'It's the least we can do'

An interview with a unique man: Max Blankfeld, who sponsors a project exposing UNRWA, and heads the Texas FIDF, among many other things.

Ido Ben Porat ,

Max Blankfeld
Max Blankfeld
Ido Ben Porat

Houston-based entrepreneur Max Blankfeld sponsors an important web project exposing UNRWA and heads the Texas Friends of the IDF (FIDF), but still thinks it's the least he can do for Israel.

"The issue of UNRWA has bothered me a lot, because of several things," he told us in an exclusive interview:

Number one, why is there a separate agency for Palestinians alone, while all other refugees in the world are under a different umbrella, which is the UNHCR?

Secondly, why is it that the so-called Palestinian refugees include the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of the original refugees?

The third point is that many of those refugees are people who fled their country under the direction of their leaders, who said that they would able to return after the Jews are expelled from the land.

And finally – what UNRWA does is to perpetuate the Palestinian problem and not to help solve it, whereas the meaning of a refugee agency is to solve the problem; to lead to a resettlement of the individuals and not to perpetuate the problem. So as I was thinking about this subject, I decided that this was a subject that I wanted to devote some of my time and resources to try to solve.

His involvement with UNaccountable is the product of a conversation he had with former UN Ambassador for Israel, Ron Prosor:

I've been friends with Ron Prosor for a few years now, and about two years ago, as he was ending his position as ambassador of Israel at the United Nations, and I was in Washington for the annual AIPAC conference, it happened that we met at the restaurant in the Congress, and I approached him and I told him that I would like to do something regarding UNRWA because my mother was a refugee herself, and I still have her document as a refugee, and I was thinking that maybe I should sue the United Nations and ask why the Palestinians have this kind of special status and other descendants of refugees around the world cannot have the same status as the Palestinians.

At that time he told me that he was just initiating a new project regarding this subject called UNaccountable . Through this project he wanted to raise the awareness in the American public and Congress about the aberration that UNRWA is and show the differences between UNRWA and UNHCR, so that we could come to a solution regarding UNRWA.

So he said to me – why don't you join forces with me, instead of going alone in this other direction? And that's when I decided to join Ron, in this very important subject, and the UNaccountable project is out now with a website and we're going to share it with the American people and the members of Congress, to educate everybody there about the issue of UNRWA.

The UNaccountable project by the Abba Eban institution recommends that Congress consider a three-stage plan for returning the UN to its core mission and values:

Transparency – UNaccountable calls for the appointment of a special delegate to the UN budgetary committee to monitor the purposes for which the UN and its agencies are using American funding.

Diligence – UNaccountable thinks Congress should reinvigorate the UN Transparency and Accountability Initiative, and ensure UN agencies uphold their mission statements.

Accountability – UNaccountable suggests that the US flex its financial muscle wherever performance is inefficient and corrupt.

As chair of the FIDF in Texas, too, Blankfeld is an activist. "It’s important to explain to the people in the United States in general and in Texas in particular, that this is an organization that is there to help the soldiers from the humanitarian standpoint and not the military standpoint," he told us:

As I explain to people – while in general, the defense budget of countries around the world is 2.3% of the GNP on average, in Israel – given the security situation and the threats from all the Arab countries surrounding Israel, the percentage of defense in the budget is 5-6%. So it's double the world average. And therefore, a lot of the money that would normally be used for education in any regular country – for health, for housing – has to be directed to defense.

And so, FIDF members in the United States help fill this gap by offering scholarships to soldiers, to enable them to go to college when they finish their military service; to help families of soldiers that are in need… There are many soldiers who want to stay in the base over the weekend because the base can offer them more than they will find in their homes. Then you have a lot of lone soldiers, who are people that we also help in different ways.

So I think that the work that the FIDF does in the US is very, very important. And this is the least that we can do because we are lucky that our children do not have to go to the army. In Israel, it's mandatory to go to the army. And so, the least that we can do is to help those kids, who need those resources in order to improve their education, and their quality of life.

Born in Germany to Holocaust survivors, he moved at the age of two to Brazil. From 1970 to 1976 he studied at the Technion and Tel Aviv University, and was a stringer for Brazilian newspapers; Upon his return to Brazil he was the local correspondent for Yediot Aharonot for two years; He serves on the Boards of Honest Reporting, MASA and the Jewish Studies Program at Rice University. He is a managing partner of Gene by Gene genetic testing services.

Blankfeld also recently published the book "After Germany's Fall", a collection of articles written by his father and published in the Jewish press during the years 1946-1953. The book can be found at Amazon Books. All proceeds received from the sale will go towards supporting The Desiree and Max Blankfeld Fund for Jewish Studies at Rice University and Houston Hillel’s Desiree and Max Blankfeld Scholarship for experiences in Israel.