Since ancient times, nations have granted immunity to diplomats from arrest or mistreatment. Without such immunity, diplomacy is virtually impossible and breaches of this tradition—such as the 1979 assault on the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the hostage crisis that followed—are not only heinous crimes but also proof of the breakdown of the rule of law anywhere such conduct is tolerated. But this important principle has sometimes been expanded to shield diplomats from the consequences of ordinary illegal behavior. As any resident of New York City knows, diplomatic license plates are a license to park illegally and not pay the tickets they are assessed. But for the United Nations, the concept of immunity has now taken a completely new meaning: any employee of the world body, even those without any diplomatic status whatsoever, are entitled to aid terrorist groups with impunity.
That’s the position the UN is taking on the case of Waheed Borsh, a Palestinian engineer who works for the United Nations Development Program, an agency tasked with assisting building projects in poor countries. Borsh has worked for the UNDP since 2003, a group that has become even more important since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas that resulted in the destruction of many homes in Gaza. But rather than carry out the UN’s mandate to rebuild civilian infrastructure and homes, Borsh was discovered to have been transferred 300 tons of building materials to the Qassam Brigades—Hamas’s military arm—in order to build a naval jetty from which it conducts operations and smuggling. Borsh also used his influence to ensure that the rebuilding of homes of Hamas officials was a UNDP priority. This meant that thanks to Borsh, the UNDP was subsidizing a terrorist group’s activities.
The UN said it was “greatly concerned” by the allegations and has “zero tolerance” for wrongdoing–a stance belied by the way all of its agencies have allowed themselves to be co-opted by Hamas in Gaza. But it nevertheless asserted this past week in a letter that Borsh should be released from Israeli custody because he should be considered to have diplomatic immunity.
The technical legality of this assertion is dubious. If any local employee of the United Nations, let alone, one of an embassy or consulate anywhere, is considered to have the immunity tradition accords actual diplomats the entire concept is called into question. It’s bad enough when real diplomats commit crimes and then are allowed to return home, albeit in disgrace. More common is when diplomats involved in spying—an activity not wholly unrelated to the business of foreign policy.
But while those with diplomatic passports must be accorded a fair amount of latitude for countries to feel free to exchange representatives, giving employees of UN agencies a free pass for blatantly illegal conduct is absurd. Even more outrageous is the notion that those who aid terrorist organizations should be treated with kid gloves.
This UN demand is especially egregious when one considers the record of both the UN and other philanthropic groups in Gaza. The same week that Borsh was arrested, an employee of the World Vision humanitarian group in Gaza was also apprehended for siphoning off for Hamas tens of millions of dollars donated from well-meaning foreigners that were intended to help Palestinian children. Another recent controversy has centered on Hamas infiltration of the Save the Children organization in Gaza. Meanwhile, the United Nations Relief Works Agency was found to have hired members of Hamas and allowed its facilities and schools to be used by the terrorists for storing weapons during the 2014 war.
But rather than take responsibility for this fiasco that occurred in their name, the UN thinks Borsh and every other Palestinian working for them in Gaza ought to be given impunity for misdirecting international aid to terrorists. Israel is right to ignore this request and to vigorously prosecute all those who abuse their UN jobs in this manner.
The UN has been a cesspool of corruption and anti-Semitism for so long that to speak of salvaging its reputation is a fool’s errand. Yet this incident shows how little the world body actually cares for the welfare of ordinary Palestinians, who are being shortchanged of desperately needed assistance to bolster their Islamist rulers’ military infrastructure. By invoking diplomatic immunity, the UN is calling into disrepute a basic principle upon which the entire structure of its efforts rests.