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#EndTheSilence

Hadassah Women at the United Nations

On March 11, 2024, I was privileged to represent Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, at the United Nations 68th Commission on the Status of Women. I was part of a delegation of 20 Hadassah women, who participated in sessions focusing on the violence against Israeli women committed by Hamas on October 7th. The report by Pramila Patten, United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, established there was strong evidence of sexual violence committed against Israeli women, and in some cases men. The barbaric attacks occurred in at least three locations where rape, gang rape, and the rape of corpses took place. Patten also heard testimony from released hostages which proved that rape is still occurring against the women who remain hostages in Hamas custody.

I received a pass that allowed me to attend the opening session of the Commission hearings. Unfortunately, what I heard was the standard UN anti-Israel commentary and not supportive of Israeli women.

Secretary General Antonio Manuel de Oliveira Guterres opened the session by asserting that Ramadan was marred by the continuous bombardment of Gaza by Israel. He did not state that Hamas caused the violence by invading Israel, unprovoked on October 7th. He did not state that Hamas has put the Palestinian civilians in Gaza in harm’s way as human shields. He did not state that Hamas has rejected ceasefire offer after ceasefire offer. He did not state that a ceasefire could occur if Hamas returned the hostages immediately and lay down their arms. He did not identify Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Rather, Guterres continued to lay the blame on Israel. While he mentioned Pramila Patten’s report on the proof of sexual violence against Israeli women, he brought up the unfounded claim that IDF soldiers were committing acts of sexual violence against Palestinian women in the West Bank. The double standard of requiring “proof” that Israeli women experienced sexual violence, but accepting the accusation without proof of IDF soldiers committing sexual violence is beyond hypocritical.

As part of the delegation, I went to a parallel event highlighting the Heroines of October 7th sponsored by the Israeli consulate. There I heard from: Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan; May Golan, Minister for Social Equality and the Advancement of the Status of Women; former hostage Keren Munder, who was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz and whose father is still held captive; Jackeline Cacho, Humanitarian, Journalist and leader at The Global Initiative INSPIRE; Anila Ali, president of the NGO American Muslim and Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council; Or Cohen, Board Member of “Forum Dvorah” and an active reserve Naval officer in the Israeli Navy, among many other speakers.

All the speakers stood up for Israeli women. They all said that we must speak out against the violence against women, and the violence against Israeli women must not be ignored, or excused. The event was held in a conference room that only held 129 people. It was overflowing with people who wanted to hear the testimony, but they could not all stay. It seemed obvious that the room size was also a slight against Israel and Israeli women.

Later that afternoon, another session was held on supporting women who suffered from sexual violence sponsored by the French delegation, the Colombian delegation and the delegation from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This event discussed how each nation was supporting and believing women who have suffered sexual violence around the world. They all were supporting the Israeli women who were victims of Hamas’ heinous crimes. They gave a platform to Israeli advocate and lawyer, Cochav Elkayam- Levy, chair of the Commission on Violence Against Women in Israel. Elkayam-Levy has been advocating for the Israeli women since October 7th. She sent letters to women’s organizations around the world a week after the attacks and heard nothing back.

Suddenly the organizations who welcomed Israel’s support of women, were absent. Suddenly, the organizations who said that we must believe all women, were not believing Israeli women. Elkayam-Levy realized that she needed to collect as much proof and information as she could so that the Israeli women would not be ignored.

Outside, another group of Hadassah women joined the NYC chapter of #BringThemHome and stood outside the UN to show support for the families of the hostages who were gathering at the UN to meet with the Secretary General and to participate in the UN Security Council session recognizing the sexual violence against women. We were all advocating and demanding their relatives’ release. It was important to be on First Avenue and 46th St, to show not only the relatives, but also the participants in the conference that we must #BringThemHomeNow if any ceasefire can be expected to occur.

On Tuesday, Hadassah, again gathered to support Israeli women and held a reception to unveil our petition to tell the United Nations to #EndTheSilence on the weaponization of sexual violence against Israeli women. As of this writing, we had over 130,000 signatures from around the world. People from over 115 countries signed the petition. Hadassah’s national president, Carol Ann Schwartz, hand delivered the petition to the Secretary General.

Later that day the Hadassah delegation had a private meeting with Pramila Patten who wrote the report on the Israeli victims of sexual violence. At this meeting, our National President, Carol Ann Schwartz shared our deepest concerns and anger against the global silence about the sexual violence committed against Israeli women on October 7th. Our team reiterated that Hadassah continues to demand justice and recognition of the war crimes committed by Hamas on October 7th and continuing against the female hostages being held in the Hamas tunnels.

On Wednesday, our delegation participated in a town hall with the Secretary General Guterres. Elizabeth Cullen, Hadassah’s director of government relations, spoke to the Guterres in front of over 600 international women.

She spoke of Hadassah’s 112-year history as a humanitarian organization focused on healthcare and providing services to all people in need. She spoke of the need for the United Nations to designate Hamas as a terrorist organization and be held responsible for the sexual crimes committed against Israeli women on October 7th.

Guterres’ answer was lacking. He didn’t answer her question or her request. Ms. Cullen was applauded and recognized for speaking up, despite a few boos from the back of the gallery.

As a woman, a mother, a Jew, a Zionist and a human being, I cannot sit back and do nothing. I implore you to channel your energy into pressuring all those in positions of power to recognize the horrors that were committed against Israelis on October 7th.

The entire world needs to stand up for the victims of 10/7. We all need to speak truth to those claiming that facts don’t matter. Act! Sign our petition and join Hadassah in standing up for Israeli women. We must #EndTheSilence, and not allow the world to shout #MeTooUnlessYoureAJew.

About the Author
Stephanie Z. Bonder is a proud Jew and lifelong Zionist. Stephanie studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for her junior year abroad and is currently pursuing her masters in Jewish Education at the Hebrew University Melton School of Education. In her volunteer hours, she is on the National Board of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America where she currently serves as Chair of the Speakers Bureau and team member of the Education and Advocacy division. Stephanie teaches teens and adults on Jewish Peoplehood, Zionism and current events in Israel through her involvement with the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest and her synagogue, Congregation Agudath Israel. All of her blogs are her own personal opinions and do not represent the organizations with which she is affiliated.
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