Et tu, #MeToo

In Short

As the world observes Women’s History Month, we hope that all feminists and #MeToo advocates will raise their voices to address the horrors of the Oct. 7 sexual assaults perpetrated by Hamas and reject the concept of conditional support based on nationality, religion or ideology.

The United Nations finally broke its silence earlier this month, albeit with more of a whisper than a roar, when it released a report about Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks in Israel. For months, many were incredulous that the international body, with so many committees purporting to address the safety of women worldwide, could not issue a statement acknowledging, let alone condemning, the extreme violence committed against Israeli women by Hamas. In the age of #MeToo and “believe women” culture, it took a deafening 150 days since the first assault for this report to be issued. 

Despite witness accounts and even video evidence, the report merely states there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that rapes, murders, necrophilia and the burning of victims occurred; it also finally recognizes that assaults on female hostages continue in Gaza. “Reasonable grounds” is hardly an unconditional “believe women.” Are Oct. 7 victims not worthy of a U.N. Security Council meeting to address the sexual crimes that are being committed, as of this writing, to this hour?

I recently traveled to Israel as part of a feminist solidarity mission to bear witness to the atrocities of Oct. 7 and to show support to the many women who have felt nothing but ignored by the international community. During the mission, we met with Hamutal Gouri, an Israeli feminist and peace activist with Mothers Against Violence, who expressed the clear and present danger this situation poses to the entire #MeToo movement. 

She reflected sadly on her disappointment in noted feminist and philosopher Judith Butler — “She was my hero,” Gouri lamented — who wrote in an essay titled “The Compass of Mourning” that while she “opposes the violence that Hamas has inflicted,” the Oct. 7 attacks should be seen in the context of the “horrors of the last seventy years.” In this, Gouri said, she heard “a theoretical voice that repeats itself while stubbornly refusing to look at reality with eyes that have compassion for all lives.”

There is a moral laziness in not being able to empathize with the Israeli victims of sexual assault because of a political position. Believing women should be unconditional. Gouri posed the question of what good is all the theorizing and conceptualizing if in one single moment you are unable to say, “Yes, the Palestinians deserve freedom, life and a sovereign state. But monstrous violence against innocent people — including brutal sexual violence — is something I cannot justify or support.” The irony of a leading feminist conditioning the concept of believing sexual assault victims and survivors on their identity baffles me, and this hypocrisy may morph into a dangerous precedent for the entire movement. 

Later on in the mission, I met with Cochav Elkayam-Levy, professor of International law at Hebrew University and head of the Civil Commission on October 7 Crimes by Hamas Against Women and Children. She described the grueling process to prompt the U.N. to speak out against these atrocities. Elkayam-Levy drafted three different petitions that outlined credible sources documenting the violence and shared them with every single U.N. agency. She received no response. In their silence, they were perpetuating this violence and prolonging the trauma of the survivors. Now, over 150 days too late, what are the next steps to hold the perpetrators accountable? 

Questioning and delegitimizing Israeli women sets the feminist and human rights movements back decades. Moreover, grouping in allegations of attacks on Palestinian prisoners, as this report did, is an added disservice to women. 

Elkayam-Levy said she founded the Civil Commission when she lost confidence in the U.N. special representative’s dedication to their collective work. After breaking with the UN to set up her own independent body, she started fielding requests to join the new team from individuals she knew to be associated with the U.N. but who were not forthright in disclosing their connection. It is not complicated to understand how the necessary viewing of hundreds of hours of video and interviewing survivors has affected Elkayam-Levy, and it is deflating to contemplate why she had to be subjected to tactics similar to those reportedly used by the allies of convicted predator Harvey Weinstein. 

Doesn’t a celebrity who enjoys a public pulpit to raise awareness of violence against women have a social if not moral responsibility to speak out for Israeli women, too? We have to ask those who have been so vociferous about #MeToo if their deafening silence about Oct. 7 sexual assault victims helps or hurts their greater cause. A Pew poll of Americans released in late 2022 found that support of the #MeToo movement is hardly universal; only 49% of American adults who have heard about it support it, with support dropping in older age cohorts. A significant number of people who vote, sit on juries and could be your or your child’s next boss do not support #MeToo. Will the silence of movement leaders in response to Hamas’ atrocities add others to the ranks of the doubters?

It is noteworthy that the U.N. report did not hold any individuals or groups accountable, even though videos were released by perpetrators themselves and PTSD experts warn that releasing these types of videos is a purposeful and deliberate action designed to continue the punishment and humiliation of victims and their families. By not even calling out perpetrators, the U.N. is at minimum complicit in fostering a continuing crime. 

As the world observes Women’s History Month, we hope that all feminists and #MeToo advocates will raise their voices to address the horrors of the Oct. 7 sexual assaults perpetrated by Hamas and reject the concept of conditional support based on nationality, religion or ideology. Failure to do so not only imperils Israeli women, but all women.

Judy Enteles is a member of the board of directors for Women of Reform Judaism, and a former producer for ABC News.