not only the legitimacy
of UNRWA, but also the refugee status of
the 4.3 million Palestinians it is charged
with serving, including 1.6 million in the
West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
It's not a new fight, but its tone has
become ferocious just when the new
Obama administration is attempting to
restore civility to a peace process blood-
ied by the conflict in January in the Gaza
The fight comes as policymakers say the
United Nations Relief and Works Agency
is more critical than ever in getting des-
perately needed food and supplies to the
Palestinians, and also when the agency is
facing physical attacks from the Hamas-
led regime in Gaza.
In the U.S. Congress, Reps. Steve
Rothman, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill.,
are reviving their campaign to cut U.S.
funds to UNRWA until it comes clean
about what the lawmakers say are its
irregularities and its coziness with ter-
The United States provides between a
fifth and a quarter of UNRWA's $440 mil-
lion to $540 million annual budget. (The
discrepancy in the 2008 figures arises
from the gap between pledges from
donor countries and actual projected
In recent days the lawmakers have been
seeking Jewish support for a nonbinding
resolution calling on UNRWA to tighten
its employment policies against terror-
March 19 • 2009
A Palestinian gets flour at a UNRWA warehouse in Gaza City.
ist infiltration, and for a separate letter
to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham
Clinton asking for a cutoff in funding for
UNRWA until a U.S. review of the agency
In a recent conference call organized
by the Conference of Presidents of
Major American Jewish Organizations,
Rothman said he needed Jewish commu-
nal help to overcome institutional resis-
tance in Washington to cutting off fund-
ing for UNRWA, particularly among "the
U.S. Senate leadership who think that is
an unfair and unreasonable burden on
Later, in an interview, Kirk bluntly
likened the agency to his home state's
scandal-plagued political machine. "This
reminds of Rod Blagojevich in its cor-
ruption," Kirk said, referring to the recent
removal of the Illinois governor.
In their letter to Clinton, Kirk and
Rothman suggest alternative "bilateral
assistance mechanisms" to deliver aid.
The problem with this idea, some observ-
ers say, is that only a few such mecha-
nisms exist on the ground, and they lack
The respected American Near East
Refugee Aidhas managed to distribute
$4 million in food and medical aid since
the end of fighting — a minor amount
compared to the tens of millions UNRWA
is expected to deliver.
In the past, Israel has said that despite
its frequent disagreements with the agen-
cy, UNRWA is critical in getting relief
to the Palestinians; Israel relies on the
agency to keep Gaza from a total collapse.
Israeli authorities watched nervously
after UNRWA temporarily shut down
operations to protest raids by Hamas
gunmen on its storehouses.
The Bush and Obama administra-
tions also have seen UNRWA as critical.
President Bush in December ordered
most of the $85 million in Palestinian
relief funds to be funneled through the
agency, and President Obama ordered
that $13 million of $20 million in emer-
gency postwar assistance be set aside for
Even as it is set to receive additional
U.S. aid, the relief agency is facing a new
wave of criticism — this time from its
former chief legal counsel, James Lindsay.
In a recently released report written for
a pro-Israel think tank, the Washington
Institute for Near East Policy, Lindsay
described UNRWA as highly politicized.
But he insisted that UNRWA "is part
of the solution," and has praised the role
of its schools in creating the Palestinian
intellectual class that now takes a leader-
ship role in multiple disciplines through-
out the Arab world.
Still, Lindsay asserted, UNRWA is also
part of the problem" because it allows
itself to be politicized by the Palestinians.
Reps. Kirk, Rothman and several Jewish
groups accuse UNRWA of effectively hir-
ing terrorists, citing anecdotal evidence
but no substantive research.
In his report, which otherwise is tough
on UNRWA, Lindsay dismissed claims
that the agency employs terrorists, noting
that only a "few" of its 15,000 workers in
the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have
"been convicted of terrorism-related
But Lindsay criticized UNRWA for
allowing staff to become members of
banned political groups, including Hamas.
"The agency makes no effort to discour-
age supporters or members of Hamas (or
any other terrorist group) from joining its
staff,' he writes.
UNRWA says it simply does not have
the resources to track the extracurricular
activities of all 29,000 staffers around the
world. Doing so would effectively cripple
the agency's operations in Gaza, where
Hamas membership predominates and at
times has been foisted upon residents. El
Bread of the unleavened variety will
be the big attraction at the Jewish
Community Center in West Bloomfield
when Shalom Street opens its annual
Barbara and Douglas Bloom Matzah
Factory March 22-26 and March 29.
While offering shmurah matzah
making, baking and tasting to prereg-
istered groups during the week, two
events will be open to the public.
Federation's Shalom Family will
host a program on Sunday, March 22,
from 3-5 p.m. that includes matzah
baking, crafts and music for families
with children up to age 6.
New this year, the Matzah Factory
will present Pesach Productions, an
activity-filled afternoon based on tele-
vision game shows, on Sunday, March
29, from 1-5 p.m.
Iron Chef Pesach, Passover On
Demand, the $10,000 Pyramid and
other Passover-themed activities will be
offered. The programs are best suited
for children ages 5-12, but open to all.
The Matzah Factory is organized and
run by Federation's Alliance for Jewish
Education, Jewish Experiences for
Families, Shalom Street and the Jewish
Community Center of Metropolitan
Detroit, with support of Barbara and
Douglas Bloom of Birmingham and
under the rabbinic supervision of
Rabbi Amzalak and members of Bais
In addition to the tour of the
Matzah Factory, visitors to Shalom
Street will participate in a number of
Passover activities, including creating
crafts and learning the symbols of the
Passover seder table. For information,
contact Gail Greenberg, (248) 205-
2536 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Mikhail Krutikov holds a joint
appointment in both the Slavic
Department and the Frankel Center
for Judaic Studies at the University
of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He will
kick off the the Jewish Theological
Seminary of America's Graduate
School Alumni Series at 7 p.m. on
Tuesday, March 24, at the Frankel
Center, which is a cosponsor.
Krutikov, who received his doc-
toral degree from JTS, will discuss
"Encounters with the Shtetl in the
21st Century," a glimpse at part of an
anthropological project dealing with
current Jewish life in the former Soviet
For information and reservations,
call (212) 678-8024 or visit www.jtsa.