from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

UNRWA, the State Department, and the Uses of English

September 15, 2015

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Just a few days ago I wrote here about "Leopoldo Lopez, John Kerry, and the Uses of English." My point was that the State Department’s tepid reaction to the outrageous and farcical "trial" of the Venezuelan political leader (and thirteen year sentence) was embarrassing. As usual the State Department, in this case the Secretary himself, said this was "troubling," of "concern," and other words no normal human being uses--and that were wholly inappropriate for this vile fake "trial."

Now State has reacted to some anti-Semitic actions by employees of UNRWA, the United Nations’ agency handling Palestinian refugees. My blog noted what had been found by UN Watch: "a dozen UNRWA employees spewing anti-Semitic hatred and celebrating violence and terrorism in internet postings. On Facebook pages where they identify themselves as UNRWA officials, these UN employees laud killing and kidnapping of Jews and Israelis, and post vicious anti-Semitic cartoons and drawings."

Here is what the Department had to say, in a tweet retweeted by Matt Lee of AP:

The role United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) plays in providing critical humanitarian assistance to more than 5 million Palestinian refugees is indispensable. All sides must respect the humanitarian role of UNRWA, and we expect UNRWA personnel to observe the strictest decorum and uphold its stated policy of neutrality so that it can carry out its critical mandate.

Our commitment to overseeing UNRWA’s neutrality is long-standing, and the State Department takes its responsibility for oversight of UNRWA very seriously. Our oversight is more than an annual checklist exercise; the State Department closely engages with UNRWA throughout the course of the year on all facets of UNRWA’s programs, including issues related to the neutrality of UNRWA staff, operations, and facilities.

We are aware the UNRWA is undertaking internal investigations into allegations that UNRWA staff posted discriminatory messages on social media accounts. We have asked UNRWA to keep the United States informed of the findings of its investigation.

For any additional details regarding investigations, we refer you to UNRWA.

This is an amazing statement.

First, it gives you its general take: UNRWA is "indispensable." That gives a nice clue about where we’re heading here.

Then, State says it is deadly serious about oversight of UNRWA. It says this four times in this short tweet: we expect UNRWA personnel to behave, we are committed to overseeing UNRWA, we take this responsibility very seriously, and we closely engage with UNRWA all the time.

So what exactly is State doing now in the face of serious charges of anti-Semitic and violent statements by UNRWA officials? How will its oversight be exercised, given that we closely engage and that we take this responsibility so seriously?  What happens now?

Nothing. Nothing at all. To be precise,"We have asked UNRWA to keep the United States informed of the findings of its investigation." If there were any seriousness at State at all, there would at a minimum be a call for an independent investigation. Instead, State is entirely happy with whatever internal investigation--which will almost certainly be a cover up--UNRWA has in mind.

Proof of that is in the tweet’s last line: "For any additional details regarding investigations, we refer you to UNRWA." In other words, don’t bother us again with this stuff. We’re busy. Go call UNRWA, and sign up for their tweets.

The message is clear: we do not want to hear about vicious anti-Semitic activity at UNRWA. Go away, or go tell UNRWA.

How about this for the statement of which State is incapable both in policy terms and because the Department (see the Lopez blog post) cannot speak in English:

"If these charges are true this is disgusting anti-Semitic and violent rhetoric. It’s intolerable. We need to find someone independent who’ll look into it, doing a real investigation. Until that’s agreed, we’re suspending our flow of funds to UNRWA and we’re taking this up with Ban ki-Moon immediately. UNRWA provides some important services for Palestinians so let’s get this going fast."

Perhaps on another planet there are foreign ministries that speak the local language as the planet’s inhabitants do. On this planet, in this country, our foreign ministry uses language to dilute and re-direct, to diminish and weaken. We can do better.

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