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Why calls to ‘Defund the UN’ exploded online this weekend

'These shocking allegations come as more than 2 million people in Gaza depend on lifesaving assistance.'


Mikael Thalen


Posted on Jan 29, 2024

Supporters of Israel are calling for the United Nations (UN) to be defunded as some of its staff were accused of aiding the militant group Hamas.

The hashtag #DefundTheUN became a trending topic on social media on Monday after 12 members of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides humanitarian services to Palestinians, were said to have been involved in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini, announced in a statement on Friday that an investigation was underway into the 12 staffers, who all had their contracts with the agency terminated.

“These shocking allegations come as more than 2 million people in Gaza depend on lifesaving assistance that the Agency has been providing since the war began,” Lazzarini wrote. “Anyone who betrays the fundamental values of the United Nations also betrays those whom we serve in Gaza, across the region and elsewhere around the world.”

In response to the allegations, numerous countries, including the U.S., Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the U.K., have all temporarily suspended funding to the agency. In 2022 alone, the U.S. pledged over $340 million to the UNRWA.

Although the agency says the decision will shutter its operations in Gaza, supporters of Israel are calling on the U.S. to withdraw funding not just from the UNRWA but from the UN as a whole.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) was just one of numerous high-profile individuals to weigh in on the trending hashtag.

“Why are we only ‘temporarily’ halting U.S. funding for UNRWA?” Lee asked. “This isn’t something that you could defend as merely warranting a ‘time out.’ U.S. taxpayers should never again be forced to give a single penny to this abomination. #DefundTheUN.”

Supporters of Palestine, however, called the decision unjust given how vital the UNRWA is in providing food and medicine to those in Gaza.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) characterized the pause in funding as a collective punishment against millions based on the alleged actions of a few.

“Cutting off support to @UNRWA – the primary source of humanitarian aid to 2 million + Gazans – is unacceptable,” she said. “Among an organization of 13,00 UN aid workers, risking the starvation of millions over grave allegations of 12 is indefensible. The US should restore aid immediately.”

Yet many Israel supporters cited new reporting from the Wall Street Journal that accused as many as 1,200 UNRWA employees in Gaza of either being “operatives” of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad or having relatives in jihadist groups.

It remains unclear how long the UNRWA investigation will take. It’s also unknown when or if the U.S. and other countries will resume providing the agency with funding.

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*First Published: Jan 29, 2024, 12:38 pm CST