UN Watch is a human rights organization based in Geneva, Switzerland that monitors the conduct of the United Nations using the standard of the organization's own charter.
Paul Calvert, a Christian journalist based in the Middle East, spoke with the Director of Advocacy for UN Watch Daniel Smith in an interview to discuss the controversy surrounding the UN Refugee Agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) and why it needs to be replaced by another humanitarian aid organization.
Smith also explained why he believes the United Nations is an antisemitic organization.
Smith explained that his organization UN Watch specifically focuses on combating antisemitism and anti-Israel bias within the UN system, which he said is one of the main areas where the UN strays from its founding principles.
UN Watch is also a “voice for the voiceless with the UN system,” Smith told Calvert. “We bring dissidents from dictatorships that have outsized influence within the UN system to come and testify about the human rights situations in their countries.”
Smith offered a short summary of the UNRWA and explained that the UN has only two humanitarian agencies for refugees under its wing: UNRWA for Palestinians, established in 1949, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), founded one year later in 1950, which “serves every other population in the world.”
Today, UNRWA provides social services for Palestinian “so-called” refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, as well as East Jerusalem, Smith explained and said the social services are mostly provided to schools but also cover healthcare and humanitarian aid.
“And they still run refugee camps that were founded over 70 years ago because UNRWA applies a different definition of the word refugee than UNHCR does…” Smith continued.
“It's a unique situation in the world where Palestinians remain refugees generation after generation. The status is passed down...actually, it's passed down patrilineally, meaning a Palestinian male who is considered a refugee under UNRWA's definition – his children can also be considered Palestinian refugees.”
Smith explained that after Israel’s War on Independence in 1948, there were about 750,000 Palestinian refugees but today, according to UNRWA's definition, there are almost 6 million Palestinian refugees who are eligible to receive services. In addition, Smith said, UNRWA has never been given a mandate to resettle its refugees, whereas UNHCR has worked to help other world refugees obtain citizenship in other countries.
“It’s an interesting situation because 70% of Gaza's population are considered refugees by UNRWA, but they've been living there, since 1948, 1949. Many countries in the world consider that they've established a state there, but it's not – they still consider that not to be their home. They still consider their home to be in Israel proper.”
Smith said he believes that is the core of the current conflict, adding that the “core fuel that led to October 7th was this notion in Gaza that ‘Gaza is not our home. Our home is on the other side of the fence. We have to break through and we have to go take it.’”
The UN Watch official told Calvert the fact that Palestinian “refugees” have not been resettled after so many years is the reason for what is happening now.
“You know why this conflict? It's fuel for the conflict: They haven't been resettled. The situation, the conflict can't end until they are. And it's UNRWA mandate that's keeping it alive,” Smith said.
The UNRWA has failed to do its job and needs to be replaced by a humanitarian aid organization that will help Palestinians, Smith argued.
“Hamas sees its core responsibility as destroying Israel. It doesn't see its core responsibility as providing for its own people,” he said. Instead, Hamas leaders say the UNRWA takes care of the ‘refugees’ which gives Hamas the license to use “all of its financial resources, not to care for its people, but to build terror tunnels and to attack Israel and invest in its terror infrastructure.”
Smith emphasized that in these days, humanitarian aid needs to be provided to prevent a terrible crisis in Gaza, nor does UN Watch advocate that aid to Gaza be removed or reduced in the future, only that the humanitarian aid organization needs to be replaced.
“The aid is essential for stability at the moment, in the region. In the long term, we'd love to see Palestinian leadership taking responsibility for providing these services to their own population."
Calvert and Smith discussed the latest UNRWA scandal, where Israel has provided evidence showing that at least 12 UNRWA staff members participated in the Oct. 7 invasion and massacre of Israel and foreign citizens, including women, children and the elderly.
“But it goes it's far deeper than just those 12,” Smith said, adding that the latest evidence is not just about "a few bad apples" in the UN agency that employs 13,000 within Gaza.
A Wall Street Journal article stated that 10% of UNRWA staff reportedly have links to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terror groups in Gaza.
“And the number of 10% is actually even a little bit deceptive because only men can have membership in those in those groups. So if you look at the percentage of men only that are employed by UNRWA and are members of these groups, it's higher, it's something like 20%, even a little bit higher than that,” Smith said.
“And then there's 3,000 who are members of a Telegram group that we at UN Watch exposed several weeks ago,” Smith continued.
He said on Oct. 7, UN Watch discovered that the UNRWA Telegram channel was filled with comments by teachers celebrating the attacks who were celebrating the atrocities being committed by Hamas terrorists.
“And there was not one post in the group pushing back saying, ‘Hey, this is not so good. Hey, we shouldn't be slaughtering people.’” Smith said, adding that the social media posts by the terrorists during the attack were celebrated, liked, replied to” on the UNRWA Telegram channel.
UN Watch has been conducting research on UNRWA staff going back as far as 2015, including the social media pages of UNRWA teachers.
“And we found dozens and dozens, up to 180 examples, of UNRWA employees who were posting content that celebrates terrorism and cites jihadi terrorism and cites antisemitism, praises Adolf Hitler. And not once in all of our research did we ever find one UNRWA teacher pushing back against another UNRWA teacher for posting such content. In fact, we found the opposite. We found this content was 'liked' by their colleagues. There were supportive replies to all of this content,” Smith told Calvert.
Smith confirmed that UNRWA employs members of Hamas and told Calvert that back in 2004, then-UNRWA chief Peter Hansen even admitted this during an interview involving a small Canadian funding scandal.
The UN Watch official argued that UNRWA needs to be dissolved and urged all governments to permanently end their funding and support of the refugee agency for Palestinians.
“And that's what we're pushing hard against right now – pushing back to make sure that funding is not unfrozen because it will continue reaching the hands of Hamas. And it's the time, right now, to find a replacement for UNRWA's work, humanitarian work, and to divert funds to other organizations that are operating in Gaza that can distribute the humanitarian aid, not just open the door again to this funding that can go right into Hamas' hands.”
When Calvert asked Smith if he thinks the United Nations is an antisemitic organization, he replied that he does, according to the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition, because the UN applies a double standard when approaching Israel compared to other nations.
“…Applying a double standard to Israel that you wouldn't apply to any other country in the world, that's an example of antisemitism. Why are you applying a double standard to the one Jewish country in the world?” Smith said.
He brought up the fact that last year, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) voted for 14 resolutions against Israel and seven against the rest of the world combined.
“How can that be? How can it be? There are two times more resolutions on Israel than the entire rest of the world combined. That is a double standard. That in and of itself is antisemitic.”
Smith also noted the recent lawsuit leveled by the South African government against Israel, claiming that the IDF is committing genocide in Gaza. Israel addressed the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague to answer those charges.
“…There are other countries that are brought to the ICJ but no other country is brought for defending itself – you know, no other countries brought to the ICJ and accused of genocide for defending itself from…after the slaughter of its people. So, yes, there's a clear double standard there. And this is a sham case against Israel."
In December, a UN Watch report revealed that Sarah Douglas, an official with the organization UN Women, had been liking some of the strongest criticisms and anti-Israel, anti-Zionist posts on 𝕏, including those that claimed Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.
“I think it was over 50 days before [UN Women] responded with any kind of criticism of the sexual violence that took place on October 7th, which is, you know, just completely outrageous. And when people are wondering, how could that be? How could UN women wait so long? This is the answer. Their officials are completely biased. They hate Israel. They don't want to see Israel ever as a victim. They don't want to see Israeli women as victims. They want to turn the other way and ignore that it happened,” Smith said.
Since then, UN Watch has petitioned to have Douglas terminated for violating of the UN ethics code that states its employees must be unbiased. According to Smith, the UN has admitted Douglas violated their code and is conducting an investigation.
“As far as we know, she has not been fired. So it's an ongoing – it's been kind of overshadowed by the UNRWA news right now – but this is an ongoing campaign for us to make sure that there's accountability here and that anti-Israel officials that are violating the UN's own code of ethics are removed from their position,” Smith told Calvert.
For years, UN Watch has provided evidence that UNRWA runs the schools in Gaza with content that systematically brainwashes children to hate Jews and the Jewish nation.
“It is through the school books," Smith said and explained the UN Watch collaborates with the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se), an Israeli non-profit organization that monitors the content of school textbooks, specifically to see how Palestinians have been educating their students in relation to religion, societies, cultures and democratic values.
“We issued a joint report with [IMPACT-se] in March of last year which did some analysis on very problematic content within the textbooks, as well as from our end, we landed the research on the social media posts of teachers to show what they really believe, what they really think and what they're like, even outside of the textbook, what they're encouraging their students to do, what they're teaching their students in the classroom.”
“I think UNRWA should be dissolved as an organization,” Smith said. “Can it happen overnight? No, the humanitarian aid needs to flow, but what can happen overnight is funds need to immediately start being transferred to other humanitarian aid organizations that are operating in Gaza, that can operate in Gaza but aren't currently to be distributing that aid. And these organizations exist.”
Smith offered the example of UNRWA to further emphasize his point.
“There's war in Sudan right now, right? Sudan doesn't have UNRWA. How is the UN distributing humanitarian aid in that war zone? The UN knows how to do it. There's no reason why they can't figure it out in Gaza without UNRWA.”
He offered examples of other humanitarian organizations besides UNRWA that could provide aid to Gaza in the future.
“There's the World Food Program, which already is operating in Gaza. There's the WHO, UNHCR, there's US Aid. There's plenty of international agencies that could be operating to distribute this aid. There's no reason why it needs to be UNRWA,” Smith argued.
According to the UN Watch advocacy official, UNRWA can be accused of using the civilian population of Gaza as a human shield for its political mission.
“Its political mandate, which is ‘return to Israel,’ is really the core of UNRWA's…that is UNRWA's purpose,” he said, adding that the UN agency’s “end goal is to return Palestinian refugees from 1948 to Israel.”
“And it built up this whole humanitarian aid infrastructure to shield its political mission,” he added.
He noted that UNRWA recently claimed that the humanitarian aid in Gaza could run out overnight, saying: "...that's clearly not the case. But the fact that they're even signaling that that might happen, they're putting Gaza's civilian population on the table and saying: ‘You want to save them? You have to keep our political mission alive.’ And I don't think we can accept that."
Smith provided a specific example regarding the EU’s funding of water pipes in Gaza, explaining how the situation becomes problematic as long as Hamas remains in control of the Palestinian population in the coastal enclave.
“It could have been a good thing if they were used as water pipes. However, you know, it was well documented. Hamas, even put out a video boasting that they had taken these water pipes and turned them into rockets to shoot into Israel.”
“Hamas could have taken the water pipes to build infrastructure for their people in Gaza. But because of UNRWA's message to the Gazan people, ‘70% of you are refugees. This is not your home. Your home is on the other side of the fence.’ So with that logic, why would they build infrastructure for themselves in a place that's not their home? They would build the tools to get back to their home rockets, to shoot into Israel, to terrorize the society, to play the long game of returning to Israel.
Smith clearly stated that the goal of Hamas is to destroy Israel and he added, that countries that fund the UNRWA are, in a sense, “doing the same thing “ by “providing missiles to Hamas. It's fuel to keep the conflict going.”
While Smith admitted he is not a military analyst or expert, he does believe that Israel has a right to defend itself and hope that Hamas will be eradicated if possible.
Toward the end of the interview, Calvert asked Smith, who is an observant religious Jew, where he was on Oct. 7.
“It's supposed to be the happiest day of the year. I live here in Jerusalem but I was actually visiting family in Miami on Oct, 7th. I had flown two days earlier and because it was a holiday for us,” he began.
“I don't watch the TV, but my family actually is not observant. So it was my family that told me early in the morning the first thing I woke up in Miami, what was happening back home in Israel. And it was just an utter shock. The first I started crying, I really the immediate reaction was, how is this possible?”
He described the moment as a game-changer for Israel and referred to the day as “Israel’s 9/11, absolutely.”
Smith said his personal prayer for Israel is a future of security and peace for the Jewish state.
“Israel has a right, obviously, to exist and to exist without terror organizations murdering its civilians, he stated. “We want to live in peace with our neighbors here in Jerusalem. You see it every day, Jews and Arabs co-existing. There's no reason why it shouldn't happen in this region, everywhere. We should have peace with our neighbors.”
He pointed to the historic signing of the Abraham Accords peace agreements in 2020 between Israel and four Arab nations, calling it an “unbelievable development.”
“The peace that Israel was able to form with the UAE and with Bahrain and with Morocco through the Abraham Accords. There's no reason why that shouldn't continue to spread, and why Israel and our neighbors, we should be able to thrive together,” he added. “The only reason would be because they don't want Israel to exist.”
Smith said he would add UNRWA to the list of those who seek to “undo Israel” and “reverse the war of 1948.”
He emphasized: “We can't coexist with those who want to undo our existence. So we can't coexist with Hamas, Hezbollah, and with UNRWA's mission. It needs to be dissolved.”
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The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.