New Report on Sexual Violence During October 7th Attack Raises Serious Questions About the UN’s Supposed Anti-Israel Bias

Photograph Source: Leif Jørgensen – CC BY-SA 4.0

A United Nations (UN) report recently emerged making damning claims of sexual violence allegedly committed by Hamas. But not all is as it seems. The report has some glaring epistemological problems, all of which seem to serve the Israeli narrative that its genocide in Gaza is somehow justified. Moreover, the report fits within a wider modus operandi on the part of the world’s preeminent international institution. A more comprehensive examination of the history of the UN’s role in the conflict in Palestine reveals its supposed pro-Palestinian bias is not as clearcut as it’s commonly presented. Indeed, there is evidence that the UN has, if anything, been more a tool of Israel than the other way round.

Shocking accusations swiftly weaponized by Israel

The UN released the report on March 4th, almost six months after the surprise October 7th attack when members of Hamas’ paramilitary wing breached the Gaza border. Co-authored by its special envoy on sexual violence, Pramila Patten, the document claims there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that Hamas engaged in rape and other forms of sexual violence during the attack. Patten gave a statement in which she said that this took place in “at least three locations” including “the Nova music festival site and its surroundings, Road 232, and Kibbutz Re’im.”

The following day, Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, publicly condemned UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for supposedly failing to respond in an adequate manner. Specifically, he criticized Guterres for failing to immediately call for a UN Security Council meeting about the report’s findings. However, as multiple media outlets have pointed out, Guterres does not have the authority to convene a General Assembly meeting. A UN spokesperson responded that “in no way, shape, or form did the secretary-general do anything to keep the report ‘quiet.’” She added that Katz’s announcement was made a matter of hours before a press conference about the report’s contents was scheduled to be held.

Recalling UN ambassador and launching ‘hasbara’ propaganda campaign

Israel has also withdrawn its ambassador to the UN, claiming that the organization’s leadership is attempting to “silence” the allegations. Katz said in a statement: “”I [have] ordered our ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, to return to Israel for immediate consultations regarding the attempt to keep quiet the serious UN report on the mass rapes committed by Hamas and its helpers on Oct. 7.”

Nonetheless, there are already signs that the Israeli government is seizing on the report as part of its ongoing propaganda campaign to deflect criticism from its committal of ethnic cleansing and genocide in Gaza. On March 7thThe Jerusalem Postreported that Katz, “has directed all embassies within the State of Israel to begin a large-scale hasbara (public diplomacy) campaign immediately… in light of the findings of the UN report on sexual violence in the Hamas massacre on October 7.”

An inversion of the Israeli narrative about the UN

The development represents an inversion of what Israel and Western media commonly characterize as the usual dynamic between the UN and the various parties to the conflict in Palestine. According to this narrative, the UN has a viciously anti-Israel agenda and consistently singles out Israel for criticism. Indeed, hardline Zionists have long complained that the UN is “biased” or even prejudiced against Israel, which often goes alongside the usual conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism.

One US-based Israel supporter even set up an NGO called “UN Watch,” which according to its executive director “holds the UN to account” for its supposed anti-Israel bias. Indeed, we will presumably soon hear an Israeli narrative that presents the fact that the UN has produced such a report in spite of such a bias as the most definitive proof possible that its findings are correct. But a deeper investigation shows that the report is, in fact, deeply flawed in both its methods and conclusions.

A compendium of unverified anecdotes and repetition of Israeli lies

It has already emerged, for instance, that the team of UN personnel who produced the report did not conduct their own research. Tellingly, press reports have also revealed that they did not even meet with any survivors of sexual violence that allegedly took place on October 7th. Rather, they relied to a large extent on anecdotal and unverified reports from institutions in Israel. According to CNN, the UN team met with a total of 33 Israeli institutions. One of these was a “search and rescue” organization that has previously been accused of spreading misinformation about the October 7th Hamas attack. This same organization, for example, had earlier claimed that it found a pregnant woman who had been stabbed in the stomach in an apparent attack on her fetus, which turned out to be unverified.

Foreign Policy magazine pointed out that the report furthermore “did not attribute the sexual violence to any specific armed group.” In other words, even if the allegations are true, they could have been committed by Palestinians (or, indeed, non-Palestinians) who were not affiliated with Hamas or any other Palestinian paramilitary organization. Foreign Policy added that “the U.N. team behind the report had not been tasked with an investigative mission” and that “[s]uch attribution would require a fully-fledged investigative process.”

A similar story plays out at The New York Times

The report was released in the same week that it emerged that significant sections of a New York Times article published in December of last year, which contained similar claims, were in fact false. The story, titled “‘Screams Without Words’: How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence on Oct. 7.,” claimed that members of the Be’eri kibbutz in southern Israel near the Gaza border had been raped by Hamas assailants during the course of the October 7th attack.

But The Intercept reported on March 7th that at least two of the three women “were not in fact victims of sexual assault,” according to a spokesperson of the kibbutz. The Intercept article adds that some of the initial reports about sexual violence came from an anonymous paramedic who had been connected to the international media by a representative of the Israeli government (which, of course, makes this person’s testimony highly suspect). It also states that the kibbutz spokesperson herself “disputed the graphic and highly detailed claims of the Israeli special forces paramedic who served as the source for the allegation, which was published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and other media outlets.”

Not an isolated incident, but the latest chapter in a long history

Neither the UN report nor the erroneous New York Times article would be the first cases of Western institutions or its corporate-owned media spreading misinformation on Israel’s behalf. Indeed, there is a long history of The New York Times specifically taking orders from the Israeli government and its NGO proxies in the Israel lobby. In 2014, for example, the Times deliberately failed to report on the arrest of a Palestinian journalist by Israeli authorities because Israel had ordered it to do so. In 2022, the Timesfired a Palestinian photographer on its staff at the behest of the pro-Israel NGO Honest Reporting.

Even when there is no direct evidence of Israeli intervention, leadership of mainstream corporate media across the West seem to have an almost automatic tendency to sideline, silence and/or fire any of its staff who fail to toe the pro-Israel line. In 2018, CNN fired Marc Lamont Hill for making a pro-Palestinian remark at a UN meeting held on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The Washington-based publication The Hill sacked Katie Halper in 2022 after she described Israel as an apartheid state (a charge that has become mainstream even within Israel). And the UK’s Guardian newspaper fired Nathan J. Robinson in 2021 after he posted a satirical comment about the US’s military funding to Israel on social media.

Countless resolutions but never any concrete sanction

As for the UN, though there have been many resolutions condemning Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians, the organization has seldom imposed any concrete punitive measures against the country in response. Indeed, as political scientist Norman Finkelstein has pointed out, the reason why the UN keeps issuing so many resolutions condemning Israel is because Israel (with the encouragement of its backers in Washington) simply ignores them and continues to violate Palestinian human rights and international law.

In any case, it is the UN General Assembly, rather than the UN’s leadership or staff, that usually issues these condemnations. The UN General Assembly is made up of representatives of governments around the world and so is more representative of global public opinion than the UN’s internal bureaucracy. In any case, General Assembly resolutions can be vetoed by permanent members of the UN Security Council. Since one of those permanent members is the United States (whose number one ally is Israel), it always vetoes any resolution that condemns Israel anyway.

UN staff slammed by leadership when critical of Israel

Even when UN officials themselves criticize Israel, they sometimes do so only to get silenced or sidelined by the UN’s hierarchy. For instance, international relations scholar at Princeton University Richard Falk served for decades as a UN expert on the conflict in Palestine. Yet his work has often been thwarted by figures within the UN leadership and administration.

In 2017, for example, Falk published a report on Israel’s human rights violations through the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA). The head of UNESCWA, Rima Khalaf, said that the report represented the first time that any UN report has “clearly and frankly conclude[d] that Israel is a racist state that has established an apartheid system that persecutes the Palestinian people.”

The fact that Israel is practicing apartheid in the occupied territories is so obvious that former US president Jimmy Carter, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and even Israel’s own human rights organization, B’Tselem, have said so. Even some figures from Israel’s own political, military, intelligence, and legal elite have said so too.  Yet in spite of this, Secretary General António Guterres demanded that Khalaf withdraw Falk’s report.

Legitimizing the two-state charade while deplatforming the one-state alternative

Another way that the UN subtly serves the Israeli narrative is its elevation of a two-state solution as the best, and indeed only, means of resolving the conflict. Every resolution passed by the UN General Assembly calling for a resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is predicated on one Israeli state and one Palestinian state divided by the borders that existed prior to the June 1967 war. This would deliver to Israel 78% of the land that made up historic Palestine while leaving the Palestinians with the remaining 22%. In addition to giving the two sides a completely unfair share of the land (especially considering the rough parity in population numbers), this division would also reward the Zionist landgrab and subsequent ethnic cleansing that took place in the latter half of the 1940s.

The traditional solution that was proffered by all Palestinian nationalist parties before the 1993 Oslo accord, meanwhile, (that is, a single, secular, non-sectarian democratic state with equal rights for all encompassing the whole of historic Palestine) has been systematically suppressed and deplatformed by the UN’s leadership. Former official Craig Mokhiber was essentially forced to resign for reasons of conscience before publicly voicing his support for the rival one-state solution – again highlighting how the UN hierarchy sidelines those who it considers too pro-Palestinian.

In a public letter published just as he resigned, Mokhiber stated that the two-state solution has become an “open joke in the corridors of the UN, both for its utter impossibility in fact, and for its total failure to account for the inalienable human rights of the Palestinian people.” During a media interview shortly after he added: “When people [who work at the UN] are not talking from official talking points, you hear increasingly about a one-state solution.”

The two-state smokescreen

This deliberate deplatforming of the one-state solution and narrow focus on its two-state rival serves an important purpose for Israel. Though Israel opposes even the resolutions in favor of two states (presumably because they insist that such a settlement should be based on internationally recognized borders), it nonetheless benefits from the elevation of the two-state solution. This is because it creates a convenient smokescreen for Israel to deliberately stall on making peace while continuing to displace Palestinians in the West Bank, establish settlements in their place, and build infrastructure for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers – all of which is illegal under international law.

Israel does this as part of a duplicitous sleight of hand in which it publicly proclaims support for a two-state solution while simultaneously itself creating a situation on the ground that makes that solution impossible. It does this for the simple reason that the goal of Zionism from the outset has been the establishment of a Jewish-majority state encompassing all of historic Palestine with the Palestinians ethnically cleansed out of it. As political scientist Rosalind Petchesky puts it in A Land With A People, “the settler colonial project to ‘de-Arabise Palestine’ and bring all of historic Palestine under Zionist sovereignty long pre-dated both the Nakba and worldwide knowledge of the Nazi holocaust.”

Time to rethink the role of the UN

Given the UN’s role in providing cover for the continuation of this process all while posturing as the primary locomotive toward peace, it is high time that Palestinians and their supporters stop looking up to it as a source of truth and meaningful condemnation of Israel’s human rights violations. Clearly, there is growing evidence that the supposed anti-Israel bias of the UN is a myth concocted to benefit Israel. Evidently, if there’s any bias at the world’s preeminent international institution, it is against the Palestinians rather than the other way round.