UNRWA: The embodiment of moral relativism
UNRWA: The embodiment of moral relativism

The UN General Assembly, UNESCO, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon frequently discriminate against Israel, through employing moral relativism.[1] The latter may be succinctly defined as a worldview where “there is no universally valid morality, only moralities plural, each having merely local validity.”[2]

The very existence of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is an expression of moral relativism. This UN agency was established in 1949 to provide services for 750,000 displaced Palestinian refugees. Two years later the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was founded to “protect refugees and solve refugee problems worldwide.”[3] It would have been commonsense to incorporate UNRWA into this new body, which looks after all other refugees throughout the world.[4] The survival of UNWRA more than six decades later, while UNHCR deals with far larger numbers of refugees from all other countries, thus constitutes an expression of extreme moral relativism.

There are significant additional aspects to this issue. For every other category of refugees in the world, as dictated by the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, refugee status applies to each refugee personally, and cannot be passed down to subsequent generations. Only Palestinian refugee status can be passed down from generation to generation. Because of this mandate, there are currently an estimated 5 million so-called “Palestinian refugees” worldwide.[5].[6]

Based on the UNHCR definition, the actual number of Palestinian refugees is not more than 30,000 -50 000, at most only 1% of the figure currently presented by UNRWA. By implication, UNRWA’s 2014 budget of $1.4 billion dollars, a budget funded by voluntary contributions from UN members, could be shrunk by more than 95%, if the organization were only required to support real refugees.

Yet another unjustified exception to the UNHCR definition of refugees concerns 30% of the so-called “Palestinian refugees” in Jordan who were born after 1997. Although they are granted full Jordanian citizenship these youngsters are still eligible for refugee status.[7] .

Descendants of refugees of far worse conflicts do not receive any benefits from the United Nations. For instance, the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a 2014 UNHCR estimate, has given rise to over 7 million refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people. The children of these refugees have not been deemed worthy of the status granted to the descendants of Palestinian refugees.[8]

Much effort has been made to ‘justify’ the continued existence of UNRWA. In an interview with the official Palestinian Ma’an news agency, UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness defended the agency’s need to exist as a separate entity and not be absorbed into UNHCR, stating that this is due to the absence of a “negotiated conclusion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” He added that only then can UNRWA’s powers be transferred to the UNHRC.[9]

In the past, however, the UNHCR has worked to assist numerous refugees in protracted conflicts, many with far higher death counts than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including those in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, and Somalia.[10] The figures for surviving displaced refugees from these and other current conflicts far outnumber both the 30,000 -50,000 genuine Palestinian refugees, together with their descendants, the ‘artificial’ refugees who also hold UNRWA refugee status and inflate the numbers so greatly.

In December 2014, Bassem Eid, president of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, published an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post entitled, “Proud Palestinians must lead the fight to reform UNRWA.” Eid argued for the end of “temporary” conditions in UNRWA resettlement camps with a focus on resettlement of refugees instead of the unrealistic goal of "right of return". Eid proposed these reforms stating: “I’m saying this as a loyal Palestinian. I’m saying this because I am concerned about my people’s future.”[11]

One UNRWA employee wrote “Stab Zionist Dogs,” on his personal Facebook page, and others posted videos, messages and pictures glorifying terrorists, and called for a “Third Intifada.”
The defense of UNRWA’s superfluous existence is frequently accompanied by vilification of Israel on the part of its proponents. In response to Eid’s suggestions, Gunness used his personal Twitter account to call for a boycott against the Jerusalem Post.[12]

This was yet one more aspect of UNRWA’s moral relativism. As UNRWA spokesperson, Gunness has been interviewed by the Ma’an news agency.[13] Unlike The Jerusalem Post, Ma’an has a track record of publishing numerous major lies. In  2013, following International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Ma’an published an article declaring the Holocaust a myth.[14] A 2012 Ma’an article declared that Jews are “the root of conflict in the world," cursed by Allah, and "outcasts in every corner of the earth.”[15] Gunness, however, has not called for a boycott of Ma’an News Agency, or any other media outlet apart from The Jerusalem Post.

UNRWA employees have also been caught spreading anti-Semitic hatred. In October 2015, the UN Watch monitoring group submitted a report to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNRWA chief Pierre Krähenbühl, and US Ambassador Samantha Power (whose government funds UNRWA to the tune of $400 million per annum). The report concerned UNRWA employees who were publicly abusing their official positions by inciting violence. One UNRWA employee wrote “Stab Zionist Dogs,” on his personal Facebook page, and others posted videos, messages and pictures glorifying terrorists, and called for a “Third Intifada.”

Mohammed Assaf, a Gazan Arab Idol winner and UNRWA “Youth Ambassador,” perhaps the agency’s most public representative after Gunness himself, has posted pictures glorifying “martyrs” who were shot for stabbing Israeli civilians. He even released a music video encouraging terror featuring the line, “Fight back until you defeat the aggressor.”[16]

In response to the UN Watch’s report, UNRWA gave a statement, buried deeply within a UN transcript, condemning the social media activity of its employees. However, no official statement has been released, and even in this transcript UNRWA denied the validity of some of these accusations of anti-Semitic activity and incitement by its employees. Gunness denied the facts on his Twitter account and instead launched a series of attacks against the existence of UN Watch.[17],[18]

The UN Secretary General’s deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq, explained that the offenders who were UNRWA employees have been disciplined with suspensions and loss of pay. However, no formal apology from UNRWA for its employees’ activities, or from Gunness for his baseless attacks on UN Watch, has been forthcoming.[19]

In conclusion:  UNRWA, in its activities and very existence, is among the leaders of the UN’s corruption of moral values.


[1] Manfred Gerstenfeld and Jamie Berk, “The UN Human Rights Council and Moral Relativism,” Israel National News, 31 July 2015. See also: Manfred Gerstenfeld and Jamie Berk, “UNESCO's Use of Moral Relativism to Foster Anti-Israel Bias,” Israel National News, 18 August 2015; Manfred Gerstenfeld and Jamie Berk, “An Exercise in Extreme Moral Relativism: The UNHRC Gaza Reports,” Israel National News, 4 September 2015; Manfred Gerstenfeld and Jamie Berk, “How Ban Ki-moon undermines the UN’s universal values,” The Jerusalem Post, 20 September 2015, Manfred Gerstenfeld and Jamie Berk, “Moral Relativism in the UN General Assembly,” Israel National News, 20 October 2015.

[2] James Velleman, Foundations for Moral Relativism, (Open Book Publishers, 2013) 1.

[3] “About Us,” UNHCR,.

[4] “Whither UNRWA,” The Jerusalem Post, 13 August 2014.

[5] “Who We Are,” UNRWA.

[6] Dore Gold, Tower of Babble, (New York: Crown Forum, 2005), 38.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “2015 UNHCR country operations profile - Democratic Republic of the Congo,” UNHCR, 2015.

[9] “Exploding the myths: UNRWA, UNHRC, and the Palestinian Refugees,” Ma’an News Agency, 27 June 2011.

[10] Barry N. Stein, “Refugee Repatriation, Return, and Refoulement During Conflict,” USAID, 1997.

[11] Bassem Eid, “Proud Palestinians must lead the fight to reform UNRWA,” The Jerusalem Post, 1 December 2014.

[12]  “UNRWA vs the ‘Post’”, The Jerusalem Post, 12 July 2015.

[13] “Exploding the myths: UNRWA, UNHRC, and the Palestinian Refugees,” Ma’an News Agency, 27 June 2011.

[14] “Blood Libels & BDS- NGO Monitor’s Report to the 2013 Global Forum on Anti-Semitism,” NGO Monitor, 27 May 2013.

[15] Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, “Venomous Antisemitism published by Palestinian Ma'an News Agency,” Palestinian Media Watch, 30 January 2013.

[16] “Report: UN Officials Inciting Murder of Jews, Call to “Stab Zionist Dogs,” UN Watch, 19 October 2015.

[17]  Gunness twittered; “Appeal 2 journalists: please don’t turn @UNWatch baseless allegation about anti-Semitism into a “he said she said” story. It is a non story.”

[18] “UNRWA suspends employees after UN Watch exposed incitement to anti-Semitic violence,” UN Watch, 22 October 2015.

[19] “UN ‘very regrettably’ admits employees suspended after UN Watch report exposing incitement to anti-Semitic violence,” UN Watch, 22 October 2015.