A UN agency published a report on Wednesday accusing Israel of imposing an "apartheid regime" of racial discrimination on the Palestinian people, and said it was the first time a UN body had clearly made the charge.
Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman likened the report, which was published by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), to Der Sturmer - a Nazi propaganda publication that was strongly anti-Semitic.
The report concluded "Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole." The accusation - often directed at Israel by its critics - is fiercely rejected by Israel.
UN Under-Secretary General and ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf said the report was the "first of its type" from a U.N. body that "clearly and frankly concludes that Israel is a racist state that has established an apartheid system that persecutes the Palestinian people".
ESCWA comprises 18 Arab states in Western Asia and aims to support economic and social development in member states, according to its website. The report was prepared at the request of member states, Khalaf said.
The report said it had established on the "basis of scholarly inquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid." "However, only a ruling by an international tribunal in that sense would make such an assessment truly authoritative," it added.
The report said the "strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people" was the main method through which Israel imposes apartheid, with Palestinians divided into four groups oppressed through "distinct laws, policies and practices."It identified the four sets of Palestinians as: Palestinian citizens of Israel; Palestinians in East Jerusalem; Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and Palestinians living as refugees or in exile.
The report was authored by Richard Falk, a former U.N. human rights investigator for the Palestinian territories, and Virginia Tilley, professor of political science at Southern Illinois University.
The UN Under-Secretary General and ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf announced her resignation at a news conference in Beirut.
She said she was forced to resign after what she described as pressure from the secretary general to withdraw a report accusing Israel of imposing an "apartheid regime" on Palestinians.
After Secretary-General Antonio Guterres insisted on the withdrawal of the report "I submitted to him my resignation from the United Nations," she said. The UN chief accepted Khalaf's resignation after asking her to remove the report from the internet, a UN spokesman said.