Tensions between Israel and UN reach boiling point
As the Israel-Hamas war rages in Gaza, the Israeli government and the UN are locked in an escalating feud of their own. Israel has accused the UN of anti-Israel bias in the past, but the tensions have reached new heights in recent days. Here’s what’s going on:
Sexual violence on Oct. 7. Israel says the UN didn’t speak up quickly enough in response to harrowing accounts of sexual violence committed by Hamas against Israeli women and girls during the Oct. 7 attack. Hamas denies the allegations of rape and gender-based violence, but there’s a mounting body of evidence to back up the accusations – including photos and gruesome testimony from witnesses and first responders that points to widespread acts of sexual assault and genital mutilation.
UN chief António Guterres, along with the UN bodies responsible for women’s issues, human rights, and UNICEF, have all issued statements in recent days expressing alarm at the accounts of sexual violence and calling for investigations into the allegations. Israel’s view? Too little, too late.
“Sadly, the very international bodies that are supposedly the defenders of all women showed that when it comes to Israelis, indifference is acceptable,” Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, said Monday on a UN panel. “Their silence has been deafening,” Erdan said.
Prominent women in the US – including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ex-Meta executive Sheryl Sandberg, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) – attended the panel and echoed this criticism. President Joe Biden also called on international organizations to “forcefully condemn the sexual violence of Hamas terrorists without equivocation.”
A UN commission investigating war crimes committed in the Israel-Hamas conflict has said it will also focus on the sexual violence allegations, but the Israeli government has refused to cooperate with the probe – accusing the commission of prejudice against Israel.
Article 99. Meanwhile, with concerns rising over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Guterres on Wednesday for the first time took the rare step of invoking Article 99 of the UN charter, which says the UN chief “may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”
Citing extreme concerns over the situation in Gaza, the UN chief urged the UN Security Council to avert a “catastrophe” by implementing a humanitarian cease-fire.
Israel, which has called on Guterres to resign in recent weeks over allegations he isn’t critical enough of Hamas, hasn’t taken kindly to this move. Its UN ambassador said the action was further evidence of the UN’s bias against Israel, adding that Guterres hit a “new moral low.”
What’s next? The UNSC is set to meet on Friday to be briefed by Guterres on the Gaza war. The UAE, one of 15 members of the UNSC, has asked for a vote on a draft resolution endorsing an immediate humanitarian cease-fire. That said, the US, which has veto power as a permanent member of the UNSC, is likely to spike the resolution. Deputy US Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood has signaled the US doesn’t back any actions by the UNSC at the moment.