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Rothman wants Jewish backing for UNRWA bill

WASHINGTON (JTA) —  U.S. Rep. Steven Rothman (D-N.J.) appealed to Jewish leaders to back his bid to increase oversight of the U.N.’s relief agency for Palestinians.

Rothman spoke Friday in a conference call organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

"I hope you will publicly support this resolution and offer letters of support for this resolution," Rothman said of a resolution and U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) had introduced calling for greater transparency from the United Nations Relief Works Agency. The resolution is necessary because UNRWA does not allow outside oversight, Rothman said, and UNRWA does not have what he said are the necessary mechanisms in place to show that it is not enabling and funding terrorists through its relief works.

UNRWA spokesmen have noted that, as a U.N. agency, it is required by law only to accept audits through the U.N. system. That system assigns audits to a rotation of members’ oversight bodies; the most recent such report, by South African and French legislative oversight bodies, had tough criticism for the agency’s lack of organization, but cleared it of collusion with terrorists. The U.S. Congress’ own general Accounting Agency is currently preparing its own report on UNRWA.

Rothman and Kirk also want UNRWA to run terrorist name recognition software; UNRWA currently supplies Israel with the names of all its staff. 

Rothman said he and Kirk were sidelining for now their longstanding efforts to pull U.S. funding for the United Nations Relief Works Agency because there are leaders "on both sides in the Senate who feel there are too many hurdles now being in put in the way of Palestinian aid," and it was not likely to pass.

Rothman also noted that President Barack Obama had on Friday authorized $20.3 million in post-Gaza Strip War assistance for the Palestinians; two thirds of that amount would be channeled through UNRWA, and Rothman said he was examining the authorization closely. The amount is in addition to $85 million in 2009 funds that the Bush administration had already budgeted for Palestinian relief last month.

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