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Dec 1, 2023 | In The News

New York Sun

The United Nations body dedicated to “gender equality,” UN Women, appears to be faltering in its role as the “global champion for gender equality” for failing to specifically condemn Hamas for sexual crimes against Israeli civilians, critics say.

More than 80 House lawmakers are accusing this arm of the world’s governing body of refusing to stand up for the Israeli women who were victims of Hamas on October 7. The outcry comes ahead of a special emergency session at the United Nations’s headquarters at New York City next week dedicated to illuminating this sexual and gender-based violence. 

“The failure by UN Women to publicly stand up for Israeli women and condemn Hamas’ systematic atrocities undermines UN Women and highlights its one-sided approach,” a bipartisan letter spearheaded by Congresswoman Young Kim and Congresswoman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick said. The letter sent Wednesday criticized the executive director of the organization, Sima Bahous, for “falling short of UN Women’s important mission.”

UN Women contends that it has “unequivocally condemned the horrific attacks by Hamas on October 7th, in the Security Council, General Assembly, in our publications and elsewhere.”

The group also claims it was “the first part of the UN system to publicly express alarm at reports of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, during the 7th October attacks.”

In a speech at the UN on October 25, Ms. Bahous lamented that “more than 1,400 Israelis have been killed by the horrific attack by Hamas, many of whom are women and children,” and noted that an “estimated 200 remain as hostages, many of whom are women.”

Yet Ms. Bahous also noted that Gaza was “under devastating, relentless bombardment,” killing thousands, of whom she estimated 67 percent “are women and children.” 

Rather than confining her remarks to criticism of Hamas for its acts of violence against women, Ms. Bahous observed that “every act of violence against women and girls, including sexual violence, is unequivocally condemned, irrespective of the nationality, identity, race, or religion of the victims.”

UN Women subsequently denounced Hamas’s attacks on Instagram last week but quickly deleted its post and replaced it with one that omitted condemnation of Hamas. 

“We met with Israeli women’s organizations & heard about the work of the Civil Commission for crimes against women & children,” UN Women said on Friday. “We remain alarmed by gender-based violence reports on 7 October & call for rigorous investigation, prioritizing the rights, needs & safety of those affected.” 

The secretary-general of the UN, António Guterres, made his first mention of these sexual crimes on Wednesday. “There are also numerous accounts of sexual violence during the attacks that must be vigorously investigated and prosecuted,” he told the United Nations’s most powerful body, the Security Council. “Gender-based violence must be condemned. Anytime. Anywhere.”     

Referring to the UN’s failure to unilaterally condemn Hamas, Israel’s ambassador to the global body describes this “silence by the UN and its bodies regarding the sexual crimes committed by Hamas against Israeli women” as “morally appalling.” 

For Mr. Guterres, he says, “when it comes to Israeli women, you can doubt the facts and wait 55 days to call an unknown party to conduct an ‘investigation.’”

The deputy executive director of UN Women, Sarah Henriks, was subsequently pressed by CNN on the group’s failure to specifically call out Hamas’s sex crimes. “UN women always supports impartial independent investigations into any serious allegations of gender-based or sexual violence,” she said on the network Tuesday, “and within the UN family, these investigations are led by the office of the high commissioner of human rights.”

“Hypocrisy” is inherent in Mr. Guterres’s sentiment, Mr. Erdan tells the Sun. “While he did not even acknowledge that Hamas committed these crimes, even though there is indisputable evidence, the secretary-general accepts at face value any information the ‘Gaza Ministry of Health,’ run by Hamas, provides.”

“The fact that the plight of the Israeli women in this horrific attack on October 7 has been ignored comes as no surprise,” the executive director of the World Jewish Congress-United States and North America, Betty Ehrenberg, tells the Sun. “Not only has the United Nations really done nothing for women all these years, it has been detrimental to Israel all these many years.”

Ms. Ehrenberg points to the largest commission at the United Nations, the Commission on the Status of Women, which meets annually with women around the world as part of its exclusive task of promoting gender equality. The one resolution it issues a year, she says, “always winds up being some kind of resolution that blames Israel for the plight of Palestinian women.”

Renowned advocates for women’s rights have remained circumspect on the issue of complicity in the wake of Hamas’s attacks. In 2014, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama helped drive the campaign to find and return the nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram, popularizing the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls

While Ms. Obama has spoken out against the violence at the Israeli music festival — she told a crowd at New York City last month that “those kids were the age of my daughters” — she has yet to share the hashtag advocating for the release of Israeli hostages, #BringThemHomeNow. 

Mr. Obama, meanwhile, has pushed for contextualizing the conflict, saying in an interview earlier this month, “You have to admit that nobody’s hands are clean, that all of us are complicit to some degree.” 

The session at the United Nations on Monday seeks to remedy the lack of international support for Jewish women. “On Monday at the UN, we will present some of the findings proving that Hamas committed sexual crimes,” Mr. Erdan, who will host the event, says. “I sincerely hope the secretary-general comes, unequivocally condemns Hamas for committing these shocking crimes, and acts to open an investigation against Hamas.”

Medical crews and law enforcement forces from Israel are set to give personal testimonies. A video message will be shown by Secretary Clinton, who asserted that “women’s rights are human rights” in a 1995 speech while she was first lady. Mrs. Clinton has called for Hamas’s elimination, arguing earlier this month that a “full cease-fire” that leaves Hamas in power would be a “mistake.”

The keynote speaker will be the founder of Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, whose nonprofit is dedicated to fostering women’s leadership in the workplace. She has spoken out against the atrocities committed against Israeli women. 

“We have come so far in believing survivors of rape and assault in so many situations. How can we ignore how these women spent the very last moments of their lives?” Ms. Sandberg asserts in an Instagram video shared last week. “No matter what you believe should happen in the Middle East, anyone with a mother, a sister, a daughter, must speak out now to condemn rape as an act of war.”

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