The quick action taken by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Gutteres to shelve a report by UN agency accusing Israel of being an apartheid state and calling for boycotts of Israel is a reflection of a shift in the organisation’s attitude towards Israel during the Trump era.
Shortly after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, there were reports on plans to issue executive orders drastically cutting back America’s funding of the UN and its worldwide operations. These orders are believed to exist already in draft form and are being reviewed by the administration.
One senior Western diplomat with extensive experience at the UN headquarters in New York said last week that the organisation’s leadership is extremely concerned about such a move, as it would force dramatic cuts to the UN budget.
While Mr Gutteres, a former prime minister of Portugal who began his term at the start of this year, was described by Israeli officials who had worked with him in the past as “quite pro-Israel”, his swift action against the report issued by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) surprised many veteran diplomats.
The Secretary General’s decision to withdraw the report led to the resignation of the ESCWA chair, Jordanian diplomat Rima Khalaf. The report was taken off the ESCWA website at Mr Gueterres’ insistence.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, said the report was an “attempt to smear and falsely label the only true democracy in the Middle East by creating a false analogy”, adding it “constitutes a blatant lie."
The scandal over the ESCWA deepened when the identity of its author became known. Richard Falk, a former UN special rapporteur on human rights, has been condemned in the past by Western governments and even by his former boss, the previous Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, for endorsing 9/11 conspiracy theories and the work of a known antisemite.