A crowd of several hundred women gathered near the United Nations on Monday, holding Israeli flags and posters that read, “Rapists Are Not Freedom Fighters.”
A line of women were dressed in bodysuits stained red at the groin and the breasts, with tape covering their mouths, as protesters chanted, “Me too, unless you are a Jew” and “Rape has no context.”
Rabbi Joanna Samuels, chief executive of the Marlene Meyerson Jewish Community Center Manhattan, thanked the group for meeting “outside of an institution that has lost its moral compass,” and then addressed the U.N.’s leadership: “In failing Israeli women, you have failed all women.”
They gathered in front of the U.N. complex in New York, a few hours ahead of a presentation to be held inside focused on “sexual-based violence war crimes” by Hamas during its attack on Israel on Oct. 7, according to a description of the event sent to diplomats, women’s rights activists and others. The presentation was organized by Israel’s delegation to the U.N. and several Jewish groups, not by the U.N. itself.
The organizers contend that women’s rights organizations and the U.N., which are otherwise committed to condemning the use of rape as a weapon of war, have insufficiently criticized Hamas and its allies of committing widespread sexual violence during the attack.
Many of the activists say that too little credence has been given to what they believe was a pattern of rape. Presentations at Monday’s event, organizers said, would present evidence of the atrocities.
Hamas officials have argued that any such violence was committed by other armed groups that followed it into Israel that day. But witness testimony and documentary evidence, including videos posted by Hamas fighters themselves, refute many of those claims.
“Since the tragic massacre of the Oct. 7 terror attack in Israel, we have heard and witnessed countless testimonies and experiences involving women and girls,” the event description said. “Yet no special session was initiated within the United Nations to address these war crimes and many women’s organizations remain silent.”
Speakers at the presentation included Sheryl Sandberg, the former Meta executive and founder of the women’s organization Lean In, who also helped organize the event; Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations; and the human rights activist Mandana Dayani. A video message from Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state, was also played.
The protesters’ rancor was especially focused on U.N. Women, an organization within the U.N. that, according to its website, is meant to provide “programs, policies and standards that uphold women’s human rights and ensure that every woman and girl lives up to her full potential.”
U.N. Women has repeatedly called for the protection of women and girls in Gaza and condemned Israeli strikes there, which Gazan health authorities say have killed more than 15,500 people. On Oct. 20, almost two weeks after the Hamas attack on Israel that authorities there say killed about 1,200 civilians, including many women and children, U.N. Women promoted its finding that nearly 500,000 Palestinian girls and women had been displaced from their homes, and it reiterated its call for a cease-fire.
The group made no social media posts addressing sexual violence during Hamas’s attacks until Nov. 24, when it posted on X, formerly Twitter: “We remain alarmed by gender-based violence reports on Oct. 7 & call for rigorous investigation, prioritizing the rights, needs & safety of those affected.” Last Friday evening, the organization posted a longer statement along the same lines on Instagram, where much of the digital advocacy from Israeli and Jewish women is centered.
Many of the women involved in protests against the U.N. were not satisfied by that statement. “It is too little and too late for us,” said Danielle Ofek, founder of the activism organization #MeToo Unless UR A Jew. “They have legitimized sexual violence as a weapon of war, and it’s not OK.”
Ms. Ofek’s group has erected billboards in Times Square with images of Israeli women’s faces, including some who were abducted and taken to Gaza on Oct. 7, bearing the words, “U.N., your silence is UNbelievable, UNforgivable, UNjustified.”
Near the U.N. on Monday, one protester, B. Getter, held a poster that reframed a question long asked of women who said they were raped, “What were you wearing?” into a new version: “What passport were you carrying?”
“We have shown up for so many different women, and so many different countries when their human rights were abused,” Mx. Getter said, “and no one is standing up for us.”