The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which is part of the State Department, has boasted of providing taxpayer funding to a Palestinian charity linked closely to the designated terrorist organization Hamas.
A USAID August 2022 “news update” celebrates the construction of a “USAID-funded Unlimited Friends Association [UFA] educational and community center in Gaza.” As noted by USAID, the American Near East Refugee Aid (Anera), a prominent Washington D.C. charity with offices across the Middle East, “built” the center.
According to a previous study by the Middle East Forum, UFA is aligned with senior Hamas leaders, works to reward the “families of martyrs” in Gaza with cash handouts, and promotes violently anti-Semitic rhetoric across its social media pages.
UFA’s cash handouts are part of the group’s “Orphan Sponsorship Program.” In since-deleted videos published by the group, the charity’s officials defined orphans to include the children of those killed while resisting “the ongoing slaughter against the Palestinian people.”
The charity regularly hosts events financially benefiting “the families of martyrs and prisoners.”
Such work is carried out in open collaboration with Hamas. UFA has organized events and invited to its offices prominent Hamas figures such as Mustafa Sawwaf, who calls “Israel’s disappearance … a necessity [according to] the Koran”; as well as Mohamed Abu-Shkian, a senior Hamas leader who praises the “strikes of the mujahideen” and leads events in Gaza lionizing slain terrorist operatives.
In addition, UFA openly advertises projects funded by U.S. charities in prominent Hamas literature and boasts a certificate of support from Ummah University, an institution in Gaza directly controlled by Hamas’s “Interior Ministry.”
Collaboration with Hamas appears to continue today. In 2022, multiple Hamas-aligned media outlets, including the terrorist group’s own daily newspaper, Felesteen News, published details of job vacancies at UFA; not as advertisements, but as news stories.
Hatred for Jews permeates UFA’s efforts. In 2013, the charity published a social media post stating: “We ask God to drive away the anguish of the heroic prisoners in the Nazi Zionist jails and to free Al-Aqsa Al-Sharif from the filth of the most dirty Jews.”
UFA officials continue to promote such rhetoric. In April 2021, UFA director Jomaa Khadoura called on his own Facebook page for God to “cleanse Al-Aqsa from the impurity of the Jews.”
UFA appears not just to be an occasional partner of American Islamism, but an important outpost. UFA director Khadoura himself claims to have served as an employee of Baitulmaal USA, a wealthy Islamist 501c, and one of UFA’s major partners.
Eight American charities identified by the Middle East Forum in 2017 as UFA donors have since continued to fund the Gaza-based group. The logo of Islamic Relief, a global Islamist charity established by figures from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, appears in dozens of recent photos published by UFA on its social media pages.
Recently, Islamic Relief appears to have taken over as the major sponsor of UFA’s “orphan sponsorship program,” with UFA fundraising videos indicating Islamic Relief’s Canadian branch is a leading donor.
In 2017, Helping Hand partnered with designated terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan. USAID is currently the subject of a congressional investigation over its funding for Helping Hand for Relief and Development, as a result of FWI’s reporting.
The “USAID-funded Unlimited Friends Association educational and community center in Gaza” was, according to USAID itself, “built by Anera,” a major American charity founded in 1968, also known as American Near East Refugee Aid, which claims to provide humanitarian aid in Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon.
On its website, Anera states that it ensures donations do not reach “parties like Hamas” because its “local staff evaluates our partners.”
FWI found that one of these local staff is Anera’s “Gaza project coordinator,” Ibrahim Najjar, who has shared propaganda videos of speeches by the late Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi (set to stirring music), expressed support for the “brave prisoners” in Israeli jails, and is an advocate for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
A leading activist with the Palestinian People’s Party, Najjar has also warmly posted images of the Hamas founder Sheikh Yassin, while expressing support for “national unity,” accompanied by a picture of a leading member of the Palestinian Peoples’ Party tending to the terrorist leader.
When contacted for comment, Anera’s media spokesman Steve Fake told FWI: “Anera follows the highest standards in vetting all of our partners and beneficiaries, including UFA. They are put through US and international database security checks (OFAC and Sam.gov). Our vetting includes all key staff and board members of an organization to verify there is no known or suspected connection to terrorist designated organizations. And all Anera staff are subject to the same screening.”
Fake claimed that USAID had explicitly approved UFA as a suitable partner: “Anera and USAID will not fund anyone who does not pass those checks. Anera received UFA’s vetting clearance from USAID when we started working on the project you reference.”
Anera offered no comment on the evidence of anti-Semitism or Hamas connections presented by FWI. Instead, Fake threatened: “Please note that any link, claim or innuendo that suggests Anera is funding terrorists will ensure contact from our lawyers.”
Anera and Western Islamist charities are not UFA’s only partners. Other Western donors have begun to fund the group. UFA lists Belgium charity Culture Action Europe and French charity Humanity & Inclusion as supporting partners, all in collaboration with the German government.
Cliff Smith, director of the Middle East Forum’s Washington Project, explains “USAID’s due diligence, to the degree it does any due diligence, is simply to check groups against the terror designated list. Certainly, terror designated groups should not get money. But formal terror designation is slow and inconsistent, and merely not being designated should not be sufficient to receive USAID funds. Here, USAID ignored clear signs of radicalism and terror partnerships, and that’s a significant problem.”
Smith added: “That USAID is willing to fund a group that works closely with a designated terrorist organization certainly gives Islamist 501c organizations and other Western governments the confidence to do the same.”
Despite USAID’s claims to have funded UFA, the organization’s name does not seem to be present in data published by usaspending.gov, a government-run website responsible for tracking all monies handed out by the federal government.
Spending data does reveal USAID funding provided to Anera for a “Palestinian Community Infrastructure Development (PCID) program,” but those same federal records reveal no mention of any sub-grantee or partner.
Cliff Smith observes: “These federal bureaucratic practices hamper transparency efforts since the government does not consistently list the ultimate beneficiaries of American largesse. What are researchers and journalists missing when they look into these groups, all because of bureaucratic ineptness?”
FWI reached out to USAID for comment, but we received no response.
Sam Westrop is the director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.