Watchdog: Employees of UN agency praise Hitler, Hamas on Facebook
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Watchdog: Employees of UN agency praise Hitler, Hamas on Facebook

Spokesperson for UNRWA says ‘outrageous’ posts only represent a ‘tiny fraction’ of employees

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Souhaib Fayyad, who identifies as an UNRWA employee, recently changed his profile picture to that of the Facebook "Like" hand holding a knife. (Courtesy UN Watch)
Souhaib Fayyad, who identifies as an UNRWA employee, recently changed his profile picture to that of the Facebook "Like" hand holding a knife. (Courtesy UN Watch)

Palestinian employees of a United Nations refugee agency are continuing to use social media to support terror activities and spread anti-Semitism, despite a previous outcry over the issue, according to a report by a UN watchdog.

The UN Watch organization first raised the concerns about United Nations Relief and Works Agency workers’ comments posted to social media in an October 2015 report. On Sunday, it released a follow-up report showing screenshots from the Facebook pages of 40 UNRWA school employees across Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

The posts “incite to Jihadist terrorism and anti-Semitism, including by posting Holocaust-denying videos and pictures celebrating Hitler,” the report said.

On Sunday, UN Watch chief Hillel Neuer presented the report to a joint US Congressional subcommittee dealing with the UN, Israel and the Palestinians.

UN Watch said it also sent letters on Sunday to UN chief António Guterres, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley, urging them “to take action and demand UN and UNRWA condemnation of the incitement, and the immediate termination of the implicated employees.”

The US gave UNRWA — which provides Palestinian refugees in the Middle East with education, health care, and social services — $380 million in 2015.

Chris Gunness, a spokesperson for UNRWA, told The Times of Israel in a statement that his organization was aware of the allegations against it, and was “looking into [them] as part of our ongoing commitment to maintaining the Agency’s neutrality.”

Ghanem Naim Ghoneim, who identifies as a health and biology teacher at UNRWA in Lebanon, posted an image Adolph Hitler on Facebook, and referred to Nazi leader as “our beloved.” (Courtesy: UN Watch)
Ghanem Naim Ghoneim, who identifies as a health and biology teacher at UNRWA in Lebanon, posted an image of Adolf Hitler on Facebook, and referred to the Nazi leader as “our beloved.” (Courtesy UN Watch)

However, Gunness added, “The outrageous alleged statements apparently posted online by a tiny fraction of present or former staff do not in any way represent the commitments to neutrality and principles of humanity and independence of 30,000 staff serving with conscience and professionalism in the conflict zones of the Middle-East.”

UNRWA did take action following the publication of UN Watch’s 2015 report, including “suspension and loss of pay,” but did not identity those who were punished.

Gunness said UNRWA won’t publicize the details of employees it punishes, “as this would undermine efforts to take effective action and would violate standard employee privacy policies and due process.”

Those cited in the earlier and most recent reports were not confirmed by UN Watch as official employees of UNRWA. UN Watch instead relies on information available on Facebook to identify possible UNRWA employees.

Following the publication of the 2015 report, UNRWA said it found 90 impostor or unauthorized Facebook pages of people who are not in fact UNRWA employees, or who no longer work for the agency.

Among the purported employees cited in the most recent UN Watch report is Ghanem Naim Ghoneim, who identifies as a health and biology teacher at UNRWA in Lebanon. In June 2014, he posted an image of Adolf Hitler on Facebook, and referred to the Nazi leader as “our beloved.”

When one student asked since when is Hitler “our beloved,” Ghoneim responded that he was just giving his own opinion.

Another alleged UNRWA employee cited in the report is Sunia Astal, a Gazan who identifies herself on Facebook as an UNRWA teacher. On November 29, 2012, she published a post showing a rifle-wielding militant, with the comment, “From the river to the sea, no matter how long it takes,” referring to Palestinians conquering all of historic Palestine, which would mean the destruction of Israel.

In one July 2014 Facebook post, Jordanian Hussein Amrah, who identifies himself on his Facebook profile as an UNRWA school principal, shared a picture of Hamas terrorists, along with the text “Victory is coming. God willing.” (Courtesy: UN Watch)
In a July 2014 Facebook post, Jordanian Hussein Amrah, who identifies himself on his Facebook profile as an UNRWA school principal, shared a picture of Hamas terrorists, along with the text ‘“Victory is coming. God willing.’ (Courtesy UN Watch)

The report lists multiple instances of incitement for some individuals. For example, Jordanian Hussein Amrah, who identifies himself on his Facebook profile as a UNRWA school principal, has nine instances of incitement under his name.

In an April 8, 2016, post, Amrah shared a picture of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and the words “We will never recognize Israel.”

In another July 2014 post, Amrah published a picture of Hamas terrorists and wrote, “Victory is coming. God willing.”

UN Watch chief Neuer charged UNRWA with failing to “take seriously” the celebration of terrorism and anti-Semitism found on its employees’ Facebook pages, in light of the October 2015 report.

However, the vast majority of examples of incitement detailed in the new UN Watch report are Facebook posts that were published prior to the release of UN Watch’s 2015 report. Some date as far back as 2011.

UNRWA spokesman Gunness said his organization, over the coming months, will begin rolling out “compulsory” online social-media training to all 30,000 staff, most of whom are Palestine refugees themselves.

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