On Monday, January 22nd, I had the privilege of attending a presentation at the Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Synagogue. This presentation was preliminary to the larger event held on Wednesday, January 24th, called “Hear Our Voices: Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in the October 7th Hamas Terror Attacks”, which was sponsored by Jewish Child and Family Service and the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. They invited Ayelet Razin Bet Or to give the presentation. She is the former director of Israel’s Authority for the Advancement and Status of Women in the Ministry of Social Equality, and having worked with women’s shelters throughout her career has made her an expert on Israeli women’s rights and sexual violence.
The first event was a small gathering attended by maybe two dozen community members and Rabbi Mass from Shaarey Zedek synagogue. The limited scope of the event was to its benefit. It led to a more intimate setting as it was less of a lecture by Razin atop a podium and more of a relaxed conversation with the audience. Razin discussed her work dealing with women’s rights; she detailed the events of Oct. 7th and how the world has reacted. The whole time, Ms. Razin encouraged audience participation and questions. Many attendees from the community jumped on the opportunity to offer their impassioned opinions: the double standards, the feeling that the Jewish victims don’t matter, and feeling fearful in one’s community as antisemitism spikes –these were all sentiments expressed.
I got the chance to ask a couple of questions on the state of the hostages –an easily underrepresented aspect of the war as those still held prisoner by HAMAS terrorists in Gaza have no voice of their own to advocate their safe return. Unfortunately, the numbers are not 100% accurate. Nevertheless, Ms. Razin told me she believes that out of the roughly 130 hostages still held in Gaza, there are still over a dozen women and two children in captivity. Moreover, she told me that Israel had been prioritizing the release of women and children (especially civilians) but that HAMAS was still unwilling to release many of the IDF soldiers held hostage.
In particular, from my experience in the audience, it was abundantly clear that many people were distraught by the seeming inaction and indifference to the suffering of Israeli women and girls from the barbarity of HAMAS actions. One phrase I repeatedly heard uttered by both Ayelet Razin and the audience, which was indicative of their distress, was, “Me too, unless you’re a Jew!”
I heard this phrase so many times, with much emotion behind the words, an apparent sadness from the women (self-described “feminists”) who felt abandoned and ignored by the world as if the claims of sexual violence of Israelis were worth less than the Hollywood actresses everyone had stood in solidarity with only a couple years ago. Now that things were flipped, and these Jewish women required support, they found little to none forthcoming. One woman in the audience said that the global silence “made her question feminism.”
So, to explain why these people are upset, let’s do a quick recap.
Recall that the “ME TOO” movement started as a slogan in 2017 after allegations of sexual assault in Hollywood came to the forefront with the Harvey Weinstein Scandal, in which he abused his position of power to exploit many actresses sexually. The movement evolved. What began as a clean-up job in Hollywood, removing some last vestiges of the “Old Boys’ Club” and all the bad things that had encompassed, eventually morphed into mass protests against sexual violence, which became global in scale. These protests culminated in the forced retirement of several prominent US politicians, including Senator Al Franken and Congressman John Conyers.
Then, on Oct. 7th 2023, when HAMAS brutally attacked over the Gaza border, committing unthinkable atrocities and leaving horror in their wake, the world unabashedly forgot about ME TOO. When it came to attacks on ordinary Israeli women, instead of outright condemnation, the hemming and hawing began. For many Jews, both Israelis and Canadians, the inaction, in and of itself, shows the levels of antisemitism which still unfortunately linger within the hearts and souls of many people to this day.
Some international media felt the need to introduce context about the geo-political situation –as if this could ever justify rape. At the beginning of the conflict, it was also fashionable for some people, especially across the dregs of social media, to just outright deny the atrocities as Israeli propaganda. However, the prevalence of this argument was not limited to the internet. Indeed, it was shocking news when the University of Alberta was forced to fire the head of their sexual assault centre for giving their endorsement to an antisemitic open letter which denied the allegations of sexual violence during the Oct. 7th attacks.
In fact, it took until early December (basically two whole months after the attacks) before the United Nations could muster the courage, under mounting pressure, to condemn the sexual violence perpetrated by HAMAS during the Oct. 7th attacks.
Of course, being equally feckless on the world stage, Canada took just as long. Eventually, Melanie Joly condemned the sexual violence against Israeli women in tandem with the UN, no doubt using the international delay in a formal condemnation as cover for Canada’s inaction. Joly eventually caved to pressure, and on Thursday, Dec. 7th, she wrote online, “Using sexual violence as a tactic of war is a crime.” This was a good step; however, the Conservatives, in opposition to the Liberal government, denounced the brutal sexual violence done by HAMAS weeks prior and had been pressuring the government to do the same. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had gone even further. He showed solidarity with the Israeli women victims when he said at the NDP Convention all the way back on Oct. 14 that “there can be no justification for the torture, murder and sexual violence committed by Hamas.”
So what does this show us? Are all these examples emblematic of global disinterest? Ambivalence? Ignorance? Antisemitism? Which of these would be worse, and which is most accurate?