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A kosher baker rejected a synagogue’s order for rainbow Pride treats. The firestorm has been fierce.

(JTA) — The request for rainbow-frosted cupcakes came from a repeat customer — a local synagogue that had relied on the West Orange Bake Shop to make kosher desserts for its special events. But this year, bakery co-owner Yitzy Mittel decided to decline the order. He couldn’t bring himself to produce the Pride-themed goods.

Mittel, an Orthodox Jew, had made a similar cake for an order the year before. But the experience unnerved him, he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, because his understanding of Jewish law holds that LGBTQ symbols are “antithetical to what we stand for.”

The symbols are “a celebration of something which is against Torah,” he said. “I didn’t want to be making that cake.”

After consulting with both a rabbi and an attorney, Mittel and the northern New Jersey bakery canceled the orders, sending the synagogue elsewhere to find kosher Pride treats.

In the weeks since that decision, Mittel has gotten validation from the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled last week that a Colorado web designer had the right to refuse to build a wedding site for a same-sex couple. The ruling expands on a 2018 decision, in which the court ruled a Colorado baker had the constitutional right, on religious grounds, to refuse to create a wedding cake for a gay couple.

But the local Jewish community is still reeling. Multiple rabbis have accused the baker of bigotry, and some local Jews are boycotting his shop. The area’s Jewish federation privately said it would stop buying from Mittel before publicly walking back its position. And Eshel, an advocacy group for LGBTQ Orthodox Jews and their families, announced an “ally training” in West Orange this coming Sunday in response to the incident.

“The reason why Eshel exists is because these sorts of incidents, when they happen to someone over and over again, make people feel unwanted and unwelcome in their communities,” said Miryam Kabakov, the advocacy group’s executive director. “This is just one small example, but the effect overall is to drive people away from Orthodoxy who are trying to live frum [observant] lives, leaving them feeling like there is no place for them.”

The firestorm comes at a time of widespread advocacy by political conservatives against LGBTQ inclusion and rights. Pride events across the country have faced pushback this year.

Some of that has taken place in Jewish communities. In another New Jersey town 30 miles away, Orthodox rabbis successfully petitioned their mayor to remove four Pride flags that were flying in front of a synagogue on a central street. The mayor later apologized and put the flags back up.

But what happened in West Orange offers a particularly potent example of how culture wars can play out in — and divide — Jewish communities, in part because of the symbolism of a kosher bakery citing what it says are Jewish values to justify declining the order of a local synagogue.

“While I know this has happened in other parts of the country I hadn’t expected it here,” wrote Dan Cohen, senior rabbi of the Reform Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in nearby South Orange, on Facebook. “Then I learned that the bakery in question is a kosher bakery, and as a result, the bias was coming from within our Jewish community.”

The initial order was placed June 6 by Congregation B’nai Israel, a Conservative synagogue in nearby Millburn. Rabbi Julie Schwarzwald, the synagogue’s director of congregational learning, planned to pick up the order, which reportedly specified that the treats be decorated with rainbows. A staff member also reportedly made a separate order the same day for rainbow cupcakes for the synagogue’s youth group.

Schwartzwald did not return multiple JTA requests for comment. Attempts to reach the synagogue’s current youth group advisor were unsuccessful.

But according to all accounts, the bakery initially accepted both these orders, only to cancel them later without providing an explanation. It did, however, agree to process the synagogue’s order for cookies without rainbow decorations. (Mittel told JTA that he gave the synagogue a discount for those cookies.)

West Orange Bake Shop produces kosher cookies and cakes from a storefront in West Orange, New Jersey. (Google Maps)

Mittel told JTA that he had canceled both orders and notified the parties within 24 hours. He believes others in the community are impugning his reputation by falsely asserting that he had failed to provide enough notice to the customers.

But when Schwarzwald went to the bakery herself to request an explanation for why the Pride order was canceled, Mittel refused to talk to her. He told JTA he had chosen not to engage because the rabbi had come during peak hours and “wanted to create a scene.”

To Schwarzwald, the message was clear. “I was comfortable drawing conclusions that meant that I was going to take my purchasing elsewhere,” she told the New Jersey Jewish News. “It seems clear that the bakery has made the decision that Pride is not something they want to support. It’s their choice, it’s their legal right, and I can choose to spend my dollars wherever I want.” She was ultimately able to fulfill the orders at a different kosher bakery in West Orange.

The issue blew up as other rabbis in the area learned about what happened and commented publicly.

“When we refuse basic Jewish services to members of our community who are articulating who they are, we are excluding and dividing,” wrote Robert Tobin, rabbi of the Conservative B’nai Shalom in West Orange, in a blog post on June 22. He highlighted the Conservative movement’s recent strides toward LGBTQ inclusion, and an interpretation of the Torah that holds “humans are created in the image of God with a variety of potential gender identities and with the possibility of gender fluidity.” Tobin also reportedly addressed the incident in a sermon, according to the New Jersey Jewish News.

David Vaisberg, senior rabbi at the independent Temple B’nei Abraham in Livingston, New Jersey, tweeted that he was “so disappointed” in the bakery, which is located in a strip mall next to a kosher Chinese restaurant.

“They make great baked goods but have shown themselves to be against the LGBTQ+ in canceling orders of rainbow baked goods in Pride month,” he wrote, adding that he was letting the bakery know why they had lost his business and advised followers to “please do the same.”

In his Facebook post, Cohen addressed the argument that an observant Jew can cite Torah as the basis for their objection to serving a Pride-themed cake. “If I’m being honest, we all pick and choose which sacred texts we embrace and which we ignore,” he wrote. “If by contrast, you CHOOSE to focus on the Biblical texts that exclude people, that denigrate others or are hurtful and judgmental, you aren’t religious. You’re simply a bigot.”

Parts of the Orthodox community have become open to LGBTQ inclusion in recent years. Organizations including Eshel and Jewish Queer Youth advocate for LGBTQ people and families in Orthodox spaces, and some prominent Orthodox figures have come out as gay in recent years.

But others in the community remain opposed to LGBTQ inclusion, citing passages in the Torah specifically forbidding gay sex. The flagship Modern Orthodox campus, Yeshiva University, has cited its status as a religious institution in an ongoing legal battle over its refusal to recognize an LGBTQ student group. The recent death by suicide of a gay Y.U. graduate, his friends said, highlights the pain of being Orthodox and gay.

Mittel says his business is being unfairly targeted by those who disagree with his personal religious choice, which he says is on par with declining to fulfill a church’s order for cakes decorated with crosses — something he says he has done in the past.

“There’s other bakeries out there that will do it,” he said about making Pride-themed kosher baked goods. “Why should I?”

He also insists that he is not homophobic. “If somebody came in and told me they want to pay me three times the price to write on a cake, ‘I hate gay people,’ I wouldn’t do it,” he told JTA. He added, “Symbols carry a lot of weight.”

Tensions reached a new high after a local news site published a leaked internal memo from Dov Ben-Shimon, the CEO of the local Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest. In the memo, Ben-Shimon advised staff to no longer purchase baked goods from Mittel’s shop, citing “the Jewish value of B’tzelem Elohim, that each one of us is created in the Divine Image and deserves to be treated as such.”

“While it is their right to refuse service, it is also our prerogative not to support their establishment,” Ben-Shimon wrote.

The memo upset some local Jews who felt it was inappropriate for the federation, which serves Jews of all denominations, to make a judgment against a Jewish-owned kosher business whose owner believed he was following Jewish law.

Speaking to JTA, Ben-Shimon characterized the memo as an internal purchasing directive and said it did not reflect the federation’s current position.

“That internal memo did not reflect an appropriate, thoughtful and responsible communal dialogue,” Ben-Shimon said. “While there is significant pain in the community as a result of actions that we have seen, we believe that Federation’s decision-making process should be filled with love and sensitivity, and we will take steps to ensure that this will be reflected in our actions in the future.”

Describing Mittel as “a decent, good, kind, thoughtful and honorable person who has been placed in a difficult situation,” Ben-Shimon added that the local Jewish community “is blessed to have a wide array of opinions, ideologies and beliefs” and said he sees the federation’s role as working “to continue to strive for tolerant, respectful dialogue and discourse.”

In a follow-up correspondence from the federation, published by the New Jersey Jewish News, Ben-Shimon wrote, “We sincerely regret that our actions have caused divisiveness in our community as our aim is to bring the variety and richness of our many constituents together.”

Mittel told JTA that he has spoken to Ben-Shimon since the story was published, and that the two had a positive conversation. Saying that his bakery has been visited by “obnoxious” people since news of the cancellation came out, he said it was he and not LGBTQ people who had become victim to intolerance.

“I don’t think it’s good for the Jewish community to be adversarial to each other,” Mittel said. “There’s no need for that. We have enough people disliking us without us causing strife to each other.”


The post A kosher baker rejected a synagogue’s order for rainbow Pride treats. The firestorm has been fierce. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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30 Years Later, Justice for Jews and AMIA Bombing Victims in Argentina Remains Elusive

People hold images of the victims of the 1994 bombing attack on the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) community centre, marking the 25th anniversary of the atrocity in Buenos Aires. Photo: Reuters/Agustin Marcarian.

When I arrived in Buenos Aires earlier this month to observe the 30th anniversary of the bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building, it was a ritual that had become all too familiar.

On July 18, 1994, an explosives-laden van driven by a Hezbollah terrorist linked to the Iranian regime plowed into the AMIA building, killing 85 people and wounding more than 300. It was a severe blow to the institutional heart of the largest Jewish community in Latin America, and remains the worst antisemitic attack outside of Israel since the Holocaust.

I always make observing the anniversary a high priority as both a Latina woman and a Jewish professional. At the time, I was head of political affairs for the Mexican Jewish community, and I remember that tragic date vividly, as we mobilized locally to denounce this heinous act.

Even though it happened thousands of miles away, the bombing was personal, and the pursuit of justice has also become a relentless commitment for the past three decades.

Before 1994, Latin American Jews often viewed violence against Jews and Jewish institutions as something that happened elsewhere. It took AMIA to realize we could be targets anywhere, anytime. AMIA may have been 30 years ago, but it matters to me more than ever.

Make no mistake, though. The wait for justice remains an agonizing source of frustration for me and all the public officials, diplomats, and Jewish leaders who I joined this year for the memorial ceremony in Buenos Aires.

In April, Argentina’s top criminal court ruled that Iran was a terrorist state and a mastermind of the bombing, which was carried out by members of its terror proxy, Hezbollah. Yet, international arrest warrants — and Interpol red alerts — for the senior Iranian officials and Lebanese nationals suspected of playing a role in the bombing have led nowhere.

Argentina was once a nation that wavered about pursuing the AMIA murderers. Attempts at identifying and finding the perpetrators were stymied by multiple episodes of corruption, incompetence, neglect, and outright malfeasance.

It was as if the sting from the tears of the 200,000 Argentines who, shortly after the attack, filled a downtown Buenos Aires plaza to sing the Argentine and Israeli national anthems and chant the mourner’s Kaddish, meant nothing.

Prior Argentinian governments operated in the hope that time would let AMIA fade into distant memory. Of course, the Jewish community in Argentina and many other people who believe in truth, memory, and justice in that country and elsewhere were not going to let that happen. They understood that the only way of preventing future instances of violence was to overcome impunity and ensure that those responsible would be held to account for their savage actions.

AMIA has been at the top of my mind since I started working at American Jewish Committee (AJC) in 2003. Together with former AJC CEO David Harris and our AMIA partners, I spent many years trying to persuade Argentina to unequivocally identify Iran as the culprit, and designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

That finally happened thanks to the efforts of Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who paid with his life for pointing the finger at Iran and Hezbollah.

In 2019, an Argentine judge and high-ranking officials were among those sentenced to prison terms for concealing and destroying evidence and facilitating the attack.

Those events presaged a sea change in how Argentina viewed its obligations to the Jewish community. In 2020, it adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism, and last year became the first Latin American nation to appoint an antisemitism envoy.

Argentine Jews should also be buoyed by their president, Javier Milei, who, since he took office in December, has been an enthusiastic supporter of Israel and Jewish interests.

Milei has blamed Iran’s “fanatical government” for the bombing, and vowed to pursue justice for AMIA. He also said he would propose legislation that would allow the AMIA suspects to be tried in absentia.

I want to feel encouraged by these developments, especially after decades of feeling hopeless. But it isn’t easy. As I stood outside AMIA on July 18, alongside AJC CEO Ted Deutch, I was jolted by the plaintive wail of a memorial siren at 9:53 a.m., the minute the bomb went off in 1994. Ten thousand people clamored for justice while raising the photos of the 85 victims.

We heard the harrowing memories, as vivid as ever, of some of the families of the victims. It was truly one of the most emotional experiences of my life, particularly at a time when the Jewish people and Israel are facing dire existential challenges.

I’ve heard that memorial siren before. But you’re still never ready when it goes off. Its mournful sound commands us to sear that awful day into our collective memory. It is also an urgent call for justice. The AMIA victims and their families have been in search of it for 30 years.

For them, for us all, let’s hope they find it soon.

Dina Siegel Vann is Director of the AJC Arthur and Rochelle Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs.

The post 30 Years Later, Justice for Jews and AMIA Bombing Victims in Argentina Remains Elusive first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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The Palestinian Authority Gets Its Wish: Unity With Terrorism

Mahmoud al-Aloul, Vice Chairman of the Central Committee of Palestinian organization and political party Fatah, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Mussa Abu Marzuk, senior member of the Palestinian terror movement Hamas, attend an event at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on July 23, 2024. Photo: Pedro Pardo/Pool via REUTERS

Earlier this week, 13 Palestinian factions signed a “unity declaration,” agreeing to “unify the Palestinian position within the framework of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).” Among the factions were Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement, and terror organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Judging from the many calls by PA leaders for unity with Hamas, the new agreement seems like a dream come true for the PA. On the one hand, the PA and Fatah have celebrated and universally defended the October 7 attack and its outcome. On the other, the PA is critical of Hamas because of the results of the war and Hamas bringing “hell” on the Gaza Strip. Another reason for the PA’s anger is that Iran-backed Hamas acted alone, launching October 7 without consulting with the PA, as documented by Palestinian Media Watch.

But at the same time, the PA realizes that Hamas is still far more popular among Palestinians, and therefore has repeatedly called for unity. The PA needs Hamas to partner with it to survive politically and not act against it as a rival.

The following are examples of PA leaders calling on Hamas to join the PLO throughout the war. The statements show: 1) the PA’s desperation facing Hamas’ enormous popularity and the urgency of getting Hamas under PA control within the PLO; 2) the PA’s frustration with Hamas for being concerned only with its own (and Iran’s) “partisan interests”; 3) and of course the emphasis on the common goal to fight and eliminate Israel, which none of the organizations even need to recognize:

Abbas’ advisor: We stand before a holocaust and hope Hamas joins national framework

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash: “We stand before a holocaust, facing a massacre, facing a human tragedy that is taking place before the eyes of the world, and there are still those, and more precisely the US, who are continuing to give a green light for this aggression to continue claiming more lives… We hope that the Hamas Movement, which we have considered and still consider part of the Palestinian people, will join a Palestinian national framework that will put the supreme national interests above the partisan interests.” [emphasis added]

[PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Facebook page, Feb. 24, 2024]

Fatah official: Hamas can join PLO, neither Hamas nor Fatah need to recognize Israel

Fatah Revolutionary Council member Jamal Nazzal: “Now they [Hamas] need to say that the one who can save us is the PLO. The one who can save us is the plan of Palestinian [PA] President [Abbas], the plan of the PLO. This is not a reduction in the value of Hamas… It is only required to say ‘Let’s leave the matter in the PLO’s hands. Let’s leave this matter in the hands of President Mahmoud Abbas. Let’s eliminate Israel’s excuses with which it has convinced the world that Hamas wants to destroy it.” …

Official PA TV host: “Are we close to the moment when the Hamas Movement and Islamic Jihad Movement will join the PLO, as the sole legitimate representative of our people? …

Jamal Nazzal: “We need to eliminate Israel’s excuses and say: ‘Now we are in the framework of the PLO’s plan.’ This does not constitute a call on Hamas to concede on its plan or recognize Israel. There is no prerogative or obligation on Hamas or Fatah to recognize Israel, we just have to honor the PLO’s commitment.” [emphasis added]

[Official PA TV, Topic of the Day, Feb. 25, 2024]

Abbas’ advisor: We won’t exclude Hamas, “a large part of the Palestinian people supports Hamas”

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash: “Nationally speaking not one of us is talking about excluding Hamas or others…There is a disagreement between us and Hamas, that is true. But this disagreement does not reach the level of exclusion. Hamas is part of the Palestinian people and an important part. And a large part of the Palestinian people supports the Hamas Movement. We do not deny this.” [emphasis added]

[PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Facebook page, March 3, 2024]

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash: “We are not interested in a continuation of the [Fatah-Hamas] rift. We want everything in terms of geography and the civilians to return to be one area – the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the entire Palestinian people under one umbrella, which is the umbrella of the PLO and the PA that is its executive branch inside the homeland, so that we will all be freed up far from the internal disagreements in order to deal with the greatest challenge, which is the existence of the Israeli occupation.” [emphasis added]

[PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Facebook page, July 5, 2024]

Abbas’ advisor: “We insist on Hamas remaining” part of the PLO

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash: “We do not accept the uprooting of any Palestinian or any Palestinian organization, including Hamas. We insist on Hamas remaining and all the Palestinian factions remaining, but in the framework of the Palestinian national legitimacy that is represented by the PLO, in the framework of the sole home of the Palestinian people.” [emphasis added]

[PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Facebook page,  June 22, 2024]

Abbas’ advisor: Fatah wants Hamas to join “under PLO flag”

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash: “We don’t want to exclude Hamas from the national arena, and we don’t want to uproot Hamas from the national presence. We want Hamas under the comprehensive national umbrella. We want Hamas with us, and not against us. We want Hamas as part of the Palestinian national project, and not as a tool of destruction of the Palestinian project… We hope that Hamas will comply with the voice of reason, the voice of the national consciousness, and the voice of the national interest… We are members of one people, and Hamas is an inseparable part of the Palestinian national fabric and the Palestinian human and social fabric… Fatah extends its hand to Hamas and wants Hamas to comply. We hope that it will comply and that everyone will be under the flag of the PLO.” [emphasis added]

[PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Facebook page, June 23, 2024]

Top PA official: Fatah wants “to reach a united outlook” with Hamas… that will harm” Israel

Fatah Central Committee Secretary Jibril Rajoub: “We [in Fatah] and the brothers in Hamas must agree on political rapprochement, rapprochement in the field of struggle, and organizational rapprochement… Rapprochement in the field of struggle means that we want to reach a united outlook regarding the manner of resistance, a national outlook that will harm the occupation (i.e., Israel).” [emphasis added]

[Fatah Central Committee Secretary Jibril Rajoub, Facebook page, June 21, 2024]

The PA’s dilemma concerning Hamas is clear. The PA wants unity with Hamas to be able to control it under the PLO and profit from its popularity. But it might be like letting the fox into the henhouse, as Hamas might take control and “thwart the reconciliation” and create “a government according to its criteria” and Iran’s wishes.

These concerns were expressed by a senior Fatah official a month ago when unity talks were still under way:

Headline: “Senior Fatah official to Erem News: Hamas is thwarting the reconciliation and wants a government according to its criteria”

“Fatah Revolutionary Council member Abdallah Abdallah accused Hamas of thwarting the Palestinian reconciliation talks according to instructions from their regional allies, and that it wants a government according to its criteria.

The senior Fatah official confirmed that Hamas is rejecting the political partnership with his [Fatah] Movement and prefers to take exclusivity over deciding the fate of the Palestinians.

Abdallah told [UAE-based news website] Erem News: ‘Hamas is the reason for postponing the reconciliation meeting in the Chinese capital Beijing after attempting to impose its conditions on the dialogue even before it began,’ and explained that ‘It is impossible to accept the dictates of Hamas and its allies.’

Abdallah explained: ‘Hamas wants to establish a new Palestinian government according to its criteria and according to its partisan vision and agendas, and it is refusing to recognize the current [PA] government led by [PA Prime Minister] Muhammad Mustafa, which is unacceptable.’

He added: ‘Hamas wants to impose its conditions on many topics, and primarily the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip after the war (i.e., the 2023 Gaza war; see note below) and the form of government there.’” [emphasis added]

[Erem News, UAE-based news website, June 27, 2024]

The author is a senior analyst at Palestinian Media Watch, where a version of this article was originally published.

The post The Palestinian Authority Gets Its Wish: Unity With Terrorism first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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New Yorker Columnist: Israelis Are ‘Weaponizing’ Oct. 7 Sexual Violence and ‘Demonizing’ Hamas

The personal belongings of festival-goers are seen at the site of an attack on the Nova Festival by Hamas terrorists from Gaza, near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, Oct. 12, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

The 12-word title of Masha Gessen’s recent offering in The New Yorker hints at the hatchet job that follows.

In “What We Know About the Weaponization of Sexual Violence on October 7th,” it becomes apparent that Gessen is not, as any reasonable person might think, commenting on how Hamas used sexual violence as a weapon of war during its October 7 invasion.

Instead, Gessen puts her best effort into supposedly demonstrating how Israel has weaponized Hamas’ October 7 atrocities.

She opens the piece by quoting Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, who is apparently, by virtue of being a criminologist and feminist scholar, deemed “more qualified” than anyone to answer whether rape and gang rapes were part of Hamas’ attack.

Shalhoub-Kevorkian, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s School of Social Work and Social Welfare, was suspended from her job in March after comments she made on a podcast with “three Palestinian American academics” were revealed by an Israeli news channel.

 

1/ Why is @mashagessen denying Hamas war crimes in the @NewYorker? The rape of Israeli women and girls by Hamas terrorists on October 7 are not just allegations. They are well-documented with witness testimony.https://t.co/NMyaI85CMs

— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) July 21, 2024

Gessen’s quoting of Shalhoub-Kevorkian is grossly deceptive. The academic, readers are told, spoke with “confidence and care” when she put the sexual violence of October 7 into “historical context”:

Rapes, abuses, sexual abuses, gang rapes—it always happened in wartimes,’ she said. ‘It always happened.’ She had written about this wider history, she said, and she had written about the history of Jewish Israeli soldiers, back in 1948, using sexual violence against Palestinians. ‘Abuses and sexual abuses happen,’ she said. ‘And they shouldn’t happen. And I will never approve [of] it, not to Israelis, not to Palestinians, not in my name.’

She was speaking as a Palestinian. Next, she spoke as a feminist:

‘I don’t go and interrogate the rape victims. If a woman said she was raped, I will believe her. I do not need evidence, and I don’t want to go check facts, to be honest. This is my opinion.’”

These remarks alone are grotesque, not least because they inaccurately suggest rape was used as a weapon by Israel during the state’s founding in 1948, but also because they minimize the horrors of October 7.

October 7 was not “wartime” — Hamas did not wage war on an army that dark day, when it broke the ceasefire with Israel. Terrorists — aided and abetted by Palestinian civilians — broke into people’s homes, violating and murdering unarmed men, women, and children. The victims were both Israelis, foreigners, and foreign workers.

But more importantly — and more troublingly — this was just one of many statements Shalhoub-Kevorkian made on the podcast. She also claimed that Israelis act scared when they walk past her and hear her speaking Arabic on the phone, but added that they “should be scared because criminals are always scared.”

On Zionism, Shalhoub-Kevorkian said it is time to “abolish” the movement for Jewish self-determination, and “only by abolishing Zionism can we continue.”

So, according to Shalhoub-Kevorkian, only by eradicating the State of Israel can Palestinians continue. And on the October 7 massacre, she said:

[Israelis] will use any lie. They started with babies, they continued with rape, and they will continue with a million other lies. We stopped believing them, I hope the world stops believing them.”

Gessen casts her own doubt on whether there is evidence of “widespread, systematic and, particularly brutal” sexual violence, noting in a later paragraph that “most of the women who had been subjected to sexual violence on October 7th were dead. They weren’t coming forward with evidence.”

She claims it is the Israeli government that is amplifying the sexual violence narrative.

There is something deeply ironic in Gessen’s argument that Israel has politicized sexual violence, when she uses the deaths of Israeli women and girls, whose testimonies of the horrors they endured cannot be heard, to criticize the Israeli government.

To bolster her argument, Gessen picks at a February report by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers of Israel, which laid bare the horrific extent to which Hamas brutalized Israeli women.

She states that the “report relied on media articles, television stories, and confidential information that had come through member organizations of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers.” The report’s “weakness,” she concludes, is that “much of the evidence was third- and fourth-hand, as in the case of media accounts that quoted other media accounts that quoted people who said they had witnessed attacks.”

However, Gessen immediately contradicts herself, noting that Hila Tov, a prominent multimedia journalist and activist, conducted the research for the report and that Tov said that “most of the evidence, in the end, came from dead bodies, or, rather, from the recollections and interpretations of volunteers who had gathered the bodies, and from doctors who interviewed survivors.”

The report was based on evidence collected from the scene, testimonies from those who collected bodies, and from doctors who interviewed survivors — the only possible sources of evidence. As a side note, Gessen ignores another piece of compelling evidence that further proves the events of October 7, which is the interrogation videos of Hamas terrorists and Gazan civilians in which they admit to raping Israeli women and girls.

Gessen also invites skepticism about the findings of the investigation by Pramila Patten, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, released in March.

In addition to the challenges that are typical of any attempt to document sexual violence, Gessen argues that Israel and October 7 are unique because the victims’ bodies were gathered by “volunteers untrained in forensics” who prioritized a speedy burial as per the Jewish tradition of interring the dead within 24 hours. She adds that “nonetheless,” the report concluded there are grounds to believe that a number of instances of rape and gang rape took place.

Another report that documented October 7 sexual violence by The New York Times in March is branded “controversial” by Gessen. This account, she asserts, included the “sweeping claim” that Hamas commanders had ordered their subordinates to use rape as a weapon of war. She suggests this “raised the bar for any researcher who tried to document the crimes, changing the question from ‘Did it happen?’ to ‘Was it systematic?’”

Gessen cynically suggests that all subsequent reports about October 7 — those she deems “better researched and more comprehensive” — have been “met with disappointment by those who were expecting evidence of systematic crimes.”

Ultimately, we see why Gessen is so determined to undermine the overwhelming evidence of October 7: She believes “Israeli authorities have strategic reasons for claiming that the sexual violence was systematic.”

One reason, she contends, is that Israel is trying to highlight that “however inhumane the Israeli ways of waging war are, the message is, Hamas’s are even worse.” She describes this as a “campaign of demonization” that prompted Palestinian activists and pro-Palestinian media to try to “debunk claims that sexual violence occurred on October 7th.”

Aside from the fact that a campaign of demonization against Hamas is probably not a bad thing, given that Hamas is a proscribed Islamist terror group committed to killing Jews and destroying Israel, it is absurd that Gessen manages to find a way to absolve pro-Palestinian activists of what she terms their “equal and opposite campaign of denialism.”

The message is clear: even when pro-Palestinians engage in the most revolting denialism of atrocities, it’s still somehow Israel’s fault.

Gessen closes the piece by juxtaposing what she states are uncorroborated stories of October 7 — “eviscerated pregnant woman; the woman who supposedly had a number of nails driven into her vagina; the claims that eyewitnesses saw Hamas fighters cut off women’s breasts while raping them” — with what she asserts is mounting “evidence of sexual torture of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli facilities.”

First, the accounts she referenced in Israel are not unsubstantiated. Numerous first responders reported finding bodies whose genitals had been mutilated, and these accounts have not been recanted.

It is utterly nauseating to suggest that the horrifying October 7 testimonies are not trustworthy because “rape is common in war and in peace” and that to “convey the trauma of sexual violence, victims and witnesses may feel the need to embellish.” Even more repugnant is the false equivalence between Hamas and the IDF. Testimonies of sexual abuse in Israeli prisons have been propagated by the likes of Euro-Med, which absurdly alleged Israel had trained dogs to rape detainees.

Without directly denying that sexual violence took place on October 7, Gessen suggests the extent of the rapes has been overblown and casts doubt on the severity of the attacks on the victims.

The article is nothing more than an exercise in apologism for the horrific acts of Hamas.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

The post New Yorker Columnist: Israelis Are ‘Weaponizing’ Oct. 7 Sexual Violence and ‘Demonizing’ Hamas first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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