Sen Blackburn calls for investigation into allegation controversial UN agency employee kept Israeli hostage

EXCLUSIVE – Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., demanded an investigation into allegations that a controversial United Nations agency’s employee detained one of the hostages kidnapped by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. 

“The United States will not be complicit in propping up Hamas’ terrorism, and this report further proves why deep change is necessary within UNRWA before we even consider providing another dollar to the agency,” Blackburn wrote in a letter obtained by Fox News Digital and addressed to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield and United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini. 

“It is deeply concerning that, despite the prevalence of these reports, the United Nations has seemingly done nothing to investigate or prevent the siphoning of UNRWA funding by terrorists, and UNRWA continues to double down on its claims that each subsequent, documented report is ‘unsubstantiated.’”

Blackburn has requested a response by Dec. 18 that addresses a report from Israeli reporter Almog Boker about a UNRWA employee who allegedly detained a hostage in their house for 50 days and details of any investigation into the report, as well as an explanation of UNRWA’s “process for ensuring its facilities are not used to support terrorist activities,” among other points. 

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Boker, a journalist with Israeli Channel 13, last week claimed on social media platform X that he had interviewed a recently released hostage who told him a UNRWA teacher held them hostage. He additionally claimed a Gazan doctor – allegedly a pediatrician – helped hold another hostage captive for Hamas. 

Senator Marsha Blackburn

Tennessee Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn pictured at a hearing on Capitol Hill. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

“One of the abductees, held for nearly 50 days in an attic, reveals he was held by a [UNRWA] teacher – a father of ten children,” Boker wrote. “This teacher locked the victim away, barely provided food, and neglected medical needs … These are not isolated incidents; these civilians are terrorists,” Boker wrote. “Present at the Saturday massacre, they’re now revealed as integral to holding hundreds captive, including women and children.”

UNRWA pushed back on the claim, calling it “unsubstantiated” after Boker did not immediately respond to their requests for additional information, saying in an official statement, “UNRWA and other entities in the United Nations have asked the journalist to provide more information on what we consider to be a very serious allegation. Despite repeated demands, the journalist has not responded.”

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The UNRWA has faced several allegations, including corruption and directly helping Hamas, as documented in an X community note. Reuters reported on a former headmaster at a UNRWA school who helped build rockets for Islamic Jihad while employed by the agency, as well as posts from several UNRWA teachers and administrators celebrating the Oct. 7 attack.

The agency urged the journalist to provide “immediate clarification” on the claims and that “in the absence of credible information to support this claim, UNRWA requests the journalist immediately delete the post.” 

Lazzarini speaking

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, holds a press conference in Jerusalem on Oct. 27, 2023. (Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Boker followed up with a post on X after UNRWA’s statement, slamming the agency for choosing “to attack the testimony of one of the abductees.” 

“This is the response I gave them,” he wrote. “This is not a ‘claim.’ This is the testimony of a survivor, an abductee who was held captive by Hamas. More evidence is coming. While Hamas is holding 136 Israeli hostages in Gaza, I cannot share information that could endanger them or identify the survivor.” 

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UNRWA Gaza HQ

A man walks in front of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) building as UNRWA personnel strike demanding a salary increase because of the high cost of living, in Gaza City on Jan. 30, 2023. (Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

“I hope UNRWA takes this more seriously than Hamas’s theft of its stocks and misuse of its civilian facilities for terrorist activities,” he added.  

UNRWA’s Director of Communications Juliette Touma told Fox News Digital that the agency remained “very keen to get more information on what is a very, very serious allegation,” and noted that they had not heard back from the journalist.

Blackburn separately told Fox News Digital that if the allegations prove true, the U.S. must “immediately defund this terrorist-sympathizing organization.” 

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“Not one more U.S. taxpayer dollar should go towards funding UNRWA,” Blackburn stressed. “We have known for years that this is an antisemitic organization. It has become crystal clear that the United Nations is complicit in Hamas’ terrorism.”

On Friday, UNRWA also found itself in hot water as the Israel Defense Forces posted video of troops discovering what appeared to be dozens of rockets, mortars and other explosives hidden under UNRWA boxes in a residential home. 

Marcus Sheff, CEO of the London-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, slammed UNRWA in a statement to Fox News Digital, saying the agency is guilty of “complicity” in “creating a fertile ground for terrorism.”

UNRWA, Israel, UN, antisemitism

A new report accuses UNRWA of employing some teachers who promote terrorism against Jews. (Photo by Mahmud Hams/AFP)

“Teaching materials branded with the U.N. Agency logo created by UNRWA education departments as well as textbooks used in its schools in Gaza teach kids to glorify violence and promote terror for years,” Sheff said. “It is no surprise that a UNRWA teacher was involved in the hostage taking by Hamas given the daily indoctrination he is involved with every day.”

“The U.S. must join Germany and other European countries reassessing and conditioning their aid to UNRWA until it uses an alternative curriculum that promotes peace and tolerance otherwise another Oct 7th will occur as Hamas leaders promise,” Sheff demanded. 

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Israeli hostages transported in Red Cross ambulances

International Red Cross vehicles reportedly carrying Israeli hostages released by Hamas cross the Rafah border point in Gaza on the way to Egypt from which they would be flown to Israel to be reunited with their families on Nov. 24, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week, Germany announced it would freeze funding to UNRWA amid reports that the group was complicit in a number of controversies, including the dissemination of antisemitic material, inciting violence and alumni connected to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the National Review reported. 

Former President Trump pulled the plug on U.S. UNRWA funding in 2018. The Biden administration swiftly restored the money to UNRWA, and in July 2022, announced it had given more money to UNRWA than any other organization in the world.

UNRWA’s spokesperson told Fox News Digital that she was not yet aware of Blackburn’s plans in regard to her call for an investigation over the allegations against the U.N. agency.

Fox News Digital’s Benjamin Weinthal contributed to this report.