JERUSALEM, Israel -- A bi-partisan group of U.S. senators has called for an investigation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and its behavior during the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Three members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., sent a strongly worded letter to Secretary of State John Kerry citing pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel bias in the agency, which the senators called "troubling."
UNRWA is supposed to administer social services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza and other parts of the Middle East. But Rubio's office points to three separate incidents during the Gaza fighting in which Hamas rockets were discovered on UNRWA premises and were reportedly returned to Hamas.
The United States contributes the largest share of funding to UNRWA, and U.S. taxpayers have paid $5 billion to the agency since 1950.
"As the U.N.'s leading source of funding, American taxpayers will not tolerate the use of U.N. facilities by terrorists to stage attacks against our allies," Rubio said. "We know Hamas has been using civilians as human shields and stores its weapons and fighters in civilian buildings, but for the U.N. to stand by while Hamas attacks Israel from its facilities is an outrage."
Senator Kirk said, "Given UNRWA's ties to terrorism in the past, U.S. taxpayers deserve immediate answers and full transparency regarding their intentions and actions. The State Department must make it clear to the U.N. that it needs to take all necessary steps to prevent Hamas from using taxpayer-funded property to launch terror attacks against our allies."
Senator Cardin added, "When leaders and organizations of the United Nations blur the clear distinction between a nation-state defending itself and a terrorist organization attempting to murder civilians, Americans take note. When an organization funded in part by the U.S. suggests that the two are morally equivalent, U.S. taxpayers take note."
Cardin also praised Israel's "extraordinary" efforts to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties during the fighting.
The strong tone and the bi-partisan spirit of the senators' comments in the run-up to the November elections suggests that Capitol Hill will be keeping a close eye on United Nations agencies and rhetoric in the months ahead.