Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 18, 2014

Want Peace? Change UN’s Refugee Policy

As the United States tries again to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, one of the key sticking points in any such negotiation is getting some much-needed scrutiny in a United Nations forum this week. As Israel Hayom reports, a UN panel will discuss an effort to revise the rules under which the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) operates. The pending debate is the result of an initiative pushed by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Judges and seeks to redefine who can be considered a Palestinian refugee and therefore a recipient of UNRWA’s largesse. While those made homeless by other conflicts are only considered refugees if they personally lost their homes, under current rules anyone descended from someone who fled the British Mandate of Palestine or the territory of the newborn State of Israel during the Jewish state’s War of Independence is eligible for refugee status. Thus, while the refugees of every other conflict or dislocation have ultimately all been resettled, only the Palestinians remain homeless, a tactic endorsed by their leaders and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world in order to keep the war against Israel alive.

While the chances that the UN will act on this issue are virtually non-existent, this discussion not only calls attention to UNRWA’s misguided policies but also highlights an issue that is one of the chief obstacles to peace. Though UNRWA is tasked with helping the Palestinians and is, for lack of a Palestinian government or groups dedicated to providing their people with a path to a better life, their primary source of sustenance, it actually plays a central role in their continued victimization.

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As the United States tries again to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, one of the key sticking points in any such negotiation is getting some much-needed scrutiny in a United Nations forum this week. As Israel Hayom reports, a UN panel will discuss an effort to revise the rules under which the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) operates. The pending debate is the result of an initiative pushed by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Judges and seeks to redefine who can be considered a Palestinian refugee and therefore a recipient of UNRWA’s largesse. While those made homeless by other conflicts are only considered refugees if they personally lost their homes, under current rules anyone descended from someone who fled the British Mandate of Palestine or the territory of the newborn State of Israel during the Jewish state’s War of Independence is eligible for refugee status. Thus, while the refugees of every other conflict or dislocation have ultimately all been resettled, only the Palestinians remain homeless, a tactic endorsed by their leaders and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world in order to keep the war against Israel alive.

While the chances that the UN will act on this issue are virtually non-existent, this discussion not only calls attention to UNRWA’s misguided policies but also highlights an issue that is one of the chief obstacles to peace. Though UNRWA is tasked with helping the Palestinians and is, for lack of a Palestinian government or groups dedicated to providing their people with a path to a better life, their primary source of sustenance, it actually plays a central role in their continued victimization.

The Palestinians have a unique status in the world of the UN. While all other refugees are handled by a single organization, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the Palestinians have their own UN agency in UNRWA. But unlike the UNHCR, UNRWA’s goal is not to resettle the refugees and help them build new lives. UNRWA’s purpose has always been to keep them in place, living in squalid camps that long ago were transformed in concrete cities where they remain waiting for the day when they will “go home” to a Palestine that hasn’t existed for 66 years. Thus, rather than help the refugees to adjust to reality, UNRWA’s policies have dovetailed nicely with a Palestinian political identity that regards accommodation to Israel’s existence as tantamount to treason. The Palestinian belief in a “right of return” for not just the original Arabs who totaled a few hundred thousand but for the millions who claim to be their descendants is only made possible by UNRWA’s willingness to go on counting second, third, fourth, and now even fifth generations of Palestinians as refugees.

One aspect of this problem is the sheer inconsistency of international standards with regards to different kinds of refugees. In 1948, the Palestinians were counting on defeating and/or wiping out the Jewish community in the Mandate and therefore rejected the UN partition resolution that would have created the independent Palestinian state they now clamor for. Were they treated like other groups whose leaders gambled on aggression and lost—the millions of Germans who were brutally forced out of their homes in Eastern Europe come to mind after 1945—the Palestinians would have been helped to find new homes in the rest of the Arab world. Instead they were kept in place to continue to fuel the war against the one Jewish state in the world. Significantly, the roughly equal numbers of Jews who fled or were forced to flee their homes in the Arab and Muslim world after 1948 were given no such sympathy or UN aid. Those refugees were resettled in Israel and the West by Jewish groups and are now ignored when talk turns to restitution for the Middle East conflict.

Aside from the double standard here, the net effect of this policy is that in doing so UNRWA is serving to fuel the conflict rather than to seek its solution. UNRWA’s manifold problems—including education programs that foment hate against Israel and employees who aid terrorists—are well known. But so long as the Palestinians believe they have the support of the world in their effort to undo the verdict of the war they launched in 1948, the millions who call themselves refugees will never give up their goal of eradicating Israel’s existence. During the last 15 years the Palestinians have rejected three offers of independence and peace from Israel as well as walking away from a fourth such initiative this year. It’s clear the leaders of the Palestinian Authority do not think they have the support of their people for any treaty that will recognize the right of a Jewish state to exist no matter where its borders are drawn.

Rather than focus on forcing Israel to make more concessions that will endanger its security, those who wish to promote peace should focus their efforts on institutions like UNRWA that made a resolution of the conflict impossible. While it might be asking too much of a United Nations that is still rife with corruption and anti-Semitism to do the right thing on this issue, it is vital that the effort be made to change UNRWA before its actions help create more generations of angry refugees bent on destroying Israel. As much as the Israelis, the Palestinians would benefit from such a reform.

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The Audacity of Protesting Anti-Semitism

Strange that a recent article about anti-Semitism that appeared in the Guardian should have been accompanied by a picture not of Jews, but rather of Palestinian children. Beneath it reads the caption “Palestinian children are denied some fairly basic human rights.” Which human rights? We’re not told. And “fairly basic,” is that a legal term? Well never mind.

The article in question is an attack on the Anti-Defamation League’s recent survey of global anti-Semitism. It at once accuses the ADL of having essentially fabricated its findings through the use of “leading questions” and of having then used these findings for political ends by defending Israel, implicating Muslims and specifically framing Palestinians. This despite the fact that all nationalities surveyed were asked the same set of questions. Naturally, the Guardian was able to find two Jews to write such a piece. Donna Nevel is described as “a long time organizer against Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism” and serves on the board of Jewish Voice for Peace and the coordinating committee of something called the Nakba Education Project. Her co-author Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark similarly sits on the committee of the Nakba Education Project and is a co-founder of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. 

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Strange that a recent article about anti-Semitism that appeared in the Guardian should have been accompanied by a picture not of Jews, but rather of Palestinian children. Beneath it reads the caption “Palestinian children are denied some fairly basic human rights.” Which human rights? We’re not told. And “fairly basic,” is that a legal term? Well never mind.

The article in question is an attack on the Anti-Defamation League’s recent survey of global anti-Semitism. It at once accuses the ADL of having essentially fabricated its findings through the use of “leading questions” and of having then used these findings for political ends by defending Israel, implicating Muslims and specifically framing Palestinians. This despite the fact that all nationalities surveyed were asked the same set of questions. Naturally, the Guardian was able to find two Jews to write such a piece. Donna Nevel is described as “a long time organizer against Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism” and serves on the board of Jewish Voice for Peace and the coordinating committee of something called the Nakba Education Project. Her co-author Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark similarly sits on the committee of the Nakba Education Project and is a co-founder of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. 

Nevel and Neimark’s article could be read in two ways. At face value it appears to simply be an attack on a survey about anti-Semitism–a fairly baffling undertaking as it is. Yet, to achieve this attack, the authors have to first undertake a rather unconvincing exercise in apologetics on behalf of anti-Semitism itself. Working their way through these allegedly “leading questions” the writers in each case try to convince the reader that what is being asked about here is either not really anti-Semitism, or otherwise that it’s not at all unreasonable that Palestinians and others should hold such views. So for instance, when the survey asks “Do Jews have too much power in the business world?” the authors claim in the Palestinian respondents’ defense, “Were they really to be expected to answer anything but ‘yes’?” Similarly, when the survey asked if Jews talk too much about the Holocaust, Nevel and Neimark argue that for Palestinians—who the survey found to be the most anti-Semitic population in the world—it is only fair that they should answer in the affirmative. After all, allege the authors, the Holocaust is exploited to justify denying Palestinians their human rights. 

One paragraph was so outrageous that even the Guardian lost heart and had it removed. A note at the bottom of the piece now states that a paragraph was removed “that made a reference to ‘loyalty to Israel’ that was inconsistent with Guardian editorial guidelines.” It might be instructive to quote the offending “dual loyalties” paragraph in full:

In its press release, the ADL states that “The most widely accepted anti-Semitic stereotype worldwide is: Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country/the countries they live in.” It’s an odd indicator of anti-Semitism given that Israeli leaders consistently claim to speak for the global Jewish community and consider loyalty to Israel a precondition for being a good Jew. So it’s actually not surprising that this constant assertion has penetrated the consciousness of the rest of the world.

In their efforts to vindicate the Palestinians and other Muslim nations, Nevel and Neimark are forced to set the bar for anti-Semitism so high as to rid the term of all meaning. Indeed, in their article the authors complain of the ADL survey, “many of its questions are pointedly designed to skew the results because they have little to do with revealing actual anti-Semitism.” But overall the writers hardly give the sense of being genuinely concerned by whatever they consider “actual anti-Semitism” to be. In the wake of the precedent set by the Nazis, it seems that many are under the impression that if it doesn’t involve the mass extermination of the Jews, then it doesn’t really pass for serious anti-Semitism. In viewing the matter this way they risk legitimating the very demonization that makes such extermination possible.  

Yet, demonizing Jews via the ADL is precisely what Nevel and Neimark are apparently prepared to do. Dismissing the severity of rising global anti-Semitism, and accusing the ADL of instigating paranoia, the authors reference a survey showing that there is more bias against Muslims and Roma in Europe than Jews, although it seems the authors were too pleased with the results of that survey to raise the formerly worrisome matter of leading questions. They then go on to level their final allegation: that the ADL shouldn’t simply concern itself with anti-Semitism, but rather all prejudices.

By making this last attack, Nevel and Neimark appear to accuse Jews of the terrible crime of caring more about Jew-hatred than hatred of other peoples. One wonders if in the course of their work against “Islamophobia” and on behalf of Palestinians, the authors ever castigate these groups on the same charge. For these writers, the real crime is not the hatred of Jews–which they apparently think exaggerated–but the fact that the Jews have the self-interested audacity to protest their own persecution more than they protest the persecution of others. 

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