>This week, there have been two major snafus where officials in position of authority have made remarks that were unwisely chosen. Seeing this second example has promoted me to comment on both. I’ll start with the one I saw today. The Jordan Times reported today that Andrew Whitley, the head of the New York UNRWA office, indicated that Palestinian refugees should give up on a right of return and the Arab countries should find places for them.
For anyone who is reading this blog and is not overly familiar with the region, I feel an explanation is appropriate here. UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, from their website:
UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) provides assistance, protection and advocacy for some 4.7 million registered Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory, pending a solution to their plight.
UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN member states.
Before moving to Jordan, I had no idea that the UN had an agency dedicated specifically to Palestinian Refugees. To further illustrate, Jordan is currently served by both UNRWA and the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees, the UN Refugee Agency). The UNRWA deals with Palestinians registered with the UN as refugees. These are people who typically live in one of the acknowledged refugee camps, I believe there are 15. I blogged at Christmas time about my visit to one of the camps. It was a sobering experience. The UNHCR covers the Iraqi Refugees in Jordan.
However, let’s be clear. To be a refugee served by the UNRWA, you must meet specific criteria. As an example, El 3atal and his family have no relationship with UNRWA for all that they are refugees. Those Palestinians who came to Jordan and received citizenship cease falling under the auspices of direct support for the UNRWA, from what I understand. So, this agency is specifically for the Palestinians. You may recall I posted about the Baqa’a refugee camp near Amman and the impact it had on me on my very first trip to Jordan. Seeing the homes and shops with corrugated tin roofs held on by cinder block as a visceral reminder that they are only here temporarily and waiting to return home remains with me.
For an official of UNRWA to say that the Palestinians need to give up on their ability to ever go home is to say that organization has no purpose, to my way of thinking. After all, the organization was created to provide services and advocacy for Palestinian refugees until their situation is resolved in accordance with international law. Did I miss where that has happened? Somehow I don’t think so.
The UNRWA was quick to say
that these express Mr. Whitley’s views, not those of the UNRWA
. Frankly, if he didn’t lose his job for saying something like this out of turn, he should have. I take the same very dim view of this as the recent brouhaha over the (former) Minister of the Environment’s resignation after poorly conceived remarks. As a representative of your organization, you provide a public face. It appears that, like the Jordanian government, UNRWA
needs to provide media training for its Directors. When you are speaking at a meeting of the National Council for U.S.-Arab Relations in your role as NY Director of the UNRWA
, you don’t get to have an opinion. If you do have an opinion, you keep it to yourself.
I mentioned Mr. Malhas‘ poorly conceived (and timed) remarks as it is the second instance where someone who should have kept his mouth shut offered an opinion when he shouldn’t have one. Somehow the message was not clear to Mr. Malhas that, when opening a workshop for journalists organized by international environmental bodies, it was be ill-advised to trash talk the media in general and specific reporters. Again, he was not there as Mr. Malhas private citizen with an opinion on the environment. He was in attendance as a representative of Jordan’s government. He was there as the face for the environment of Samir Rifai’s government. In effect, he was there representing His Majesty, King Abdullah. I can’t quite imagine what, in that role, made him think that his personal opinions of the qualifications, skill, and motivation-levels of journalists should be open game. While his remarks that Jordanian journalists lack fact-checking skills and are unmotivated to do a great job may be true, it was the wrong time, place, and person to approach the subject. I have many personal opinions on the state of journalism in Jordan. As a private citizen, I not only can hold these opinions, but can espouse them loudly as much as I like. However, the moment I transition from representing only myself, I give up those rights…
These two cases clearly demonstrate to me that media training is sorely needed by everyone who is likely to find themselves in the spotlight, no matter how small that spotlight may be. When representing others, you must carefully consider your remarks and think long and hard before making statements that may be poorly received. It’s not longer just you that you are affecting…
Happy Feet (in Mouth)!