When there was evidence that schools funded by New Zealand were teaching children to glorify terror Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Paul Hunt, and Race Relations Commissioner, Meng Foon, wrote to the Ministry responsible for the funding to underscore the “unacceptable” racism that was being taught and the need to adhere to “New Zealand’s human rights obligations”.
However, the Commission has refused to take any further action despite the emergence of new evidence that the practice continues and that some teachers have glorified Hitler. In a statement, Te Kāhui Tika Tangata New Zealand Human Rights Commission wrote that
“…MFAT responded [in 2021] and reassured us that New Zealand foreign aid is being used appropriately for its intended purpose. We haven’t engaged further on UNRWA since receiving MFAT’s response and have no plans to do so at this stage.”
The first meeting between the Commissioners and MFAT staff was on 13 October 2020, where MFAT officials including Stuart Horne and Deb Collins told Hunt and Foon they were “closely monitoring” the expected European Union (EU) review of the curriculum used in United Nations Relief and Works (UNRWA) schools that New Zealand fund, and that “UNRWA has very clear neutrality policies and processes… We are comfortable that these systems are effective…”
The EU review was made public eight months after that meeting. It highlighted examples of egregious antisemitism, glorification of terror, rejection of peace, delegitimization of Israel, and incitement to violence; similar to the evidence over the previous two decades.
Shortly after the report was published on 24 June 2021, Hon Minister Mahuta was asked about the issue in a Select Committee hearing. She said “… I take the point, square on, that if a concern such as [racism and hate being taught in UNRWA schools] has been raised clearly [by MFAT with UNRWA], we would want to satisfy ourselves [it has been dealt with] prior to making further contributions” [emphasis added]*. MFAT CEO, Chris Seed, also told the Select Committee that “the issue of school books and school communications is a known one and it certainly is being dealt to” [emphasis added].
On 04 July 2021, Commissioners Hunt and Foon also wrote to Jonathan Kings, Deputy Secretary Pacific and Development Group at MFAT, to air their concerns about the EU report fundings.
Mr Kings responded on 24 December 2021 and told the Commissioners that “The confirmation of the problematic content in PA textbooks is concerning. However, it did not come as a surprise… we did not identify anything in the [EU] report that contradicts what UNRWA has communicated about the PA textbooks”. Mr Kings also wrote “UNRWA has assured us it has zero tolerance of hatred, violence, and antisemitism… We’re satisfied that UNRWA has systems to mitigate the occurrence of breaches and respond appropriately when breaches occur.”
A report published this month has found that UNRWA assurances are false. The report contains 25 examples from 10 different UNRWA schools of hateful educational content that violates UN values, UNESCO standards, and UNRWA’s supposed “zero-tolerance” policy for discrimination or for incitement to hatred and violence in its schools. The examples were taken from institutional teaching materials created by UNRWA’s own education departments and staff.
The content includes a reading comprehension exercise in 9th grade Arabic Language study material created by UNRWA that contains a story about a Palestinian firebombing attack on a Jewish bus near the West Bank city of Ramallah. The reading comprehension text celebrates the attack as a ‘barbecue party’ (haflat shiwaa’).
There is also UNRWA-produced study material for 9th grade that teaches the age-old antisemitic conspiracy theory that “the Jews” of Khaybar “conspired against the Muslims” leading to the Battle of Khaybar. Ultimately, the Jews of that area were subjugated and subjected to mass expulsion.
The report also documents 10 more examples of UNRWA staff who have incited violence on social media. These include a teacher and translator at UNRWA who has shared Hamas propaganda videos on social media and praised their indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israel and an officer at the North Area UNRWA field office who posted a photo of Hitler to social media with a caption that called on him to ‘wake up’ because ‘there are still some people you need to burn.’ Three UNRWA employees liked the post and two UNRWA employees posted comments endorsing the post.
To underscore just how widespread the issues are within UNRWA, Annex A of the report is a list of 133 UNRWA staff who have been identified as having posted antisemitism and terror incitement on social media since 2015. Furthermore, Annex B of the most recent report is a list of 82 UNRWA staff who are listed as being involved in drafting, supervising, approving, printing, or distributing hateful educational content.
In response to the report, UNRWA issued a statement similar to those previous in which they said they “take each allegation extremely seriously…” And they did suspend one of the teachers who was exposed in the report for glorifying the murder of Jews in a synagogue. In response to that action, UNRWA teachers led their students on a 3-day strike.
Hon Minister Mahuta has not responded to questions about the latest report and New Zealand’s ongoing funding of the hate. And The Human Right Commission has said they have no plans to do anything further.
Sadly, this is not the first time the Human Rights Commision has refused to engage on matters of egregious antisemitism.
A petition has been set up to call on our government to stop supporting the hate in UNRWA schools. We are sure that if the glorification of terror was directed against Muslims or Māori, or if the teachers were praising the Christchurch terrorist, for example, the practice would not be supported by our government.
* What Hon Minister Mahuta did not tell the Select Committee is that she had already approved a payment on 16 April 2021, before the EU report findings were published.
It is also noteworthy that, despite the evidence in the EU report, Hon Minister Mahuta signed off on 3 years worth of funding to UNRWA and she Tweeted this decision publicly on 16 Sept, saying “…Aotearoa New Zealand is please to be a longstanding supporter of [UNRWA’s] work.”.