UNRWA vs. David Bedein: Neither seem credible

UNRWA vs. David Bedein: Neither seem credible

I’m afraid that nobody’s going to appreciate this post.  The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has a poor reputation among pro-Israel activists for allegedly maintaining generations of Palestinians in dependent refugee status and in other ways acting out of an anti-Israel agenda.  This blog’s perspective (see here and there) has been to maintain an open mind.  

David Bedein is an American oleh who has lived in Israel since the 1970s.  I know him very slightly, having once shared a Shabbat lunch with him at the home of a mutual friend in New York, and having visited an Israeli community center he ran back in 1982, when I was on an Americans for Progressive Israel young people’s tour.  According to his website, he was a social worker for 15 years, and has been an investigative journalist for 25.  Unfortunately, he has what we would see as right-wing views on the Palestinians, including the notion that there is a secret alliance between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and in therefore implying that a negotiated peace is not possible. This is how he responded to my inquiry on his views:

The PA joined forces with Hamas back in December 1995, except that in the era after the Rabin assassination, this news item was lost. In Jan 2006, Hamas formally took over the PA legislature and PA education. Please take a moment to peruse this subject on my website.  

David Bedein

This last point is apparently frozen in time within Mr. Bedein’s mind.  In Jan. 2006, Hamas won a plurality of the vote and a majority of seats, in a democratic election for the legislature.  So, yes, Hamas formally led the legislature and took over the PA education ministry.  But in June 2007, Hamas and Fatah fought each other in a short civil war, with Hamas winning in Gaza and Fatah expelling Hamas from power in the more populous West Bank.

Nevertheless, Bedein’s charge laid at the doorstep of UNRWA, that its facilities are used to educate and train Palestinian children to struggle for Israel’s destruction, has not been rebutted to my satisfaction.  Here’s Bedein’s incendiary video, “Camp Jihad,” on this subject:

It’s not that I fully believe the charge, but I was taken aback by UNRWA’s reluctance to provide a fuller explanation. The following is my verbatim exchange with Christopher Gunness, the English-language press officer for UNRWA:

Dear Mr. Gunness:

I’m a writer on Israel/Palestine issues and a long-time activist for a two-state solution to the problem of refugees and related issues.  I’ve just viewed this disturbing video that implicates UNWRA in funding activities for Palestinian youth that propagandize children to work/fight for a “return” to what became Israel in 1948.  This kind of material works against our efforts for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, but it seems authentic. Can you please provide me with a reaction to this video (accessible via this link)?

Dear Mr Seliger,

Unfortunately this film is a catalogue of lies and I send our official rejection of it in the two links below. Essentially Mr Bedein, the film maker has gone into non UNRWA events and claimed that they belong to us.  
He has a long history of misinformation. If you go to www.unrwa.org and type “Bedein” into the  search engine, you will see countless official UN rejections of what he claims to be journalism.

You should also know that in his latest article, to explain why the Hamas Education Minister publicly attacked UNRWA last week, Mr Bedein says that we deliberately started a debate about trying to introduce Holocause teaching in all our schools in Gaza to fabricate a row with Hamas as a front for our support for global Jihadism. Please also see the article below that.

If after reading that you still think Mr Bedein has any credibility, please let me inform you that Mr Bedein has in the past shared a byline (and may do for all I know) with a man called Samuel Sokol, who has appeared on the internet espousing Kahanism. 
Best wishes,

Chris Gunness

Thanks for responding.  What seemed most disturbing, perhaps, about the “Camp Jihad” film were the statements by adult staffers thanking UNWRA for its support.  Your rebuttal statement of August 2013, “UNRWA Rejects Allegations of Incitement as Baseless: Statement ” is helpful, but I could use a little more detail. 

The film has apparently led your agency to make some changes.  Can you please name the “third party organization” that you suspended your relationship with, “pending a review”?  Has your review concluded and will you share its findings?  Are there any other changes prompted by or under consideration because of this film?

Dear Mr Seliger,
Thanks for your mail. I have nothing more to add to the mail I sent, except we have briefed all of UNRWA’s major stakeholders, we have taken the necessary actions we need to take and we consider the matter closed. I have nothing more to say and no more details to give out.

Best wishes.


Can you please specify whom you mean by “UNRWA’s major stakeholders”?  

Dear Mr Seliger,

As I  explained, I have no more to add to the large amount of information I have already sent you.

With very best wishes,


By | 2014-03-04T13:39:00-05:00 March 4th, 2014|Blog|10 Comments


  1. werner cohn March 5, 2014 at 2:45 am - Reply

    good posting, Ralph.

    Chris does us a favor here: a textbook example of ad hominem argument.

  2. Anonymous March 5, 2014 at 4:50 am - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    This is funny. Have you ever read Bedein’s writing in the past carefully? You seem to be somewhat aware of his rather unusual understanding of some issues. Personally I have, and I’m very familiar with some of the specific cases of his lies and distortions. It’s his hallmark. If you can’t see what kind of “journalism” he practices by reading some of his past work in Arutz Sheva, Front Page Mag and other fine media outlets, I’m afraid there’s not much that’s going to convince you.

    And for what reason did you think Chris Gunness owes you as an individual a detailed accounting? UNRWA works in an extremely sensitive environment, and Gunness and staff put their lives in danger due to the difficult political circumstances they have to deal with, both with Palestinian communities and the Israeli government and army.

    They hold their staff to very strict standards, but I am not sure why you expect that Gunness must tell you which individuals violated them, or what outside groups actually did when Bedein claimed it was UNRWA? I would wager that UNRWA feels providing these kinds of details on this issue to the general public could unnecessarily increase the level of threat that UNRWA staff are exposed to.

    When Gunness says stakeholders, he means among others, funders, including the US government. Do you not think that US government officials have a full, detailed report on this issue, including the more confidential issues that are not being shared with the general public for security reasons? And do you not think the US government would be taking these accusations very seriously, probably much more seriously than you?

    If you are really interested, contact the State Department Israel/Palestinian Authority desk and ask if they have received more substantial information on this issue, and what the outcome of their review of the issue was. And/or ask Ambassador Shapiro’s office in Tel Aviv. If they tell you they’re satisfied with UNRWA’s response, are you still going to demand to see all the documents and require that UNRWA name names for the general public?

    Really, if you read more of Bedein’s “research” and still have questions about whether to trust him or a career civil servant like Gunness, I’m not sure what anyone is going to say to convince you anyway.

    Lastly, the right of return is an actual right guaranteed to refugees by international law, including to Palestinian refugees, as we’ve reviewed in the past. Do you expect UNRWA to stop their staff from educating children about refugee rights as well as about Palestinian history? Taking things to that point is simply inappropriate and not something UNRWA can or should agree to. Nor in fact should you be asking them to do so.


  3. Ralph Seliger March 5, 2014 at 1:35 pm - Reply

    Earth to Ted:
    It should be obvious to anyone that I am not in agreement with Bedein’s “journalism.” This is why the failure of UNRWA’s spokesperson to respond completely to my inquiries was so disappointing. That an international civil servant doesn’t owe us a more “detailed accounting” is indeed news to me.

    If it’s dangerous for Mr. Gunness to say more, as Ted implies, he should say this (or at least hint at it), as this would also be news.

    Ted and I have gone through the dance of a Palestinian “right of return” before. In brief, we disagree on its implementation. For generations of post-1948 refugees to have an absolute right to return to no-longer existing homes in another sovereign country is impossible. For children to be propagandized for such a return, is a recipe for endless conflict and ongoing tragedy; it would be an outrage if UNWRA is involved in any way. A range of options for resettlement and compensation is the only realistic resolution for the Palestinian refugee problem, and this must be negotiated in good faith by all parties concerned.

    Finally, I want to thank Ted for his advice on pursuing this issue with the State Dept. and/or the US ambassador to Israel. If I decide to go further, I will likely go this way. Whether I’m satisfied with their response(s), depends upon what this is.

  4. Anonymous March 5, 2014 at 11:00 pm - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    I think you are rather missing the point. Gunness owes “us” an accounting, but he doesn’t necessarily owe a detailed accounting to each individual who asks. I don’t expect that Gunness has to be fully accountable to me as an individual member of the public on all issues, especially on sensitive issues. Rather UNRWA is accountable to my representatives in the US government in this case, and the US government is an UNRWA “stakeholder.”

    And on sensitive, confidential issues, I would expect UNRWA to provide a more detailed accounting to the US government. There are other civil society stakeholders, as well as responsible media, who I might expect them to provide a fuller accounting to, perhaps confidentially on some issues. But, no offense, there’s no reason why UNRWA owes you a full accounting of detailed information about sensitive issues.

    And I can understand a bit why Gunness might be put off that you seem to be taking Bedein’s accusations so seriously if you’re aware of his record.


  5. werner cohn March 9, 2014 at 11:02 pm - Reply

    Dear “Ted”

    thanks for furnishing links to my writings. I understand that you didn’t mean to do me any favors, but thanks anyway.

    Now what is it with that anonymous posting of yours ? Are you perhaps ashamed of your views ? Won’t you stand behind your assertions ? I personally am proud of my work and am happy when you help to disseminate it. Don’t you feel that way about what you do ? Don’t you think that having the courage of one’s conviction is an asset to free discussion in a democratic environment ? Or do you prefer secrecy and cowardly sniping ?

    A friend of mine has suggested that you are actually David Duke. Is that correct ? It would explain your reluctance to be aboveboard. If I were DD, I’d be ashamed myself.

    Just asking

    Kindest regards


  6. Anonymous March 10, 2014 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    Dear Mr. Cohn,

    There are plenty of reasons not to fully disclose one’s identity in Israel and Palestine online debates at all times. And you’ve furnished a good example of the primary reason for not doing so by likening my positions to those of David Duke! And FYI, you can find a decent sample of my writing by simply searching this site for my name.

    The bizarre inability or unwillingness to distinguish between positions supporting human rights for all people and the loathsome white supremacist and antisemitic views of David Duke is sadly all too common a tactic used to tar principled supporters of Palestinian rights, and exactly a reason why some people are cautious about public positions in support of Palestinian rights, because of the willingess of individuals like you to make such irresponsible claims. So thank you for furnishing such a clear example of the justification for other readers!

    But you’ve reminded us all of an interesting parallel question, however, related to David Bedein. As Mr. Gunness notes, Bedein has co-written a number of articles and even a previous film script about UNRWA with Samuel Sokol. Sokol appears to be a Kahanist, given his pose here with a “Kahane was right” flag here: http://prrnblog.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/the-unrwa-right-of-return-summer-camp-video/

    Mr. Cohn, you’ve said Bedein’s “reporting rings true,” and you seem to suggest that Mr. Gunness’ mention of Bedein’s partnership with an apparent Kahanist is an “ad hominem.” Would you care to comment on how you feel about David Bedein and his writing knowing that he partners with an apparent Kahanist? If you’re not convinced of the relationship, just google their two names together and you’ll find more examples. And I’m sure you can find more information on Sokol if you simply google, so don’t avoid the issue by suggesting this his views are just “a claim.”

    And Ralph, thank you for including Gunness’ point about Bedein’s Kahanist links in your post. Didn’t it give you some serious pause in pursuing Mr. Gunness with such tenacity, and in denouncing UNRWA over Bedein’s claims?

    Thank you,


  7. Ralph Seliger March 10, 2014 at 3:57 pm - Reply

    We’re having an interesting discussion here. In response to Ted’s question to me, I asked Mr. Gunness some reasonable follow-up questions and was surprised that he totally refused to provide further information. I indicated that I disagree with Bedein’s right-wing view on the possibility of Israeli-Palestinian peace. His alleged association with a Kahanist is not a response to my questions to Gunness.

  8. Anonymous March 10, 2014 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    “Alleged association with a Kahanist” or apparent partnership with a Kahanist?

    Are you trying to suggest that his partnership with Sokol is not clear, trying to minimize it by casting doubt?

    As you so energetically pursued Mr. Gunness with questions about UNRWA’s alleged links with extremist positions, why don’t you also energetically pursue the accuser, David Bedein, about his apparent partnership with a Kahanist?



  9. Ralph Seliger March 10, 2014 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    Once Bedein provided his view of the peace issue, I hadn’t thought of pursuing him further, but I’ll consider it. Still, whether or not he’s ever been associated with a Kahanist, this doesn’t excuse UNRWA from a fuller explanation for its activities. I don’t generally agree with Werner Cohn on these issues either, but he is correct that responding to a factual question by attacking the background of an accuser is an ad hominem argument.

    I did take Ted’s advise on reaching out to the State Dept. for its view of the video, but have not yet received any response from that quarter.

  10. Anonymous March 10, 2014 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    In case you’re having trouble reaching people at the State Department, this may help you. Sometimes follow-up calls are needed.

    Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs (NEA/IPA)

    Deputy Director Chris Hegadorn 6251
    Sr. Economic Officer Kevin Kreutner 6251
    Sr. Political Officer David Sohier 6251
    Political Officer Colin Eilts 6251
    Political Officer Walker Murray 6251
    Director Christopeher P Henzel 6251
    Pol-Mil Desk Officer Monica Bland 6251
    Program Specialist Heyam Ibelli 6251
    Desk Officer Ryan Arant 6251


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