B’nai B’rith International is demanding that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)—a highly politicized arm of the world body that affords Palestinian refugees special treatment denied to all the world’s other refugees—remove Mohammed Assaf as its regional youth ambassador for “Palestine.” A musician from Gaza, popular in the Middle East and abroad, Assaf’s songs explicitly glorify violence against Israelis and incite to this violence with gory scenes of bloodshed and footage of Palestinian rioters.
Assaf, who studied in UNRWA schools and whose mother is an UNRWA school teacher, rose to stardom when he competed in and won the second season of the popular Middle Eastern singing competition “Arab Idol.” In June of 2013, he was appointed as UNRWA’s first regional youth ambassador by then Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi, who was recently elected as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He was also named a cultural ambassador, with official diplomatic status, by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He has met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, keynoting the world body’s annual commemoration of the 1947 General Assembly decision endorsing neighboring Jewish and Palestinian Arab states—a vision accepted by Israel that continues to be rejected by Palestinian and other extremists.
Assaf’s standing among Palestinians again highlights the ubiquity of vile anti-Israel incitement in Arab societies, and his “status” within UNRWA demonstrates that agency’s—and, too often, the wider U.N.’s—complicity in ignoring and even sustaining the violent hatred that remains the bedrock obstacle to Palestinian-Israeli peace.
Assaf’s work clearly illustrates his promotion of violence and his delegitimization of Israel. Some of his songs urge followers to “pelt your enemy with stones,” hail Palestinians for their posture of “either victory or martyrdom,” and explicitly deny Israel’s right to exist, asserting that “my land is from the river to the sea”—claiming even the Israeli towns of Afula, Nazareth and Um el-Fahm as Palestinian. His music videos incessantly tout mobs of young Palestinian rioters attacking Israeli forces as well as a civilian vehicle, parade gruesome photos of a child and others in shrouds, and show posters featuring leaders of the terrorist organization Hamas.
If the United Nations is interested in supporting a peaceful resolution between Israelis and Palestinians, it must deplore, not encourage, incitement to hatred and bloodshed. Mohammed Assaf perpetuates patent bigotry and rationalizes a cult of violence. UNRWA should finally be subjected to a thorough investigation of an institutional culture and mandate that result in the extremism—and elevation—of someone like Assaf. With immediate effect, he should no longer serve as a “youth ambassador” for the agency, and inflammatory voices such as his should not be welcome at the United Nations.