#MeToo unless you are a Jew: Women’s panel frustrated by world silence, demands about Oct. 7

From left: Consul General Anat Sultan-Dadon, Tina Kempin-Reuter, Miriam Schler, Meredith Jacobs and Joyce Vance.

The mantra that when it comes to sexual violence, women are to be believed and such actions condemned universally has been prominent in recent years, with the emergence of #MeToo and the Women’s March.

But the sudden silence when Hamas terrorists perpetrated rape, torture and mutilation on Israeli women on Oct. 7 has shocked and frustrated Jewish women and a few allies — but not the vast majority of those who were presumed before Oct. 7 to be allies. That frustration was evident at “Using Our Voices,” an international panel at the Birmingham Museum of Art on April 4.

Coordinated by the Women’s Philanthropy division of the Birmingham Jewish Federation, the panel was moderated by former U.S. Attorney and MSNBC legal analyst Joyce Vance. About 300 attended the discussion among Jewish Women International CEO Meredith Jacobs, University of Alabama at Birmingham Institute for Human Rights Executive Director Tina Kempin-Reuter, Tel Aviv Sexual Assault Crisis Center Executive Director Miriam Schler, and Consul General Anat Sultan-Dadon of the Israeli consulate in Atlanta.

Zhaundra Jones, vice president of philanthropy and learning at the Women’s Foundation of Alabama, welcomed the audience to the discussion of “a matter of grave importance.”

She condemned the “heinous acts of violence and terror” on Oct. 7, and said “WFA stands firmly against any violence against women.”

She concluded by referencing Martin Luther King’s disappointment in “the appalling silence of the good people” in the face of injustice.

Vance started the discussion by detailing Hamas’ use of sexual violence as a tactic of war. “This was not a byproduct of war, it was a deliberate way of striking fear.”

But the women’s groups who would normally be outraged met the news with a “shrug,” as “there was silence and even denial that the sexual assaults and rapes that were well documented had occurred.”

Vance noted, as did the panelists throughout the evening, that “we should have no difficulty in saying that rape is wrong. Rape is always wrong, it does not matter who the victims are.”

In the face of the silence, Vance said, “we can arm ourselves with information… we can have a willingness to speak out.”

Jacobs said JWI is part of a feminist coalition, with a call among the group leaders every Thursday. During the call the Thursday after Oct. 7, the facilitator, who is Jewish, asked Jacobs if she wanted to talk about what happened. “Normally, that is what we do,” she said. But she sensed that it would not be safe for her to discuss it, and declined, as did Sheila Katz from the National Council of Jewish Women.

October 7 was still brought up further, and Jacobs said usually when something like that happens, the chat is filled with hearts, direct messages, others asking what they could do.


“I have not returned to those calls,” Jacobs said.

In those spaces, she explained, “we are taught to believe all women,” but in this case, proof was demanded. Not only that, the narrative was twisted around to state that “rape is resistance.”

That narrative says “those women deserved what happened to them. That somehow their bodies represented the state of Israel, the oppressor… it is beyond horrific.

“The disbelief has been so painful. I believe it is antisemitic. It is dehumanization, it is delegitimization and it’s a double standard,” echoing Natan Sharansky’s definition for when criticism of Israel crosses over into antisemitism.

“One of the worst traumas for us was the deafening silence of the world,” Schler said. The feminist icons she was raised on, such as Judith Butler and Susan Sarandon, were stating “either it didn’t happen, or it was justified because of the occupation.”

“No matter what your political opinion is… rape can never be a weapon of war.”

Jacobs said the United Nations was silent. Finally, 50 days after Oct. 7, there was a tweet condemning the Hamas attack and calling for the release of the hostages. “It was deleted,” Jacobs said.

After numerous Jewish women’s leaders pressured the U.N. in December, a special envoy was sent to examine what happened, and though she characterized the result as positive, she said the envoy complained about not being able to talk to survivors. “There are very few survivors left,” Jacobs said, “and they aren’t going to trust the U.N.”

Schler said that is part of an unrealistic expectation being imposed on Israeli victims. “It is as if everything we know about sexual assault and what happens to victims has been erased when it comes to the victims of Oct. 7.”

While skeptics demand more evidence, Schler said what is actually available is the dream of everyone involved in prosecuting sex crimes. “If they had this amount of evidence — it’s always he said, she said. We never have this abundance of evidence,” from eyewitnesses who were forced to watch their loved ones being raped, to the perpetrators filming their actions.

Similarly, “victims don’t come forward” in the vast majority of cases, especially to relive their trauma in public. There’s a demand “to be this freak show where the survivors have to come out in front of the world… and tell their story.”

Sultan-Dadon noted that many victims can not give their stories “because they are no longer alive.” But there is plenty of evidence, because “the perpetrators themselves documented, took pride in those atrocities they were committing, they uploaded them to social media.”

Another objection, a lack of forensic evidence, comes from watching too many crime shows. There were 1200 murdered by terrorists on Oct. 7. The crime scenes were places of active warfare, “the last thing people were thinking about was extracting evidence of sexual assault,” Schler said. There were truckloads of bodies that had to be identified and then given to their families for burial.

The ”double standard and hypocrisy” have been “a huge disappointment, a feeling of betrayal, a feeling of abandonment.”

Based on the testimony of hostages that were released toward the end of last year, Sultan-Dadon said, there is evidence that hostages are facing sexual violence in captivity. “It cannot be that every person in the world who talks about human rights is not screaming for their release.”

Kempin-Reuter said sexual violence is prevalent in war, but even in the Geneva Convention in 1949, it wasn’t really talked about. It wasn’t until the 1990s in Rwanda and Yugoslavia that attention started to be paid.

Even so, sexual violence is still seen as a “side note” to war, and it takes a long time for any type of prosecution. She said there were four trials a couple years ago for crimes that took place in the 1990s. “There could and should be more done from international actors.”

Schler said not to look for criminal prosecutions for Oct. 7. Most survivors will not come forward, and most don’t know who the perpetrators were. “We’re talking about thousands of terrorists who infiltrated Israel.” And many of the surviving terrorists are likely to be released in a possible swap of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli hostages.

The message of tearing down the silence and the double standard is needed, Sultan-Dadon said. “Silence is not an option… if I am not taking a clear stand and using my voice against evil, then I am enabling evil.”

“The astonishment in Israel,” Sultan-Dadon said, “is that we woke up to the realization that while so many speak of human rights… all of a sudden, when it comes to Israel, to Israeli women, those values do not apply.

“That is what we still can not digest.”

Jacobs related a story from San Diego, which welcomed a delegation from its Israeli sister city. As the community came out for a huge welcome, a young Israeli girl burst into tears. The girl, Jacobs said, expressed “I thought everyone hated us.”