The UN Needs To Restore Its Credibility With Israel

After the United Nations released a 23-page report this week detailing gang rapes and genital mutilation of Israeli women and girls during the Hamas-led slaughter of October 7, the UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women and girls said she’s not convinced that any rapes took place.

No one should be surprised, for at least two reasons. First, the special rapporteur, Reem Alsalem, co-authored a controversial statement just last month that accused the IDF of arbitrarily executing and sexually assaulting Palestinian women and girls. She said she received her information from unnamed sources and the non-profit Euro-Med, which reportedly is “run by the anti-Israel conspiracist Richard Falk.”

Second, as special rapporteur, Alsalem reports to the UN’s Human Rights Council – a hotbed of anti-Israeli activity that has made Israel its only permanent agenda item and has condemned and subjected the Jewish state to more special sessions and commissions than any other country.

Alsalem’s remarks, in an interview for Ynet, will pour gasoline on an already-smoldering fire in UN-Israeli relations over this very issue. Israeli officials believe UN leaders have not acted nearly robustly enough over the last five months, as evidence of sexual violence against Israeli women and girls mounted, and Foreign Minister Israel Katz this week recalled Gilad Erdan, Jerusalem’s representative to the UN – which is “a step short of withdrawing the ambassador for a longer term.”

The question now is whether UN leaders will disavow Alsalem’s remarks and take other steps to reassure Jerusalem that Turtle Bay will play it straight when it comes to the war between Israel and Hamas.

Left unchallenged, Alsalem’s remarks cannot help but undermine the credibility of the report (which was produced by a team from the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General On Sexual Violence in Conflict, after an on-the-ground investigation from late January to mid-February).

The UN refers to its special rapporteur as “the first independent human rights mechanism on the elimination of violence against women” and “an important benchmark within the global women’s rights movement.” The UN’s Commission on Human Rights appointed the first rapporteur in 1994, and that position has reported to the Human Rights Council (which replaced the commission) since 2006.

Alsalem’s remarks are as baffling as they are offensive. The fact that the terrorists of October 7 sexually assaulted female Israelis in barbaric fashion has hardly been a state secret over the last five months.

Within a few weeks of the terrorist attack, mainstream Israeli news outlets were carrying eyewitness accounts of brutal gang rapes and genital mutilation. By December, the New York TimesCNNThe New Yorker, and other leading U.S. outlets were reporting much the same after their own investigations.

The UN report itself say there are “reasonable grounds to believe that conflict-related sexual violence occurred…  in multiple locations…, including rape and gang rape;” and that “victims” were “then killed or killed while being raped.”

It also says “clear and convincing information” shows that “sexual violence, including rape, sexualized torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment occurred against some women and children during their time in captivity” and there are “reasonable grounds to believe that this violence may be ongoing.”

That means Alsalem is either woefully ignorant about recent developments in the area of her supposed expertise, or she is so committed to an anti-Israeli mindset that she refuses to acknowledge what the world’s leading media outlets documented and what another important UN office has now confirmed.

Well before her remarks, however, Jerusalem already had lots of solid reasons to believe that UN leaders were trying to bury all talk of the sexual violence that the terrorists of October 7 had perpetrated.

As 24 Jewish House members wrote in response to the “long-overdue” report, the UN needed nearly five months “to believe evidence that includes graphic, horrifying photographs and videos taken immediately after the attack and statements from released hostages, eyewitnesses, first responders, law enforcement, and trauma experts.”

UN Women – a UN entity that bills itself as a “global champion for women and girls” – said nothing for nearly 50 days after the attack, prompting critics to adopt the hashtag “#MeToo_Unless_UR_A_Jew.” After finally issuing a statement to condemn Hamas over the attack and call for the hostages’ release, UN Women soon deleted it and replaced it with one that only called for releasing the hostages. It would be another week before the group condemned the “gender-based atrocities and sexual violence.”

What will Turtle Bay do now?

In the aftermath of Alsalem’s remarks, more UN silence will feed further distrust of the global body in Jerusalem – and that will only embolden Hamas and others who would perpetrate such horror.

Lawrence J. Haas is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and the author of, most recently, The Kennedys in the World: How Jack, Bobby, and Ted Remade America’s Empire (Potomac Books).

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