Knesset committee advances trio of bills aimed at sharply curtailing UNRWA activities

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

An UNRWA funded school in East Jerusalem, January 29, 2024 (Jamal Awad/FLASH90)
An UNRWA funded school in East Jerusalem, January 29, 2024 (Jamal Awad/FLASH90)

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee approves three bills aimed at significantly curtailing the activities of UNRWA, amid a wave of popular anger against the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees and their descendants in the wake of the October 7 attack and the ongoing war.

The first bill, proposed by Likud MK Boaz Bismuth, would ban the organization from operating on Israeli territory and effectively erase its presence in East Jerusalem.

The second, promoted by Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky, would brand UNRWA — the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East — a terrorist organization and require Israel to cut ties with it.

The third proposal — a merger of two almost identical bills submitted separately by Yesh Atid MK Ron Katz and Likud lawmaker Dan Illouz — would strip UNRWA personnel of the legal immunities and privileges afforded to United Nations staff in Israel, such as exemptions from property taxes.

The bills, which the committee had initially considered combining into a single piece of legislation, will now go to the Knesset plenum for their first readings.

“This bill will allow us to enforce the law against UNRWA. It is a crucial law for our national security,” Illouz says in a statement following the vote. “After October 7, we cannot continue as if nothing happened.”

UNRWA provides education, health and aid to millions of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Israel alleges that some 10 percent of UNRWA’s staff in Gaza have ties to terror, and that educational facilities under the organization’s auspices consistently incite to hatred of Israel and glorify terror.

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