A Clear Crime: Israel's South Africa Moment May Be Drawing Nearer

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Photo by Oren Ziv / Activestills

Citing her "duty not to conceal a clear crime," the head of a Beirut-based United Nations agency has resigned after the withdrawal of a scathing UN-commissioned report that for the first time charges Israel is "a racist state that has established an apartheid system that persecutes the Palestinian people." Rima Khalaf, U.N. Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary for the 18-state Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), announced her resignation after U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ordered the report scrubbed from the ESCWA website just two days after it was published there. The 74-page report highlights the "strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people" into four groups - Palestinians in East Jerusalem, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in exile and citizens of Israel - as the  main method Israel uses to impose apartheid through "distinct laws, policies and practices."

Khalaf, originally from Jordan, charged the report - available here - was killed after "powerful member states" pressured the U.N. with "vicious attacks and threats." In her resignation letter, Khalaf said it was unsurprising that "governments with little regard for international norms and values of human rights will resort to intimidation when they find it hard to defend their unlawful policies and practices." She added that while "it is only normal for criminals to pressure and attack those who advocate the cause of their victims," she stands by an appraisal - authored by renowned academic, longtime Palestinian supporter and former UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk and another professor - that "concludes on the basis of overwhelming evidence that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid."

While the U.N.'s Guterres fudged on his distancing maneuver - arguing he hadn't been properly consulted and was thus rejecting its process, not content - Israeli leaders were considerably more straightforward. They swiftly, predictably charged the report smears "the only true democracy in the Middle East," called it "despicable" and "dripping with hate and anti-Semitism," likened it to the Nazi propaganda newspaper Der Stürmer, and urged potential readers to first arm themselves with anti-nausea pills. To that, Israeli critics retorted that any accompanying nausea would likely arise "from the reality which this report describes - in a remarkably lucid manner."


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Above all, critics cite the gravity of the "taboo-shattering" charge of apartheid - especially notable emerging during Apartheid Week - which is considered second only to genocide in "the hierarchy of criminality" under international law,  especially when ongoing. Palestinians and BDS supporters hailed the U.N. recognition of apartheid as an "historic breakthrough" that, combined with the growing strength of BDS, could help usher in "the dawn of sanctions" against Israel. Above all, Richard Falk and many others argue, "the flow of history is on the side of the Palestinians." Taking a long view that incorporates the parallel history of South African apartheid, BDS co-founder Omar Barghoutisuggests that for Palestinians, "Our South Africa moment is nearing.”

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 Photo by StoptheWall

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