Thomas-Greenfield discusses UNRWA oversight, reaffirms commitment to Israel in House hearing

‘We don’t let any opportunity that we can show our support for Israel pass, and I will continue to do that until my last day,’ the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. said

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WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 01: Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, testifies during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing at the Rayburn House Office Building

Facing questioning from a House Appropriations subcommittee yesterday over the U.S.’s work at, and contributions to, the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield highlighted what she characterized as the advantages of deeper U.S. involvement in the international body and reaffirmed the Biden administration’s commitment to standing with Israel and combating anti-Israel bias within the U.N. system.

“My team is constantly vigilant on this issue,” Thomas-Greenfield said in testimony before the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. “We watch it closely. I stay in close contact with the Israeli permanent representative in New York so that we don’t let any opportunity that we can show our support for Israel pass, and I will continue to do that until my last day.”

The subcommittee’s chair, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), suggested that the Biden administration had “dismantled the leverage that we had at the U.N. on the premise that by merely showing up and by providing funds without preconditions, that we can advance U.S. priorities.”

“That has resulted in a U.N. that’s clearly comfortable with its own broken situation,” he said.

Rep. Jake LaTurner (R-KS) told Thomas-Greenfield it is “difficult for any of us to justify” U.S. funding to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency — which provides services to Palestinians — given recurring issues such as antisemitic content in UNRWA curricula and the use of UNRWA educational facilities for terrorist purposes.

“We see the same response, a promise of investigation, staffers put on leave, a statement of condemnation, and then another violation occurs, we’re back to square one,” LaTurner said. “Clearly the steps the administration has taken to address and more critically prevent these violations from occurring are not enough.”

Thomas-Greenfield said that she has emphasized to UNRWA leadership in “a very intense and very strong conversation” that they must “do everything in their power” to ensure that UNRWA facilities and materials are not used in support of terrorism. She also said that she and the State Department’s Office of Population, Refugees and Migration is “constantly” monitoring UNRWA to ensure that the U.N. agency is upholding its memorandum of understanding with the U.S.

The U.S. ambassador said she had also had discussions with Palestinian leadership on the issue “because  what is happening damaged them as well, it damages the authority, it victimizes students.”

“UNRWA provides needed services to the most desperate people among the Palestinians, education, and the fact that terrorists are victimizing them by turning their facilities into possible places where they might operate… is absolutely unacceptable,” she added.

The ambassador later condemned a range of actions and statements by Francesca Albanese, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, who has compared Israel to the Nazis and appeared at conferences alongside members of terrorist groups. Such behavior has prompted two calls from Capitol Hill for Albanese’s firing since the beginning of the year.

Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. finds “her statements, her public stances completely unacceptable” and has raised its concerns “at the highest levels of the United Nations,” calling for action against Albanese and other U.N. officials whose public statements have suggested bias against Israel. But she said the U.S. has stopped short of explicitly calling for Albanese’s removal, as lawmakers have urged.

Thomas-Greenfield also noted that the U.S. had successfully worked to decrease the budget for the U.N.’s Commission of Inquiry investigating Israel by a quarter and to reduce staffing for the inquiry.

The U.S. is working to “support a two-state solution and continue to push both sides to avoid escalatory actions that would move us further from achieving that goal,” she added.

Among those efforts, Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. delegation has “objected strongly” to the General Assembly vote to seek an opinion from the International Court of Justice on Israel’s  actions vis a vis the Palestinians. 

“We do not find this acceptable that this was turned over to the ICJ,” she said.

Multiple lawmakers urged the ambassador to work to fight antisemitism at the U.N. and around the world. 

She said that the U.S. is “vigilantly combating” antisemitism and other forms of hate, pointing to a recent U.S.-organized forum on the subject and the adoption of the first General Assembly resolution condemning Holocaust denial in 15 years.

Thomas-Greenfield also spoke about what she framed as “extraordinary successes” in the past year in pushing back against Iran at the U.N., including organizing a Commission of Inquiry under the Human Rights Council to investigate Iranian human rights abuses, removing Tehran from the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women, highlighting Iranian cooperation with Russia and bringing a delegation of Iranian activists to the U.N. to shed light on the situation in the country.

She claimed that the Commission of Inquiry on Iran would not have been possible if the U.S. were not a member of the Human Rights Council, from which the U.S. withdrew under the Trump administration.

She also said that the U.S. is pressing Iran to comply with International Atomic Energy Agency inspections, adding that “the president has been clear that we will not stand by and allow them to gain nuclear capabilities… the administration is very aware of this and prepared to act when necessary.” 

The U.N. ambassador reiterated comments she had made in past appearances on the Hill, arguing that deeper involvement at the U.N. enables the U.S. to defend its priorities and its allies, including Israel, and that failing to pay dues “weakens” the U.S. position at the U.N. and strengthens U.S. competitors. Rejoining the Human Rights Council gives U.S. partners the “courage” to speak out as well, she added.

“I think if we had been on the council, we would not have a Commission of Inquiry that is unlimited on Israel,” she said, referring to its open-ended status. “This is why I think it’s so important that we’re on that council so that we can stop these kinds of actions from happening in the future.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who is the subcommittee’s chair and recently announced a bid for California’s open Senate seat in 2024, offered a similar view in her opening remarks.

“This bias is allowed to take shape though when the United States is missing, like the Commission of Inquiry on Israel. When we are absent, vacuums are created and filled by countries that do not share our values and our priorities,” she said. “The United States must be present and fully participating in international institutions to protect our interests as well as advocate for our allies.”

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