October 7 exposed the hollowness of #MeToo

Today is the International day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. But too many women’s organisations were silent after October 7


Protesters outside the BBC in February (Photo: Gaby Wine)

June 19, 2024 09:29

Today is International day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. This is an important day to raise awareness of the need to put an end to conflict-related sexual violence and to honour the victims and survivors of sexual violence around the world.

Today I am thinking of the countless victims of the terrorist attack on Israeli civilians on October 7. Hamas’s brutality against women is well evidenced.

Women were raped next to bodies of their dead friends; a woman was found with a knife in her vagina and her internal organs removed; and others were shot in the vagina and breasts. Witnesses reported a woman begging to be killed as she was passed between Hamas fighters, a woman being stabbed in the back while she was raped, terrorists cutting off a woman’s breast and playing with it in the road.

The scale of the brutality was so severe that forensic scientists have found bodies of women and girls raped with such violence that their pelvic bones were broken. As I think about the horrific attacks against women, I am filled with many emotions – sadness, anger, but also angst.

Angst, for I know that today will be yet another day of silence about those horrific attacks and, worse, another day for denial and justification.

What compounds all of this is the fact that this silence, denial and justification will come not from the perpetrators, who were all too happy to shout about what they had done. It will come from supposed allies – so called feminists and progressives.

It took UN Women 50 days even to acknowledge that these sexual assaults had happened. After an inevitable backlash, they deleted and reposted. When Reem Alsalem, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, was asked why, she reportedly replied that evidence of rape was “not solid”, even though there was video footage of Israeli women with blood-sodden crotches and countless reports from witnesses.

What is it about the targeting of Jews that makes people turn away? Meanwhile, the claims of a proscribed terrorist organisation, Hamas, are taken at face value.

In 2017, actress Angelina Jolie, then special envoy to the UN, urged the UN to do more to prevent and punish sexual violence during war. She explained that sexual violence, “is cheaper than a bullet, and it has lasting consequences that unfold with sickening predictability that make it so cruelly effective.” She’s right. So, why has she not used her platform to condemn the crimes that have been committed against Israeli women?

After the attacks, almost 150 “scholars in feminist, queer and trans studies” signed an open letter implying that to support Israeli women was to endorse “colonial feminism”. To them, the existence of Israel is illegitimate, and therefore its citizens – human beings - are not worthy of the respect afforded to literally any other citizen of any other country.

Out of the myriad UK charities that purport to protect women from violence, the only one to condemn Hamas’s brutality was Jewish Women’s Aid. In its statement on 23 November 2023 it rightfully said that “denials of the sexual abuse perpetrated by Hamas have far-reaching consequences, including the deterrence of other sexual abuse victims from seeking help.”

The fact that now, six days after we mark 250 days since the October 7 massacre, the world will remain silent, and despite the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten finding in her March 2024 report that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that conflict-related sexual violence — including rape and gang-rape — occurred across multiple locations of Israel and the Gaza periphery during the attacks on 7 October 2023”, is pitiful.

All this exposes the hollowness of the #MeToo movement. Their statement - which didn’t come until 13 November- made no mention of Israel, Israeli women or Hamas, referring only to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The group issued a follow up statement two days later, clarifying that it stands by Israeli women as well. It is not hard to see why the #MeToo_UNless_UR_A_Jew campaign was established.

Rape and sexual violence are not a natural consequence of war. They are barbaric and evil - and should be unequivocally condemned by everybody tasked with defending human rights. As the world marks this day, we must reflect on the horror of October 7, on the brutality women and girls experienced and the cruelty the remaining female hostages still held in Hamas captivity are enduring daily.

Claudia Mendoza is CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council


June 19, 2024 09:29

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