JERUSALEM - The head of a U.N. agency responsible for publishing a report earlier this week calling Israel an "apartheid regime" resigned Friday after U.N. Secretary General AntÃ³nio Guterres pressured her to withdraw the document.
Rima Khalaf, a U.N. undersecretary general and executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) headquartered in Beirut, said her decision to resign followed a request from Guterres to remove the report from the agency's website.
The report, published Wednesday, was immediately slammed by Israel and its closest ally, the United States, who denounced it as anti-Israel propaganda. The U.N. secretary general also distanced himself from the report, saying it was released without prior consultation with the U.N. Secretariat.
On Friday, a spokesman for Guterres told Reuters news agency that the secretary general had accepted Khalaf's resignation.
"This is not about content, this is about process," said the spokesman, Stephane Dujarric. He said the report was published under the U.N. name and using the U.N. logo but without "consulting the competent departments."
The report, entitled "Israeli Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid," no longer appears on ESCWA's website.
Israeli officials welcomed Khalaf's departure as long overdue.
"Anti-Israel activists do not belong in the U.N. It is time to put an end to the practice in which U.N. officials use their position to advance their anti-Israel agenda," said Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon.
He said the secretary general's call to remove the report was an important step in ending what Israelis have long maintained is bias against Israel at the world body.
In a news conference held to announce her resignation, Khalaf, a Jordanian citizen, said she had expected Israel and its allies to pressure the secretary general to renounce the report.
But, she said, she stood by the report's findings. She called the research the "first of its kind" from a U.N. agency shedding light on "the crimes that Israel continues to commit against the Palestinian people, which amount to war crimes against humanity," Reuters reported.
Authored by Richard Falk, a former U.N. special rapporteur for the Palestinian territories known for harsh criticism of both Israel and the United States, and Virginia Tilley, a professor of political science at Southern Illinois University, the report concluded that Israel has created an apartheid regime aimed at maintaining domination over the Palestinians.
It recommended reviving the U.N. Center Against Apartheid, which closed in 1994 after South Africa ended its apartheid practices, to investigate Israel's actions. It also urged support for a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.
The report's authors said although "apartheid" is associated with South Africa's former system of minority white rule, the term now applies more broadly to crimes against humanity under international law and the Rome Statute that set up the International Criminal Court.
The report identified four distinct groups of Palestinians: those who live within Israel's borders, residents of East Jerusalem, Palestinians in the West Bank and refugees. It pointed out that while they are treated differently by Israel, they all face "racial oppression that results from the apartheid regime."
Israelis, who say the term apartheid is both inaccurate and inflammatory when applied to their conflict with the Palestinians, immediately blasted the report. On Twitter, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon compared it to the Nazi-era tabloid Der StÃ¼rmer, which promoted Nazi propaganda and was virulently anti-Semitic.
The report also drew sharp criticism from the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who called it "anti-Israel propaganda."
In recent weeks, the U.S. government has indicated that it would consider halting its funding for and participation in various U.N. programs due, among other things, to the United Nations' 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," Haley said in a press release.
"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.