“Let’s not impugn the good work of a whole agency because of the potential bad actions here by a small number,” spokesman John Kirby said.
John Kirby, the U.S. National Security Council spokesman, on Monday lauded the “good work” done by UNRWA amid mounting evidence that more than a thousand of the U.N. agency’s employees are members of terrorist organizations.
“Let’s not impugn the good work of a whole agency because of the potential bad actions here by a small number,” Kirby told reporters during a briefing in the West Wing of the White House.
So far, the Biden administration has only received information that “affirmatively makes the case” that 13 UNRWA employees took part in the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.
“But you got 13,000 UNRWA employees—the U.N. Relief and Works Agency—you’ve got 13,000 of them in Gaza alone,” Kirby noted.
He added, “I am not dismissing the seriousness of the allegations against those employees. And whether there’s going to be more that will be found, hopefully the investigation will give us more insight.”
In a separate interview with NBC‘s “The Today Show” on Monday, Kirby similarly claimed that UNRWA has been doing “a lot of amazing work on the ground in Gaza, literally helping save thousands of lives.
“They’re taking this seriously. They brought the information to us, by the way. They let us know that they had this report about a dozen employees who were somehow involved in Oct. 7. They’re taking this very, very seriously; they’ve called for an investigation,” he said.
Shortly after taking office in January 2021, President Joe Biden restored millions in funding to UNRWA that had been cut off by President Donald Trump. In 2023 alone, Washington contributed $422 million to the U.N. agency, making the U.S. the largest donor.
Political leaders and watchdog groups have long noted that UNRWA, which serves as the U.N.’s Palestinian-exclusive agency for refugees and their descendants in perpetuity, promotes educational material that contains antisemitism and incitement to violence.
On Friday, the U.S. State Department announced the suspension of additional funding for UNRWA following allegations that 12 of its staff members took part in Hamas’s massacre of some 1,200 persons, mostly civilians, in Israel, on Oct. 7. At least 15 other countries have since followed suit.
The United States will consider resuming its funding to the agency after “fundamental changes” are implemented, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield signaled on Tuesday.
“We need to look at the organization, how it operates in Gaza, how they manage their staff and to ensure that people who commit criminal acts, such as these 12 individuals, are held accountable immediately so that UNRWA can continue the essential work that it’s doing,” Thomas-Greenfield said, per Reuters.
Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal cited Israeli intelligence findings that one in 10 UNRWA workers has ties to Hamas or Islamic Jihad. The report, based on interrogations of captured Hamas operatives and documents recovered from Gaza, also said that some 6,500 of them have close relatives who are members of terror groups.
“Our intelligence indicates that out of approximately 12,000 UNRWA employees in the Gaza Strip, about 10% are Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives, and another 50% are first-degree relatives of a Hamas operative,” the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said on Tuesday.
In a press briefing dedicated to the U.N. agency, which laid out how UNRWA aids Hamas, Jerusalem spelled out three demands: 1. that UNRWA be defunded, 2. that its leadership resign or be dismissed, and 3. that it lose its educational role in the Gaza Strip.
“The minority of states still funding UNRWA despite revelations of its staff’s involvement in the 10/7 massacre must suspend funds immediately,” Prime Minister’s Office spokesman Eylon Levy said.
Image: U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks to reporters at the White House, Oct. 3, 2023. Photo by Oliver Contreras/White House.