Head of UN body resigns as anti-Israel report is withdrawn

The head of a Lebanon-based United Nations agency that promotes development in Arab countries resigned Friday, as the body she led removed a controversial report from its website that concluded Israel has established an “apartheid regime” guilty of “racial domination” over the Palestinians.

Rima Khalaf, a Jordanian who served as executive secretary of the Beirut-based Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), announced her resignation at a hastily arranged press conference in the Lebanese capital Friday.

She said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s insistence that the document be removed from the agency’s website led her to quit.

“Based on that, I submitted to him my resignation from the United Nations,” Khalaf said at news conference in Beirut Friday. “It was expected that Israel and its allies would put enormous pressure on the United Nations secretary-general to renounce the report.”

The report was no longer available on ESCWA’s website as of Friday.

The document, published earlier this week by ESCWA, drew swift and vociferous criticism from UN and Israeli officials. “The United States is outraged by the report,” US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said in a statement.

She went on to demand the report be withdrawn.

Its authors concluded that “Israel has established an apartheid regime that systematically institutionalizes racial oppression and domination of the Palestinian people as a whole.”

Khalaf has long been criticized by Israeli officials for her perceived anti-Israel positions.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had earlier requested the removal of the report from ESCWA’s website, according to a UN official who spoke to Reuters.

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon welcomed the developments, saying Guterres’s move was “an important step in stopping discrimination against Israel.”

In a statement, he said the place of anti-Israel activists was “outside the UN” and added that Khalaf acted against Israel “for years” and “should have left her post a long time ago.”

Guterres had previously distanced himself from the report by ESCWA, which is comprised of 18 Arab countries.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric has said “the report as it stands does not reflect the views of the secretary-general” and was done without consultations with the UN secretariat.

Damon said earlier on Wednesday that the “attempt to smear and falsely label the only true democracy in the Middle East by creating a false analogy is despicable and constitutes a blatant lie.”

“It comes as no surprise that an organization headed by an individual who has called for boycotts against Israel, and compared our democracy to the most terrible regimes of the twentieth century, would publish such a report,” he added in reference to Khalaf. “We call on the Secretary-General to disassociate the UN from this biased and deceitful report.”

The report, which was published Wednesday, was titled “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” says that “available evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.”

The report further accuses Israel of “practices” that have fragmented Palestinians, arguing that it is the “principal method by which Israel imposes an apartheid regime.”

The report was compiled by Richard Falk, a Princeton professor emeritus with a long track record of vehemently anti-Israel rhetoric who previously was the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Palestine, and by Virginia Tilley, an American political scientist who authored the book “The One-State Solution” in 2005.

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