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Backs Muscroft for daring to challenge Palestinian terrorism

Israel urges UN chief to cancel ouster of top official who condemned PIJ rocket fire

Envoy Erdan says UN’s ‘surrender’ to Palestinian threats emblemizes a lack of objectivity, especially since inquiry member who recently denounced ‘Jewish lobby’ was not punished

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Sarah Muscroft, head of OCHA OPT, speaks in a video address in December 2020. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Sarah Muscroft, head of OCHA OPT, speaks in a video address in December 2020. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday to reverse a decision by one of the organization’s offices to remove its director after she tweeted a condemnation of Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket fire at Israel.

Claiming that the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had capitulated to Palestinian activists along with local staff in deciding to oust Sarah Muscroft from her position, Erdan wrote in a letter to Guterres, “this norm effectively grants [them] an ‘unwritten veto’ over UN statements and stands in clear contradiction with the basic principles of objectivity and neutrality that the UN claims to hold.”

A UN spokesman revealed to The Times of Israel on Saturday that Muscroft would be assigned to a new role five days after her tweet sparked uproar among pro-Palestinian activists.

“Relieved to see a ceasefire agreed ending hostilities impacting both Palestinians and Israeli civilians. Such indiscriminate rocket fire of Islamic Jihad provoking Israeli retaliation is condemned. The safety of all civilians is paramount — the ceasefire must be upheld,” Muscroft wrote.

She later deleted the post and tweeted an apology the next day, saying that “one of my previous tweets was ill-informed and I have deleted it. I sincerely apologize for my poor judgment. All civilians — everywhere — must be able to live in peace.”

Explaining the decision to remove Muscroft, OCHA deputy spokesman Jens Laerke said, “OCHA has been present in the occupied Palestinian territory for the past 20 years, working to help meet humanitarian needs, guided by the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, and humanity. Over two million people in the occupied Palestinian territory need assistance — they remain our only focus and priority.”

In his letter to Guterres, Erdan acknowledged that Israel often did not agree with positions taken by Muscroft and voiced its opposition publicly. However, it did so in a “normative way” befitting of a democracy.

Accordingly, “Israel is disturbed to see that Palestinian outrage over tweets would so quickly devolve into ending the ability of a senior UN staffer to keep her job and to express herself. This represents a clear surrender of the UN to threats and intimidation, and poses a very problematic norm,” Erdan wrote.

File: Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan and UN Secretary General Antonio Guuterres. (Israel’s Mission to the UN)

“In the best case, this is a recipe for misguided self-censorship by UN officials. In the worst case, it is a prescription for UN officials to exclusively emphasize the Palestinian narrative, even if this falls in contradiction with facts on the ground, honest reporting, or Israel’s legitimate interests,” said Erdan.

He noted that the “norm” was also on display last year when the director of the Gaza office for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees was relocated and eventually replaced after an interview he conducted with an Israeli news channel in which he agreed that Israeli air strikes in Gaza during the May 2021 Gaza conflict had been “precise.”

“Somehow, it is always open season to criticize Israel, with no repercussions; but if a UN staffer dares to speak against Palestinian terrorism, there is immediate backlash in fear of reprisal,” Erdan lamented.

Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, in Gaza City, August 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa, File)

On the other hand, such punitive steps were not taken against a member of a UN commission of inquiry into Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians after he claimed last month that the “Jewish lobby” controls social media, Erdan wrote.

“We ask that the issue of Ms. Muscroft be examined with utmost concern. We call on OCHA and the UN to reverse this unfortunate decision which is perceived as a reward for intimidation and threats. While Israel supports constructive engagement with UN officials and agencies, we cannot accept such blatant double standards,” the Israeli ambassador added.

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