A recently published report, commissioned by the EU, found schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) teach a curriculum replete with antisemitism, incitement to violence against civilians, and glorification of terror.

Despite this, the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) CEO, Chris Seed, has confirmed that “…the decision was made to continue with our funding contribution [to UNRWA] this year…”.  The admission came in response to questions from National MP, Simon O’Connor.

Earlier this year Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Prof Paul Hunt, told The Israel Institute of New Zealand that the funding of schools that use hateful textbooks may be a breach of New Zealand’s international human rights obligations. Hunt was unable to give comment on the latest development before this article was published.

Each year, New Zealand gives at least $1m to the organisation. According to Mr Seed, this represents “something like 0.4% of UNRWA’s funding“. This suggests that the financial impact of stopping or freezing funding would be negligible and so MFAT is continuing payments more as a sign of political support. New Zealand has been a long-time supporter of UNRWA and officials even tried to justify the inclusion of antisemitism in UNRWA schools last year.

In November 2020, MFAT officials briefed incoming Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, about “claims” of antisemitism in the textbooks. The briefing document stated that, despite decades of evidence for problematic material, officials were waiting for an EU-funded review before deciding whether to continue funding UNRWA.

The report was expected at the end of 2020 but has only recently been published and there is a suggestion that MFAT officials made payment before receiving the report. The Israel Institute of New Zealand has asked MFAT for details. Nevertheless, Mr Seed claims that

“… We have had a senior representative in New York speak directly to them [UNRWA], and we feel that they have firstly acknowledged that these particular education materials did not meet the UN’s values. They understood exactly why New Zealand was raising the point. They have undertaken, firstly, a review which you speak to, and have made clear that adjustments and remedial action will be taken…”Chris Seed, MFAT CEO

However, the MFAT CEO seems to be describing conversations about different hateful material. In January, UNRWA apologised for producing material for more than 500,000 students across the Middle East that was “not in line with UN values”. UNRWA assured donors it had removed all the hateful content that its teachers had written. While Mr Seed has apparently taken their word, the UNRWA assurances have not been acted upon.

Furthermore, that material was created by UNRWA to cater for students during the restrictions of the pandemic and was only distributed beginning in March 2020 up until September 2020. The EU report was of textbooks produced by the Palestinian Authority and used year-round in UNRWA schools. Mr Seed seems to be ignorant of the different hateful materials he is eager to fund.

Foreign Minister Mahuta was more reasonable in her comments, suggesting that Kiwi taxpayers should not make further contributions before being satisfied that there is no incitement in the textbooks:

“…I take the point square on that if a concern such as [textbooks include antisemitism and incitement to violence] has been raised that we would want to satisfy ourselves prior to making further contributions…”Nanaia Mahuta, Minister of Foreign Affairs

It seems to be too late for this year, but we urge you to write to Ms Mahuta to act on her words and implement a funding freeze until there is clear evidence that the hate that has been taught in these schools for decades is actually expunged. If you’d like to help us continue our work, please join us and donate to IINZ.