JERUSALEM — If being an apartheid state means committing inhumane acts, systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another, then Israel is guilty, a United Nations panel has determined in a new report.
The findings from an Arab-led group were not cleared or fully backed by U.N. leadership and do not set new policies toward Israel. Yet they reflect another attempt to use a U.N. forum to denounce Israel and seek to put its Western allies on the defensive at a time when some have questioned Israel's hard-line approach, including expansion of settlements in the West Bank.
Apartheid was a term once associated with South Africa's white-rule system, but now represents a broad term for crimes against humanity under international law and the Rome Statute that set up the International Criminal Court, said the report in its executive summary made public Wednesday.
Israelis, who find the term apartheid inaccurate and inflammatory when applied to their conflict with the Palestinians, immediately slammed the report. One government spokesman even compared it to Nazi tabloid Der Sturmer, which promoted Nazi propaganda and was virulently anti-Semitic.
The report, published by the U.N.’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), also drew sharp criticism from the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who called it “anti-Israel propaganda.”
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres distanced himself from the findings, with spokesman Stephane Dujarric saying the report was published without any prior consultation with the U.N. secretariat.
“The report as it stands does not reflect the views of the secretary general,” said Dujarric.
Headquartered in Beirut, ESCWA’s membership includes 18 Arab states, two of which — Jordan and Egypt — have peace treaties with Israel.
A statement released by Rima Khalaf, a U.N. undersecretary general and executive secretary of the committee, said concluding that a state has established an apartheid regime “is not an easy matter for a United Nations entity.”
“In recent years, some have labeled Israeli practices as racist, while others have warned that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state. A few have raised the question as to whether in fact it already has,” she said.
Titled, “Israeli Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” the report was written by Richard Falk, a former U.N. special rapporteur to the Palestinian territories known for harsh criticisms of both Israel and the United States, and Virginia Tilley, professor of political science at Southern Illinois University.
The two concluded that Israel has established an apartheid regime aimed at dominating the Palestinians. Their recommendations include reviving the U.N. Center Against Apartheid, which closed in 1994 after South Africa ended its apartheid practices. The report also urges support for a boycott, divestment and a sanctions campaign against Israel.
Dividing the Palestinian people into four distinct groups, the authors write that although they are treated differently by Israel, they all face “the racial oppression that results from the apartheid regime.”
The first group identified is the roughly 1.7 million Palestinians who are full citizens of Israel, but who, the report found, live under “martial law” and are subjected to oppression because they are not Jewish.
The second group highlighted in the report is the estimated 300,000 Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem, a mostly Arab area. The report said these Palestinians “experience discrimination in access to education, health care, employment, residency and building rights.”
The third group includes the 4.6 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza. In the West Bank, the Jewish residents known as settlers are governed by Israeli civil law, while Palestinians live under military rule.
“This dual legal system, problematic in itself, is indicative of an apartheid regime,” said the authors.
The last group discussed in the report are the millions of Palestinian refugees who live outside Israeli territory and who are prohibited from returning to their homes in Israel or the occupied Palestinian territory.
“Israel defends its rejection of the Palestinians’ return in frankly racist language: alleging that Palestinians constitute a 'demographic threat' and that their return would alter the demographic character of Israel to the point of eliminating it as a Jewish state,” wrote Falk and Tilley.
The report also attempts to refute Israeli explanations as to why this situation exists, namely its claims that Israel has the right to remain a Jewish state or that Israel does not owe Palestinian noncitizens equal treatment precisely because they are not citizens. Some Israelis also claim the country's treatment of Palestinians reflects no intention to dominate, because it is a temporary situation derived from the realities of ongoing conflict and security requirements.
“The report shows that none of those arguments stands up to examination,” wrote the authors.
Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, welcomed the report.
“The problem is not the report but the facts that it contains. There's no other word to define what is going on here other than apartheid,” said Erekat, a longtime peace negotiator.
Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tweeted that it was a “Der Sturmer like report, NOT endorsed" by the U.N. secretary general.
“The attempt to smear and falsely label the only true democracy in the Middle East by creating a false analogy is despicable and constitutes a blatant lie,” said Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, also in a tweet.
“The U.N.'s top donors, including the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, and Canada, must stop funding U.N. bodies obsessed with demonizing Israel,” said Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister of public security and strategic affairs.
“This obsession with condemning Israel does nothing to advance peace or help the Palestinians. All countries concerned with promoting a peaceful solution should stop funding bodies that discriminate against Israel, and insist that the U.N. undergo fundamental reforms,” Erdan said.
In recent weeks, the U.S. government has indicated that it would consider halting participation in various U.N. programs due to its perceived anti-Israel stance.
“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,” wrote U.S. ambassador Haley.