UNITED NATIONS — An Arab delegation met with the UN secretary-general Wednesday to protest what Palestinian Authority Ambassador Riyad Mansour called the “bullying tactics and intimidation” that led to UN withdrawal of a report that accused Israel of establishing an “apartheid regime.”
Mansour said the meeting with UN chief Antonio Guterres “was not a pleasant experience for all of us,” following the secretary-general’s order to remove the report from the UN website and the resignation of senior UN official Rima Khalaf after she refused to withdraw it.
The report was swiftly condemned by US and Israeli officials, who reportedly called on the UN to reject it. Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said it had been published without any prior consultations and did not reflect his views.
Mansour said he and the ambassadors of Oman and Iraq delivered a message to Guterres during what he also called a “very frank but warm discussion about a painful subject to all of us.”
“We care about the UN and the secretary-general, and we do not accept methods that are not in the culture of the United Nations,” Mansour said. “You know by that what I mean — some people who are trying to inject bullying tactics and intimidation.”
He stressed that “it is our collective responsibility to do everything we can to defend the UN and what it stands for.”
Mansour wouldn’t say who was doing the “bullying,” telling reporters: “You know who I mean.”
Khalaf, a UN undersecretary-general who headed the Beirut-based UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, resigned Friday after refusing Guterres’s request to take the report off its website.
Its authors concluded that “Israel has established an apartheid regime that systematically institutionalizes racial oppression and domination of the Palestinian people as a whole.”
The Beirut-based commission slammed Israel’s Law of Return, “conferring on Jews worldwide the right to enter Israel and obtain Israeli citizenship regardless of their countries of origin and whether or not they can show links to Israel-Palestine, while withholding any comparable right from Palestinians, including those with documented ancestral homes in the country,” as a policy of “demographic engineering” meant to uphold Israel’s status as the Jewish state.
The resignation of Khalaf, a Jordanian, and the removal of the report were welcomed by Israel and the United States, Israel’s closest ally.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement: “When someone issues a false and defamatory report in the name of the UN, it is appropriate that the person resign. UN agencies must do a better job of eliminating false and biased work, and I applaud the secretary-general’s decision to distance his good office from it.”
But Palestinians praised the report’s findings and expressed regret that it was taken off the website.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas informed Khalaf by phone that she would receive the Palestine Medal of the Highest Honor in recognition of her “courage and support” for the Palestinian people, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa said Sunday.
Mansour said even though the report had been taken off the UN website “I think it is in the hands of maybe hundreds of thousands of people anyway” because of publicity about its withdrawal.”
“Many people who were not even interested in the report are now interested and asking for copies, and it is provided to them,” he said.
Over the weekend, Palestinian leaders condemned the UN for scrapping the ESCWA report, and accused Guterres of giving in to politically motivated intimidation.
“Instead of succumbing to political blackmail or allowing itself to be censured or intimidated by external parties, the UN should condemn the acts described in the report and hold Israel responsible,” PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said on Saturday according to the Wafa news agency.
Israel’s UN envoy Danny Danon welcomed Guterres’s actions and Khalaf’s resignation.
Danon said Guterres’s move was “an important step in stopping discrimination against Israel.” In a statement, Danon said “Anti-Israel activists do not belong in the UN. It is time to put an end to practice in which UN officials use their position to advance their anti-Israel agenda.” He added that “over the years Khalaf has worked to harm Israel and advocate for the BDS movement. Her removal from the UN is long overdue.”
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.
Haley described Falk as “a man who has repeatedly made biased and deeply offensive comments about Israel and espoused ridiculous conspiracy theories.”