UN investigator sorry for 'Jewish lobby' remarks
The United Nations building in New York (AFP)

A United Nations investigator unequivocally apologised Thursday for using the term "Jewish lobby", which sparked Israeli accusations of anti-Semitism and calls for his resignation.

Miloon Kothari, one of three members of a UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) investigating rights abuses in Israel and the Palestinian territories, triggered outrage after the interview with online publication Mondoweiss, which came out on July 25.

Asked about member states' criticisms of the commission, Kothari pointed to wider efforts to undermine the investigation.

"We are very disheartened by the social media that is controlled largely by, whether it is the Jewish lobby or it is specific NGOs, a lot of money is being thrown into trying to discredit us," he said.

Kothari apologised in a letter to Federico Villegas, the president of the Human Rights Council which mandated the COI.

"I wish to sincerely express my regret and unequivocally apologise for using the words 'the Jewish lobby'. The offence I have caused by using these words has deeply distressed me," he said.

In the letter, published online by the UN, Kothari said he took with the utmost seriousness "concerns that my words were perceived and experienced to be anti-Semitic".

"My intention was to denounce the relentless and vitriolic personal attacks against the members of the commission on social media and some publications, launched to delegitimise and undermine its work," he said.

"It was completely wrong for me to describe the social media as 'being controlled largely by the Jewish lobby'. This choice of words was incorrect, inappropriate, and insensitive."

Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel's ambassador in Geneva, wrote to Villegas to protest against Kothari's "outrageous comments, including some that are evidently anti-Semitic".

Several ambassadors, including from Britain and the United States, also tweeted their outrage.

The interview also led to accusations that Kothari, from India, had questioned whether Israel deserved its UN membership.

"My comment on Israel's membership of the United Nations was made to highlight the fact that every member of this body should uphold, and respect findings and recommendations issued by it," Kothari's letter said.

"What I wanted to highlight is the non-compliance of Israel with UN decisions related to its obligations under international law.

"I did not intend to suggest that Israel should be excluded from the United Nations.

"I realise that this choice of words has also caused offence and sincerely regret it."

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid had upped pressure on the UN to disband the commission, appealing to the UN secretary-general.

The COI "has been fundamentally tainted by the publicly expressed prejudices of its leadership", Lapid said, demanding "the immediate removal of all three members".

Israel has flatly refused to cooperate with the commission.

The high-level team of investigators was appointed last year to probe "all underlying root causes" in the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The COI's first report in June pointed the finger squarely at Israel, saying its occupation and discrimination against Palestinians were the main causes of the endless cycles of violence.