UNRWA vs BDS?

Posted: December 30, 2010 by Rex Brynen in Israel, UNRWA

UNRWA’s director of operations in Gaza, John Ging, was quoted last month as criticizing the Boycott, Disinvestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel—for which he received both praise (“UNRWA head is ‘pro-Israel’ and anti-BDS” said Meretz USA) and criticism (“Ging should have sidestepped the BDS question” said Mondoweiss).

He’s done so again, at a conference at Warwick University. According to an article in the Jewish Chronicle:

The head of the UN’s relief agency in Gaza has criticised the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and called for the release of Gilad Shalit.

UNRWA head John Ging was interviewed in front of a packed audience on Monday during the week-long Limmud conference, held at Warwick University.

Though he reserved particular criticism for Israel’s “counterproductive” blockade of Gaza, Mr Ging struck
a conciliatory tone, acknowledging the low opinion of UNRWA in Israel and in the diaspora.

On BDS, he said: “In my personal and professional opinion, what we need are interventions that draw out the positive, that don’t alienate.

“We have a very emotive, volatile situation in the Middle East and people are despairing of the situation. Coming with more pressure, in my view, is not going to be effective.”

It isn’t clear from the media reporting of either set of statements whether Ging was expressing and official UNRWA position, or expressing a personal opinion. As we’ve noted before, commenting on political issues from within a UN humanitarian agency a bit like walking a tightrope—-except that you don’t always get a net.

Update: further coverage in the Jerusalem Post here:

One of the most talked about presenters was John Ging, who has been head of the United Nation’s Relief and Works Agency’s 10,000- employee operation in the Gaza Strip since 2006.

Ging, in conversation with Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, the senior rabbi of the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues UK, spoke of the two assassination attempts on his life by Palestinian terrorists and called for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit to be “returned home yesterday if not sooner.”

The former Irish Army officer also criticized the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for its destructive effect on the attitudes and trust levels of Israelis and their political leaders.

Ging criticized Israel’s Gaza blockade policy, saying that all it achieves is to “strengthen black marketers and empower extremist factions.”

He was quick, however, to praise Israel’s recent easing of the blockade, which has tangibly the benefited UNRWA’s school-building projects.

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