Rima Khalaf, the head of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). resigned today after she was asked to withdraw a report her agency published earlier this week that stated Israel is an “apartheid regime.”
“The secretary-general demanded yesterday that I withdraw the report, and I refused,” Khalaf told reporters at a press conference in Beirut today, according to the Middle East Eye.
“It was expected that Israel and its allies would put enormous pressure on the United Nations secretary general to renounce the report,” she also said, according to Reuters. Then Khalaf stated that the United Nations “had scrubbed the report from its website.”
While the webpage for the report, titled “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” was removed, the link to the executive summary of the report is still active on the UN website here.
Here is the full report:
Earlier in the week Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, released a statement calling for ESCWA to retract the report.
“The United Nations Secretariat was right to distance itself from this report, but it must go further and withdraw the report altogether,” Haley said, further charging the report co-author and former United Nations Special Rapporteur Richard Falk is, “a man who has repeatedly made biased and deeply offensive comments about Israel and espoused ridiculous conspiracy theories, including about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”
Officials in Israel made far-reaching allegations against the report and its authors, charging anti-Semitism and making comparisons to Nazi propagandists.
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon told Mondoweiss (and posted on social media): “#UN #ESCWA has issued today a ” Der Stürmer”like report, NOT endorsed by @UNSG . Friendly advice- dont read it without anti nausea pills….,” equating the UN report to the Nazi newspaper, Der Stürmer.
Yair Lapid, leader of Israel’s center-right Yesh Atid party, said the UN report “is dripping with hate and anti-Semitism,” according to the Israeli daily Israel Hayom. Lapid went on:
“Instead of defending freedom, democracy and liberal values, the U.N. and its agencies are assisting terrorist organizations. Does it make any sense to anyone that the U.N., which includes member states Syria and Sudan, should preach to Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, which upholds minority rights and provides humanitarian assistance to its enemies? The U.S. and Europe need to make it very clear that they will withhold support for the U.N. and its agencies as long as they continue to incite against Israel.”
Meanwhile, Palestinians applauded Khalaf for resigning rather than walking back her group’s report. The General Coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee Mahmoud Nawajaa said in a statement today:
“Palestinians are deeply grateful to ESCWA’s director, Dr. Rima Khalaf, who preferred to resign in dignity than to surrender her principles to US-Israeli bullying. At our darkest moment of Israel’s escalating repression, including of nonviolent human rights defenders, ongoing theft of Palestinian land, and worsening apartheid policies, Palestinians are hopeful that this groundbreaking report heralds the approaching dawn of a new era where Israel’s regime of injustice will be held accountable through sanctions and other measures, as was done against apartheid South Africa.”
The controversy over the report comes amid the Trump administration’s decision this week to reduce U.S. commitments to fund UN agencies. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a letter to non-governmental organizations working with the UN’s Human Rights Council regarding the possibility of the U.S. leaving the body. Mark Toner, acting spokesperson for the State Department, was asked about the letter on Wednesday and said he was “not predicting we’re going to walk away from the council. What I will say is that we’re going to hold the council and its members more accountable and urge greater accountability and transparency.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition, a pro-Israel organization on the right, is circulating a petition to support the president over social media in his “standing up to” the United Nations.