March 16, 2017
On the day that the Syrian civil war entered its seventh year, a United Nations body focusing on the Arab world launched a report in neighboring Lebanon charging that Israel is “guilty of the crime of apartheid” in its dealings with the Palestinians.
A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres stressed that the report released Wednesday did not reflect Guterres’ views, but U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said the secretariat should go further and withdraw it altogether.
Haley criticized both the body that commissioned and released the report – the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) – and one of the document’s two co-authors, a Princeton international law scholar notorious for criticism of Israel and controversial statements on Islamist terrorism against the U.S.
Richard Falk worked as U.N. “special rapporteur” on the Palestinian territories from 2008-2014. His harsh condemnation of Israel, remarks on an “apparent cover up” over the 9/11 terror attacks, and suggestions that the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing was an understandable consequence of the “American global domination project,” prompted calls by the Obama administration for his removal.
But Falk served out his six-year term, before being commissioned by ESCWA to co-author a study into something that he had previously alleged in his reports for the U.N. – that Israel’s policies in the disputed territories bear characteristics of apartheid.
Apartheid was the system of statutory, harshly-enforced racial segregation introduced by the white minority Nationalist government in South Africa in 1948, until formally ended in 1994.
Falk and co-author Virginia Tilley argued in the report that the legal prohibition of apartheid had not been rendered moot by the collapse of the system in South Africa, and determined that “Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid.”
The report went a lot further than make that determination: It recommended action from U.N. member-states’ governments including implementing “boycott, divestment and sanctions” against Israel; taking legal action “including allowing criminal prosecutions of Israeli officials demonstrably connected with the practices of apartheid against the Palestinian people”; and exploring “ways of cooperating in the discharge of their duty to oppose and overcome the regime of apartheid.”
It also recommended the revival of a U.N. “special committee against apartheid” (which existed from 1962-1994) and said Guterres should recommend to the Security Council and General Assembly that a “global conference” be held to discuss further action against Israel.
Headquartered in Beirut, ESCWA comprises 18 Arab countries. (Its membership overlaps that of the 22-member Arab League, but excludes Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti and Somalia.)
In a hard-hitting statement responding to the report, Haley noted that most of those countries do not recognize Israel.
“That such anti-Israel propaganda would come from a body whose membership nearly universally does not recognize Israel is unsurprising,” she said.
“That it was drafted by Richard Falk, 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, is equally unsurprising,” Haley continued.
“The United Nations secretariat was right to distance itself from this report, but it must go further and withdraw the report altogether. The United States stands with our ally Israel and will continue to oppose biased and anti-Israel actions across the U.N. system and around the world. ”
The report’s release comes at a sensitive time for the world body, as the Trump administration reportedly mulls deep cuts to U.S. contributions to the U.N.
Guterres’ spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, was quick to distance his boss from the report when asked about it at a regular briefing in New York on Wednesday.
“We just saw the report today which, as you say, was published by ESCWA,” he said. “It was done so without any prior consultations with the secretariat, and the report, as it stands, does not reflect the views of the secretary general.”
Dujarric also pointed out that the report itself carries a disclaimer: “The findings, interpretations and conclusions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its officials or member-states.”
(Nonetheless, ESCWA at a meeting in Qatar last December passed a resolution stressing the need to disseminate the report widely.
And at Wednesday’s launch in Beirut, ESCWA executive secretary Rima Khalaf of Jordan embraced a report which she said was the first of its kind published by a U.N. body that concludes Israel has established an apartheid regime.)
A reporter pointed out to Dujarric that Falk was for many years attached to the U.N. (special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council) but the spokesman noted that he was no longer in that role.
He added that U.N. special rapporteurs “are independent.”
9/11, Boston bombing, Palestinian ‘holocaust’
In 2011, Falk in a blog posting wrote about an “apparent cover up” over the 9/11 terror attacks, and said mainstream media were “unwilling to acknowledge the well-evidenced doubts about the official version of the events.”
Then-U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice in response called on the U.N. to remove Falk from his special rapporteur post.
In 2012, Rice again called for his removal, after Falk recommended in a report that U.S. and other businesses operating in the disputed territories should be boycotted, and face “legal and political” measures.
Then-U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was critical, but said he could not dismiss Falk, since special rapporteurs are appointed by HRC member-states, not the secretariat.
In 2013, Falk linked the Boston Marathon bombing to U.S. policies, citing its support for Israel in particular.
“The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world,” he wrote.
Rice again called for Falk to go. Instead, he doubled down on the Boston comments, telling the Daily Princetonian, “The U.S. is really the only country that projects its military power to all parts of the world,” and adding that “engaging in military undertakings around the world is bound to produce some kinds of resistance, and that resistance as in the Boston incident can assume a pathological form.”
Earlier controversies included a 2007 article entitled “Slouching toward a Palestinian Holocaust,” in which Falk compared Israeli treatment of Palestinians to Nazi atrocities against European Jews.
“Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity?” he asked. “I think not.”
Less than a year later the U.N. Human Rights Council named Falk as its special rapporteur. He reportedly was picked from more than 180 potential candidates.