July 27, 2021

Risch Leads 12 Colleagues in Introducing UNRWA Accountability and Transparency Act

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today led 12 colleagues in introducing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency Accountability and Transparency Act . This legislation outlines a comprehensive approach to cease U.S. contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), a successor entity, or to the U.N. regular budget for the support of UNRWA unless the Secretary of State certifies every 180 days to Congress that UNRWA meets strict accountability and transparency criteria.

Joining Risch in introducing this legislation were Senators Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), and John Thune (R-S.D.). U.S. Representative Chip Roy (R-Texas) also led 27 Republican colleagues in introducing companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“When UNRWA was created, its specific purpose was to provide relief for refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli Conflict. More than 70 years later, the organization has employed individuals affiliated with Hamas, a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO), and its schools have been used to promote anti-Semitism and store Hamas weapons,” said Risch. “It is unacceptable that U.S. taxpayer dollars are being used to fund this agency, which is why I’ve introduced legislation to cease U.S. contributions to UNRWA unless the administration can certify without a doubt that the agency has no affiliation with U.S. designation FTOs and does not support anti-Semitic rhetoric. The American people deserve better, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on holding both the administration and UNRWA accountable until meaningful reforms are made.”

“U.S. tax dollars should not go to any U.N. agency supporting individuals associated with Hammas or anti-Semitism,”  said Tillis. “I am proud to-cosponsor this legislation that would cease U.S. support to UNRWA unless they show additional transparency.”

“The UNRWA now practices activities far beyond its intended scope, including engaging in antagonistic behaviors toward Israel,” said Crapo. “American taxpayers should not have to continue footing the bill to fund an agency linked to foreign terrorist groups or using and promoting anti-Semitic material.”

“In his haste to undo anything associated with the previous administration, President Biden has put American taxpayers in the unacceptable position of supporting groups that work directly against the United States and its allies, namely Israel and the Jewish people,” said Hyde-Smith. “Congress is well within its rights to restrict the use of any U.S. funding until the United Nations reforms its flawed Palestinian refugee program.  This legislation deserves broad bipartisan support.”

“We must ensure taxpayer dollars are not being funneled into programs that support terrorist organizations and promote antisemitism,” said Daines.

“UNRWA was originally formed as a temporary organization to care for refugees of the Israeli-Arab conflict, yet over the last 70 years it has evolved into a permanent institution that works against the interests of the United States, Israel, and the Palestinian people. Instead of just caring for refugees, UNRWA supports – and even employs – members of the terrorist organization Hamas, funds anti-Semitic and radical Islamic instruction, and undermines efforts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This legislation will help protect U.S. tax dollars from going to this organization until critical reforms are made,” said Young.

“Our nation should not be spending U.S. taxpayer dollars on an organization that has been credibly accused of corruption, mishandles funds, and actively incites hatred against the Jewish State of Israel,” said Rubio. “I’m proud to join Ranking Member Risch in introducing this bill, which would withhold funds from UNRWA until the U.S. Secretary of State certifies that the organization adheres to multiple commonsense requirements.”

“Reform of UNRWA is necessary to ensure the organization does not support terrorism and that they are not endangering the security of Israel or promoting anti-Semitic ideology,” said Portman. “I encourage my colleagues in Congress to pass this bicameral bill so that we can bring much-needed accountability and transparency to the agency.”

“UNRWA is an entity badly in need of significant reform. It has a record of employing individuals affiliated with Hamas, a U.S. designated terrorist organization, as well as promoting anti-Semitism,” said Collins. “Our bipartisan legislation would cease U.S. contributions to UNRWA absent significant improvements in accountability and transparency at the agency. By pushing to reform UNRWA, this bill would help promote peace in the region and ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are being used appropriately.”

“Just a few months ago, we saw Hamas terrorists attack our great ally, Israel. American taxpayer dollars should never be used to fund terrorist organizations like Hamas through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. It’s common sense. This bill works to cut off funding for this organization until significant reforms are made and we can guarantee that no taxpayer dollar will support terrorism or dangerous anti-Semitic activity,” said R. Scott.

“Under no circumstances should taxpayer funds support terrorist organizations,” said Blackburn. “While the UNRWA was established nearly 70 years ago with the intent of assisting refugees, it has evolved into a cash funnel for Hamas and a mouthpiece for anti-Semitism. We cannot remain complicit in these egregious abuses of funds provided by the international community. I am glad to join my colleagues in the Senate to introduce legislation to cut off terrorist organizations from siphoning money from the United States.”

“U.S. tax dollars should not go to anti-Semitic entities or actors that actively undermine Israel’s security and right to exist,” said Boozman. “The Biden administration’s decision to restore funding to UNRWA absent critical reforms that ensure it no longer supports or aids U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations and ends promoting the destruction of the Jewish state is irresponsible. I’m proud to join my colleagues seeking to put a stop to it.”

“Israel is our closest and most reliable ally in the region,” said Thune. “The United States should not be providing assistance to an organization that supports anti-Semitism ideology and employs individuals linked to Hamas, an Iranian-backed, U.S.-designated terrorist organization. I am proud to join Senator Risch in introducing this legislation, and I appreciate his leadership on this important issue.”

Text of the bill can be found here.   

Background:

  • UNRWA has a history of employing individuals affiliated with Hamas, an Iranian-backed, U.S. designated terrorist organization. Additionally, UNRWA schools have been used to store Hamas weapons and promote anti-Semitic education in their textbooks.
  • The Trump Administration stopped funding UNRWA in 2018. The Biden Administration restarted funding and has thus far provided more than $280 million to UNRWA without securing any reforms.
  • In April, Senator Risch led 20 colleagues in sending a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the administration to cease assistance to UNRWA until critical reforms are secured.
  • In May, Senator Risch questioned the nominee for assistant secretary of State for international organization affairs at a full committee hearing where he outlined his specific concerns regarding the administration’s decision to resume funding to UNRWA.

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