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Khulood Badawi

Ambassador Ron Prosor


George Baumgarten

Will U.N. Employee’s Online Words About Israel Result in Her Termination?

George Baumgarten, United Nations Correspondent, May 17, 2012


 The recent uproar over a note on the Twitter post of a Palestinian woman was not exceptional, or—unfortunately—unusual. But the news photo sent out by Khulood Badawi had two additional elements: First, it was a six year-old, recycled news photograph, not a recent one as she represented it to be. And, second, she was an employee of the "Humanitarian Affairs" Department of the United Nations.

Khulood Badawi is a Palestinian Arab woman from Nazareth, in the central Galilee. She grew up in the neighborhood of Safafa, which she describes (in a 12-minute YouTube video)as "…one big refugee camp". She also describes local Israelis as knowing that they "…live on the ruins of another people". She attended Israel’s University of Haifa, where she studied Jewish History and Arabic Language. While there, she became involved in Arab student activism, which eventually "…got me expelled".

The story begins on 10 March, when Ms. Badawi sent her Twitter friends and correspondents a photograph of a child, covered with blood, being carried (presumably for medical attention) by an older man, and said to have "…been killed by and Israeli airstrike the day before". In her tweet, Badawi inserted the caption "Palestine is bleeding. Another child killed by Israel…Another father carrying his child to his grave in Gaza". In fact, the picture was—to all those who follow such Middle East Events—a quite familiar one. Published by Reuters in 2006, it showed a child said to have been injured in an accident…and had no connection whatever to any action by Israel. In fact, it is not even clear in what country the photo was taken. It was reportedly taken in Iraq—not Israel or the Palestinian Territories—and published under the title "Another Day in Iraq". According to Reuters, the photo depicts a child not killed, but after injuries sustained in a fall off a swing(!).

By 14 March, the controversy had spread to the U.N., and to the Israeli media. The Jerusalem Post ran a long article, describing the growth of the photo/tweet/fraud controversy in some detail. It told how the pro-Israel online activist Avi Mayer had recognized the photo, and identified its true source and subject matter.

 The issue was also taken up by Israel Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor, who has recently made a particular point of answering and protesting all such defamatory stories published about Israel, which in any way misrepresent the facts or actions of the Jewish state. He sent a letter of protest to both Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Undersecretary- General Valerie Amos. In that letter, Prosor, calling for Miss Badawi’s dismissal, noted that "Although Miss Badawi’s portrayal of this photo was clearly a blatant falsehood, her post became the top tweet for anything related to Gaza on Twitter". Prosor added that

"When the conduct of an OCHA employee so grossly deviates from the organization’s responsibility to remain impartial, the integrity of the entire organization is eroded. The credibility of OCHA is already seriously in doubt among the Israeli public. This is why immediate action in this case is necessary".

I spoke with Under-Secretary-General Amos, of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (O.C.H.A.; Ms. Badawi works in the O.C.H.A. office in Jerusalem.). She informed me that she had responded to Ambassador Prosor’s letter. I was also assured by another U.N. official that U.N. employees must adhere to a Code of Conduct, which requires that they do nothing to bring discredit on the U.N. The O.C.H.A. office in New York confirms that "the matter is being taken very seriously", and Israeli sources indicate that Ms. Badawi has in fact been placed on leave, pending an investigation. O.C.H.A. assures me that

"The internal enquiry, to assess whether and what actions need to be taken in line with United Nations rules and regulations, is ongoing"

Ms. Badawi is of course entitled to her opinions. She is said to have apologized for the error, saying she was unaware of the photo’s origin. But she has a position as a [supposedly impartial] employee of the United Nations. And the U.N. and its Humanitarian Affairs department have a sacred international responsibility to ensure the impartiality of their employees. One wonders whether the regulations that UN/OCHA have, governing political activities and statements by their employees, are strictly enforced. One wonders

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