Factcheck: The Egyptian UNRWA globe scandal

Posted: April 2, 2011 by Rex Brynen in being argumentative, factcheck, UNRWA

The Wall Street Journal has a “defund UNRWA” op ed today, written by long-time UNRWA critics Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander Joffe, that contains all the usual myths about UNRWA fostering refugee dependence. At some point (when time allows) I’ll go through it properly, but for the moment I’m more struck by the devastating revelations that appear in another article, this time written by Rhonda Spivak in the Winnipeg Jewish Review:

At the J-Street conference in Washington, I met George A. Laudato, who works for US AID [The U.S. Agency for International Development], in the Middle East Bureau. Laudato confirmed that although the US Aid builds schools in UNWRA Palestinian Refugee Camps, US Aid “does not monitor the content” of what is taught in those schools, which he acknowledged “ is a problem.” Laudato told me of a situation that “occurred 3 – 4 years ago” at an UNWRA camp he visited in Egypt.

“When I looked at one of the globes in a classroom, I realized that the globe didn’t have Israel on it. All of the globes in the school were the same [missing Israel]. I knew that the American Congress wouldn’t want to be paying for this,” he said

Laudato said he stepped in and insisted that all these globes be replaced with ones that did have Israel on the map. But Laudato emphasized that normally US AID wouldn’t have intervened in something like this. “I did intervene because we have had a relationship in Egypt for over 30 years so I felt I could do something about replacing the maps. But this is not the usual case.”

Shocking and scandalous indeed!

…well, except for the fact that UNRWA does not have, and has never had, any schools or other refugee facilities in Egypt, which lies outside of its area of operations.

According to the USAID website, Laudato “leads the Middle East Bureau as the Administrator’s Special Assistant for the Middle East.” Apparently he’s also the Administrator’s Special Assistant for Getting Really Obvious Well-Known Things Wrong and Then Repeating Them Carelessly to Journalists.

That is, of course, assuming that Spivak got the quote right. In fairness to Laudato, she may not have—reading Spivak’s piece it soon becomes apparent that she needs a good fact-checker, or indeed a fact-checker of any sort. She claims to have seen a mural of female suicide bomber Ayat al-Akhras on a UNRWA school, when actually, it isn’t an UNRWA school at all. She also seems to think UNRWA owns or runs the refugee camps, and hence is responsible for everything inside them. It isn’t, of course, as UNRWA makes clear on its website FAQ:

Does UNRWA run the refugee camps?

No. UNRWA does not administer the camps but is responsible for running education, health, and relief and social services programmes, which are located inside and outside camps. The Agency is not responsible for security or law and order in the camps and has no police force or intelligence service. This responsibility has always remained with the relevant host and other authorities.

Had she done any research she would have caught the Laudato blooper too. Sheesh.

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