Rothman on UNRWA: ‘We have come a long way’

Rothman on UNRWA: ‘We have come a long way’

Congressman meets with ambassador

WASHINGTON ““ Rep. Steve Rothman (Dist. 9) met Oct. 15 with John Ging, director of operations in Gaza for the United National Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

He also met, on Oct. 20, with Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States,

Ging updated the congressman on the work that UNRWA is conducting in Gaza as well as the status of several of Rothman’s initiatives to increase transparency and accountability at the U.N. agency.

“While there is still much work to be done, we have come a long way in a small number of years,” Rothman said in a statement. “Because of our initiatives on the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, as well as our work with the State Department and UNRWA officials, UNRWA has stepped up its compliance with U.S. law stating that no United States taxpayer dollars will go to fund terrorists.”

“UNRWA has revamped its vetting processes and mechanisms,” he continued, “firing more than 100 employees over the past 10 years that have been found to violate U.S. and U.N. policies regarding associating with Hamas or other terrorist groups. In addition, lists of UNRWA’s employees and beneficiaries are now being crosschecked for terrorist connections by both the U.S. and Israel. I am encouraged by these improvements, but I will continue to make certain that not one cent of U.S. taxpayer dollars provided to UNRWA is redirected to terrorists, or to activities that support terror or promote a culture of hatred.”

Rothman has been fighting for increased transparency and accountability at UNRWA since 2004. On Jan. 28, he introduced a resolution (H.Con.Res. 29), which calls on UNRWA to publish online copies of all educational materials used in UNRWA-administered schools as well as to implement terrorist name-recognition software and other screening procedures that would help to ensure that UNRWA staff, volunteers, and beneficiaries are neither terrorists themselves nor affiliated with known terrorist organizations. The bill has garnered 31 bipartisan cosponsors and is awaiting action before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Rep. Steve Rothman, left, and Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren visit in Rothman’s congressional office.

In April, Rothman noted, he met with senior UNRWA officials in the west bank while on a fact-finding trip to Israel, the west bank, and Egypt. At that meeting, Rothman said, “it was apparent that the officials had a clear understanding of what the U.S. Congress expects. They were extremely concerned that we be satisfied that they were making a good-faith effort and had cleaned up enough to warrant the continuation of U.S. foreign aid.”

Ging repeated the numerous steps forward that UNRWA has taken on transparency and accountability, according to Rothman, while also highlighting UNRWA’s other successes such as its Summer Games program that he started in 2007. The Summer Games have drawn between 200,000 and 250,000 children each year and allow the children of Gaza to interact and play with each other in an educational setting, while drawing them away from the hazards of Gaza, such as fundamentalist camps run by Hamas aimed at recruiting children. The Hamas camps are estimated to have drawn approximately 16,000 children this summer.

UNRWA is charged by the United Nations with the mission of providing services, including education, health, relief and social services to more than 4.3 million registered Palestinians in the Middle East. Since 1950, the United States has contributed more than $3.5 billion to UNRWA and is the single largest monetary contributor to this agency.

During their Oct. 20 meeting, Oren, who grew up in West Orange, and Rothman “discussed the longstanding and steadfast bond between the United States and the Jewish State of Israel,” according to Rothman, “specifically talking about how President Obama and the State Department have been particularly helpful with regards to the Goldstone Report, negotiating with Iran, and improving Israel’s qualitative military edge.”

Before his appointment, in May, as ambassador, Oren was a professor in the Jewish civilization program at Georgetown University and a senior fellow in the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem think tank. Now an Israeli citizen, he has also served as an officer in the Israel Defense Forces, a paratrooper in the Lebanon War, a liaison with the U.S. Sixth Fleet during the Gulf War, and an IDF spokesman during the Second Lebanon War and the Gaza operation in January.

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