fbpx
HEAT FROM THE HILL

Republicans blast Biden, UNRWA after agency admits employees’ Oct. 7 involvement

Many Republican lawmakers said that the U.S. should never have restored aid to the U.N. body, and said it should cut it off permanently

United Nations Headquarters

versello/Flickr

Congressional Republicans blasted the U.N. Relief and Works Agency and the Biden administration on Friday after the U.N. agency admitted that multiple UNRWA officials had been involved in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The announcement prompted the administration to pause aid to the U.N. agency.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was “appalled — but unfortunately not surprised” by the revelations, given “extensive evidence that UNRWA is not a neutral arbiter, and that their anti-Israel bias is widespread and systemic.” 

He also condemned the Biden administration for restarting aid to the organization, which the Trump administration had terminated, in 2021. McCaul said that he “strongly support[s]” the new cutoff, and that “a full accounting of UNRWA’s complicity” in terrorism “is urgently needed.”

The news comes as congressional Republicans have stepped up their criticisms of the administration’s request for aid for Palestinians in Gaza as part of the emergency supplemental aid bill for Israel and other U.S. allies. The new revelations will likely add fuel to that fire.

Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the reports “unconscionable,” emphasizing that he had “warned the Biden administration” against restoring funding to UNRWA in 2021.

“Today’s news is yet another example that underscores how corrupt this organization truly is,” Risch said, arguing that the administration must push for a deeper investigation and “cease reliance on UNRWA for assistance in Gaza or risk recreating the support for terrorism that contributed to the attacks against Israel. I will do all that I can to ensure accountability for these horrific events.”

Many Republicans argued that the U.S. should permanently cut off U.S. aid to UNRWA entirely.

“Today’s news further underscores that UNRWA is an irredeemable organization that plays a critical role in Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure,” Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) said. “Biden should have never reversed the Trump administration’s decision to cut off U.S. support of UNRWA, and the State Department’s decision today to pause additional funding is not enough. We must pass the Stop Support for Hamas Act to end U.S. funding for UNRWA once and for all.”

Ricketts’ bill, with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), would also cut off any aid funding to the West Bank and Gaza until terrorist groups are “verifiably dismantled,” and further restrict U.S. funding to the West Bank even after that benchmark is met.

Rep. August Pfluger (R-TX) went further, arguing that “there must be consequences and a complete overhaul of the U.N.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Susan Collins (R-ME) did not foreclose the possibility of restarting UNRWA funding at a later date once the organization is reformed, and suggested that aid could continue through other channels.

“United States funding for UNRWA should not continue until Congress and the American people have full confidence that UNRWA is not employing individuals who participate in acts of terrorism, and UNRWA facilities are not being used to support terrorism or violence against Israel,” Collins said. “The Administration needs to explain to Congress how humanitarian assistance for Gaza can continue as this serious issue is being investigated.”

Congressional Democrats were comparably silent in response to the news.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ben Cardin (D-MD) said he was “outraged” by the news, and said that the U.S. must remain suspended until the allegations are reviewed independently and those involved in the attacks are prosecuted. 

He said the U.N. must immediately establish an “independent mechanism” to probe UNRWA employees’ involvement in Oct. 7 “among other persistent concerns about violations of impartiality by the organization.”

The allegations, he continued, “serve as a reminder that UNRWA has long needed reforms to its operations as it has taken on a mission for far longer than its mandate imagined. I also remain concerned by the anti-Israel bias that is reflected in several UN entities and its member states’ policies. It must end.”

He also reiterated the need to continue humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) expressed support for the Biden administration’s move, calling the UNRWA officials’ actions “outrageous and disappointing.”

“I appreciate the Biden Administration’s moral clarity in recognizing that UNRWA’s actions and track record do not rise to our nation’s standards,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Despite the best efforts of Congress to impose strict conditions, UNRWA employees’ continued affiliation with and support of Hamas terror, distribution of antisemitic propaganda to children, and failure to address incitement against Israel demonstrates that this organization’s leadership consistently turns a blind eye.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly attributed co-sponsorship of Ricketts’ bill to Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), not Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). We regret the error.

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered daily in a must-read newsletter.