Beyond 'apartheid'–U.N. commission pushes legal and propaganda offensive against Israel

A just-published United Nations report that claims to find Israel guilty of the “crime of apartheid,”  is only one element  of a broader legal and propaganda offensive being pushed by  an obscure  U.N. regional commission to stigmatize America’s close ally and build support for the Palestinian cause, according to documents examined by Fox News.

The offensive has been gestating for at least two years within the U.N.’s Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), whose entire membership are Arab states, and is timed to this year’s 50th anniversary of the 1967 war between Arab states and Israel, which resulted in Israel’s control of the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

At least one additional report commissioned by ESCWA, attempting to create an “innovative” and  “scientific” methodology for estimated the cost of Israel’s 50-year control of the territories,  is still in the works,  with the aim of demanding billions in reparations for Palestinians.

A third aspect  of the strategy  is an elaborate proposed propaganda campaign against the Israeli occupation, making use of U.N. institutions and a variety of diplomatic and media channels,  to create a new , sympathetic “brand” for Palestinians as victims  “that would cause a snowball effect, thus altering public opinion globally in record time,” as an ESCWA background paper puts it.

All three elements, including the now-notorious apartheid report,  were given a thorough airing at the biennial  high level meeting of ESCWA’s 18 members, one of them being the State of Palestine, held in Doha from December 13 to 15, 2016.

ESCWA is ostensibly a forum for regional economic coordination and development; the meeting was touted largely as an occasion to examine the U.N.’s ponderous Sustainable Development Goals.

Nonetheless, a preliminary version of the apartheid report, containing much of its final wording, was one of the documents circulated at the session, and a resolution passed at the end of the meeting called on ESCWA’s secretariat to publicize the explosive apartheid study as much as possible.

The resolution also called for an “ESCWA media and communications strategy aimed at increasing global awareness,” of, among other things, “Israeli violations of Palestinian rights and international law,” and orders the bureaucracy to “increase activities on Palestine and organize special activities to mark” the 1967 anniversary.

The apartheid report caused an eruption of outrage from U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley when it was officially published under U.N. auspices on March 15. She noted it came “from a body whose membership nearly universally does not recognize Israel,” and demanded the U.N. officially “withdraw” the report from circulation.

Haley heaped additional scorn on the co-author of the 306-page document:  Richard Falk, a notoriously anti-Israel academic who often provoked U.S. irritation for his anti-Semitic statements and anti-U.S. diatribes during a six-year term as U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of the Palestinian people.

Falk has, among other things, cast doubt on the “official version” of the 9/11 attacks as the work of Islamic terrorists and after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings remarked that the “American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world.”

In her counter-blast against the ESCWA-sponsored report, U.S. Ambassador Haley called him “a man who has repeatedly made biased and deeply offensive comments about Israel and espoused ridiculous conspiracy theories.”

Falk stepped down from his U.N. job in May, 2014, but has kept up his anti-Israel agitation as a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has made frequent references to the Israel-apartheid theme. 

For his part, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres distanced himself from the document, and an official close to him asserted he was blind-sided by its appearance. 

A U.N. official pointed the finger of blame for the publication at ESCWA’s Executive Secretary, Rima Khalaf, a Jordanian and longtime U.N. bureaucrat who was appointed to her job by former U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 2010.

Khalaf was slated to step down within weeks as part of Guterres’ initial management shuffle, but instead abruptly resigned on March 17 after Guterres asked that the report be removed from ESDWA’s website.

At a Beirut press conference, an unrepentant Khalaf reportedly hailed the report as the “first of  its kind” from a U.N. agency to condemn Israel, and added, “It was expected that Israel and its allies would put enormous pressure on the United Nations secretary general to renounce the report.”

The U.N. official observed that Khalaf “was in New York recently and did not mention [the apartheid report] to anyone.”

“One of the responsibilities of U.N. economic commissioners,” the official noted, “is to move information up the chain of command” to avoid such problems.

That may well be so. But an official summary of the Doha session is also available on the ESCWA website, accessible to all. 

Among other things, it notes the elements of the ESCWA 50th anniversary actions, issuing broadside condemnations of Israel’s actions in the territories without reference to acts of terrorism or other assaults on Israelis, and calling for creation of a “specialized unit on issues related to Palestine and its people,” including further monitoring of “Israeli violations of the Palestinian people’s rights and of international law.”

Along with ESCWA members and officials, the report notes, representatives of at least 15 other U.N. offices and agencies were present. One of them was the Office of the U.N.  Special Coordinator of the Middle East Peace Process, although only a lower-level official was listed in attendance.

Questions emailed to ESCWA by Fox News about the apartheid report and the other elements in the organization’s anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian campaign, including some of its future plans, were acknowledged but not answered before this story was published.

Guterres’ claim of ignorance about the Falk report is made more credible by the fact that he has only been in the U.N.’s job since January 1 -–less than three months.

But the ESCWA campaign also offers a smudged window into the maze of bureaucracies, agencies and free-floating organizations that make up the  sprawling  U.N. system—and their lurking biases and often invisible channels of influence. 

Their topmost official of each is usually appointed by the U.N. Secretary General, and their supervision by U.N. member states—their nominal bosses—is often cursory at best.

There are more than 30 funds, agencies and programs alongside the bulky U.N. Secretariat, plus a flotilla of regional commissions (including ESCWA), research and training institutes, facilitating networks, and a bewildering array of other entities, spread around the globe, often with overlapping mandates and spheres of influence.

ESCWA, for example, is a $70 million body ostensibly concerned with social and economic coordination and development in the Middle East. Its biennial budget is part of the U.N.’s regular budget, meaning that 22 per cent of the total is paid by the U.S. 

Yet alongside its regional work, ESCWA is also the author of a report issued by the U.N. Secretary General himself, on the living conditions of Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories.

The report focuses contributions from a wide variety of other U.N. and U.N.-supported organizations in a 20-page  condemnation of allegedly illegal Israeli practices, ranging from illegal detention and displacement of civiians to possible “sustained extensive soil damage, including the removal and destruction of topsoil,” during a 2014 Israeli anti-terrorism offensive in Gaza.

Among other things, the report adds: “According to UNEP [the U.N. Environmental Program], the 2014 offensive may also have resulted in loss of wildlife and native plants.” The document offers no specific evidence at all for the extremely hypothetical claim.

ESCWA’s most recent compendium of Israel crimes was published in July, 2016—as a Note from then-Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. 

The next ESCWA ghost-writing job, if it occurs, will have Guterres’ name on it.

George Russell is Editor-at-Large of Fox News. He is reachable on Twitter at @GeorgeRussell and on Facebook at

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