UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the World Government Summit_00001830.jpg
UN Secretary-General Guterres discusses Trump
01:44 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

A UN undersecretary-general resigned after a report said Israel was using apartheid-style practices on Palestinians

The report was compiled at the request of 18 Arab countries

Trump has made it quite clear that the US will defend Israel

CNN  — 

Memo to critics of Israel inside the UN system: Prepare to pay a price.

The sizeable impact of President Donald Trump’s new administration on the UN reverberated again Friday when an undersecretary-general resigned after a UN agency report said Israel was using apartheid-style practices on Palestinians.

The US under Trump has made it quite clear it will defend Israel perhaps more than all other countries at the UN. So when what might have been an obscure report by a small UN group, among thousands printed through the UN, accused the Israeli regime of being “designed” for the core purpose of apartheid, diplomatic fireworks erupted.

New UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres already has a tough road ahead because the United States, the UN’s biggest financial contributor, wants to dramatically slash funding to the global organization and humanitarian programs. Guterres acted relatively quickly to distance the UN from the report – which was compiled by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia at the request of 18 Arab countries.

On Friday, the UN said Guterres accepted the resignation of UN under-secretary general and the executive secretary of the commission that authored the report, Rima Khalaf.

“The Secretary-General cannot accept that an undersecretary general or any other senior UN official that reports to him would authorize the publication, under UN name, under the UN logo, without consulting the competent departments and even himself,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

As of Friday, the report appeared to have been taken down from the ESCWA website.

Khalaf said in a news conference in Beirut that Guterres told her to renounce the report, and she refused, then submitted her resignation. She argued that the pressure that led to Guterres’ response came from the US and Israel.

“It was to be expected that Israel and its allies would put enormous pressure on the United Nations Secretary General to renounce the report,” Khalaf said.

However, a UN spokesman said the problem with the report was “process, not content.” Khalaf and her agency did not clear the report for publication with higher-ups in New York, the spokesman added.

US UN ambassador Nikki Haley on Thursday said the US was outraged by the report, but praised the UN leadership for stepping away from it.

Commenting on the resignation, Haley said: “When someone issues a false and defamatory report in the name of the UN, it is appropriate that the person resign.”

The UN report was co-written by a longtime strident critic of Israel, Richard Falk – who has been denounced before as biased and even endorsing anti-Semitic views on Israel.

Khalaf, who helped select him, on Friday still backed his conclusions on Israel saying: “The crimes that Israel continues to commit against the Palestinian people and in Lebanon … amount to war crimes against humanity.”

But Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, said the UN’s decision to renounce the report “is an important step in ending the bias against Israel at the UN.”

“Anti-Israel activists do not belong in the UN,” he said in a statement. “It is time to put an end to practice in which UN officials use their position to advance their anti-Israel agenda.”

The UN secretary-general was blocked weeks ago from selecting a former Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, to run the UN mission in Libya. Haley, along with other Trump forces in Washington, pushed back on the choice.

The Palestinian BDS National Committee responded by accusing the UN of bowing to pro-Israel pressure from Trump’s administration.

“The fact that a UN Secretary General has bowed to threats and intimidation from the Trump administration to protect Israel from accountability, yet again, is hardly news,” BNC’s general coordinator Mahmoud Nawajaa said in a statement. “The real news is that this time round, Israel, with all its influence in Washington, cannot put the genie back into the bottle.”

Guterres and Haley have said they will be spending at least the next four years trying to cooperate on massive reform of the UN.