New legislation would shut down UNRWA in Israel

On Tuesday, July 2, the Knesset committee discussed proposed legislation that would ban the United Nation’s Palestinian aid agency from operating in Israel, remove employees’ legal immunities and brand it a terrorist organization.

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is considering merging three bills aimed at significantly curtailing the activities of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), reports The Times of Israel.

The first bill, proposed by Likud MK Boaz Bismuth, would ban the organization from operating on Israeli territory and effectively erase its presence in Jerusalem.

The second, promoted by Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky, would brand UNRWA a terrorist organization and require Israel to cut ties with it.

The third bill — which is already a merger of two almost identical bills proposed separately by Yesh Atid MK Ron Katz and Likud lawmaker Dan Illouz — would strip UNRWA personnel of the legal immunities and privileges afforded to United Nations staff in Israel, such as exemptions from property taxes.

While the UNRWA claims to be a humanitarian agency providing human development and humanitarian services, including education, health care, relief and social services, infrastructure and camp improvement, microfinance and emergency response, Israel alleges that some 10 percent of UNRWA’s staff in Gaza have ties to terror, and the educational facilities of the organization consistently incite hatred against Israel and the Jewish people, and glorify terror. In January, Israel provided evidence alleging that roughly a dozen members of UNRWA staff were involved in the October 7 Hamas terror attack. IDF has found a Hamas data center located directly beneath UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City.

MK Malinovsky, who proposed the second bill, said that the “UNRWA should not exist at all,” calling it a “branch of Hamas” and stating that it is “a terrorist organization for all intents and purposes.”

“This is an essential law for our national security. After October 7, we cannot continue as if nothing happened. We cannot allow the terror-supporting organization UNRWA to operate against us,” said lawmaker Dan Illouz, who in part proposed the third bill.
“We are fighting for our security and our future and UNRWA cannot pretend to be a humanitarian entity while harming us. That ends today.”

Israel and others have long denounced the existence of a separate UN refugee agency for Palestinians, while all other refugees worldwide taken care of by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), highlighting that Palestinians are the only refugee population that indefinitely hand down the refugee status to their descendants, resulting in the growing and not the decrease of the number of registered refugees, which means there are millions of people who haven’t been displaced during their lifetime, explains The Times of Israel.

During Tuesday’s debate, National Security Council legal adviser Adam Wolfson recalled that the second and the third proposal should be merged, otherwise stating that the legislation should continue to advance with the agreement of relevant ministries so long as they do “not harm Israel’s international obligations or humanitarian aid.”

A Finance Ministry representative warned the committee that any services provided by UNRWA in Jerusalem that would be halted under the bills would have to be covered by the Jerusalem Municipality, but a senior official from the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry was ready with answers, claiming to know “exactly which services are required in a situation where UNRWA leaves the region and what gaps and deficiencies exist.”

Committee Chairman Yuli Edelstein complained that while a number nations suspended their funding for UNRWA in the wake of October 7, many have since returned to funding the agency.

Edelstein gave the relevant government ministries a week to submit comments on the legislation and said that he would sit down with Bismuth, Malinovsky and Katz to discuss whether to merge their proposals or advance them separately.


Photo credit: Noam Moskowitz/Office of the Knesset Spokesperson