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Annual Chabad rabbis’ conference spotlights rise in Jewish engagement as attendees mourn Israel’s dead

(New York Jewish Week) – This year’s conference of Chabad emissaries featured the same highlights that have anchored the past annual gatherings of the Hasidic movement’s rabbis from across the globe. 

The thousands of rabbis sat for a panoramic picture in front of the movement’s headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights. On Friday morning, they visited the grave of their late leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in Queens. And on Sunday, as they do every year, they gathered for a massive banquet at a convention center in New Jersey. 

But this year much of the conference, planned months ago, had to change on short notice following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and Israel’s ensuing war against the terror group in Gaza — down to the time and guest list of Sunday’s gala. The movement’s 1,400 emissaries in Israel tuned in to the meal remotely, and it was moved from the evening to 12:30 p.m. in order to accommodate the time difference. 

“We understand the magnitude of the moment and it’s our time to prove to ourselves and to the world that we live and believe,” said Rabbi Moshe Ze’ev Pizem of Chabad of Sderot, an embattled Israeli city on the border with Gaza. Pizem and other Chabad rabbis from the city appeared in a video showing destruction in the city’s streets and the rabbis collecting donations and visiting troops. 

“When everything is fine, it’s easy to believe in God. When do we stand the test? When there’s a difficulty, an enormous difficulty,” he said. “Now is the test.”

The gala, which drew 6,500 people this year and is generally meant to be an uplifting celebration of Chabad’s Orthodox Jewish outreach work across the globe, included mournful elements within the festive atmosphere. It featured psalms for the victims of the attack and hostages, whose names scrolled on a screen as the Biblical verses were read aloud by Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot. The Israeli emissaries, related their experiences on the ground in the past month; they gathered in Jerusalem during the dinner in New Jersey.

“We are davening for your release every day,” Helfgot said regarding the hostages, as the screens showed photos of the captives. At least one soldier from the movement was killed in the Oct. 7 attack, and some Chabad members from Brooklyn flew to Israel to serve in their reserve units after the war started.

But alongside the grief, the Chabad representatives, known as shluchim, who hailed from college campuses in North America to the Australian outback, reported an outpouring of Jewish engagement since Oct. 7. According to a survey by that garnered responses from 211 of the movement’s rabbis, 86% reported increased attendance since Oct. 7. The rabbis also overwhelmingly said community members had increased personal religious practice, felt “scared” and felt a stronger connection to other Jews, to Israel and to their own Jewish identity.

“We’ve seen the community has grown more together than ever before. So many people are asking, ‘What can we do?’” said Yossi Swued, rabbi at the Chabad of Western University in Ontario, Canada. “I feel like the whole world is shaking, everyone wants to do something. I think everyone should tap into that.”

The Chabad conference annual gala, in Edison, New Jersey, November 12, 2023. (Luke Tress)

The gala retained its joyful atmosphere: The elaborate event featured multi-colored lights coordinated to music and videos; smoke machines; crane-mounted cameras sweeping over the crowd; musical performances and speeches by Chabad representatives about their local communities. This week’s conference was for the men, while a parallel event for women emissaries will be held in February.

The meal grew especially lively during the traditional “roll call” that announces the numbers of emissaries in each country and again toward the end of the event when the entire room, almost entirely men, gets up to dance in circles. The rabbis swirled around inside a vast hall, hands on each other’s shoulders, as music blasted and colored lights flickered across the crowd. A group hoisted a table in the air, pumping the platform up and down while two men danced on top, waving Israeli flags, and others stood on chairs nearby to film the festivities.

Chabad says there are 5,813 families serving as emissaries in more than 100 countries around the world, from hundreds in places like the United States and France to lone representatives in locales such as Zambia. That reach has put the emissaries on the forefront of the global reaction to the Hamas attack and subsequent surge in antisemitism, both in areas with significant Jewish populations and those without. The emissaries said Jews approached them after the attack to get mezuzahs for their homes, attend services for the first time or study Torah.

Rabbi Menachem Aron, who serves rural Australia, said a Jewish man contacted him to request a new pair of tefillin after the attack, since the phylacteries were not available in the remote region where he lives.

“He’s 16 hours north of Perth, absolute middle of nowhere, but he knows that he can stay connected even during these times,” Aron said, adding that Australian Jews were grappling with antisemitism in both the city and more remote regions.

“We’re angry but we’re not scared,” he said. “People want to increase their Judaism. They want to put on tefillin, they want to light the Shabbat candles.”

Rabbi Aryeh Long of Camarillo, California, called the moment an “awakening” in his community. A man who lives near his Chabad center had never attended services before Oct. 7, but now comes in every day to pray. The man is an Israel Defense Forces veteran who served in the 1967 Six Day War and in recent weeks started doing volunteer guard duty at the Chabad preschool, Long said. 

In El Paso, Texas, Rabbi Levi Greenberg said he received a call days after the attack from a local woman, who said, “Rabbi, I want to put up mezuzahs in my house. How quickly can we do it?”

“I ran over with some mezuzahs and right away we put them up,” he said. “People want to be more connected.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

— 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.

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