The report commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) 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 the Jewish state.
UN Under-Secretary General and ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf said the report was the "first of its type" from a UN body that "clearly and frankly concludes that Israel is a racist state that has established an apartheid system that persecutes the Palestinian people".
Khalaf was speaking at an event to launch the report at ESCWA's Beirut headquarters. ESCWA comprises 18 Arab states in Western Asia, according to its website. Its aims include to support economic and social development in member states. 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.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon harshly attacked the report. “The UN Secretary-General must categorically denounce this lying report. The attempts to discredit the only democracy in the Middle East are shameful and shocking,” he said.
“It is not surprising that a committee that stands at the head of calls for boycotts against Israel and compares Israel to the most horrific regimes in human history publishes a report like this.”
Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman likened the report to Der Sturmer—a Nazi propaganda publication that was strongly anti-Semitic.
Shortly after news broke of the report, a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Stephane Dujarric, sought calm tensions which risked spilling over into yet another a diplomatic sparring match between Israel and the world body, by assuring that the report had been compiled without consultation with the UN secretariat and that it therefore does not reflect Guterres's position.
"The report as it stands does not reflect the views of the secretary-general (Antonio Guterres)," said Dujarric, adding that the report itself notes that it reflects the views of the authors.
ESCWA hoped the report would inform further deliberations on the root causes of the problem in the United Nations, among member states, and in society, Khalaf said.
It was authored by Richard Falk, a former UN human rights investigator for the Palestinian territories and a fierce critic of Israel, and Virginia Tilley, professor of political science at Southern Illinois University.
Before leaving his post as UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories in 2014, Falk said Israeli policies bore unacceptable characteristics of colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing.
The United States accused him of being biased against Israel.