House passes resolution condemning Hamas sexual violence, with Tlaib voting present

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff spoke out against Hamas’ atrocities at an event on Capitol Hill earlier on Wednesday

Courtesy of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff speaks at a symposium on Hamas sexual violence organized by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), February 14th, 2024

The House voted nearly unanimously in favor of a resolution on Wednesday condemning sexual violence committed by Hamas during and since its Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) was the only member not to support the resolution; she voted present, while 418 other House members voted in favor.

Tlaib said in a speech prior to the vote that the resolution “rightfully denounces any sexual violence by Hamas” but added that it “completely ignores and erases” sexual violence allegedly committed by Israeli forces against Palestinians. “War crimes cannot justify more war crimes,” she continued. “We must stand up for everyone’s safety and human rights, no matter their faith, no matter their ethnicity.”

Yinam Cohen, Israel’s consul general for the Midwest, called it “shameful that Rep. Rashida Tlaib attempts to undermine these horrors by making false equivalencies.”

The House floor vote came hours after a symposium on Hamas sexual violence organized by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), which included remarks from Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, Ambassador-At-Large for Women’s Issues Geeta Gupta, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Mike Herzog and his wife, Shireen Herzog, a psychiatrist who has treated former Hamas hostages, several members of Congress, American Jewish leaders and actress and activist Noa Tishby.

Speakers, who received a graphic private briefing from Israeli law enforcement prior to the event on the violence Hamas committed, spoke out forcefully in support of the survivors and condemned efforts to deny Hamas’ atrocities.

“The evidence is — you can’t even speak about it: torture, genital mutilation, butchery, leaving women to die after they’ve been raped and tortured, to die in a ditch. All while you see the images of Hamas terrorists laughing and bragging about it,” Emhoff said.

“This happened, this happened to these women, and we have to shine a light on it,” he continued. “You cannot ignore the facts and the evidence when they’re right in your face… Anyone who fails to acknowledge it, anyone who does deny it must be called out.”

Emhoff also said that there had been “too much pain and loss on both sides of this conflict” but emphasized that “no matter what you’re saying or feeling, this happened” and “must be denounced and it must be condemned by everyone.” He said that acknowledging this pain is an “important first step” to peace.

He described the issue as “very personal” to Vice President Kamala Harris, whom he said began her career as a prosecutor to protect women and children, and to President Joe Biden.

“This is about basic human values, this is about humanity,” Herzog said. “Every human being of decency must shout, must cry out. There cannot be, there is no context that can justify these evil atrocities.”

Dr. Renana Eitan, the chair of psychiatry at Tel Aviv Medical Center, who has treated some of the former hostages, said that they faced all manner of horrors during their captivity, and that the situation required new treatment protocols and approaches to helping the survivors.

“I’ve been a psychiatrist for over 20 years now, and I have never seen such human cruelty before,” Eitan said, while also highlighting stories of hope and love from the survivors and their families.

Speakers also lamented the failure of international organizations, such as UN Women, to promptly and forcefully condemn the violence. Wasserman Schultz called the agency’s statement, which came two months after the attack, “pitifully inadequate.”

Addressing broader denialism of Hamas’ atrocities, Wasserman Schultz added, “There was silence, or even worse, categorical dismissal of their stories. They were questioned, even accused of being part of a PR campaign and doxxed and threatened on social media.”

Lipstadt, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, offered particularly harsh words for women’s and human rights groups that have ignored or sought to deny the atrocities.

“The silence of the women’s groups and human rights groups — groups that claim as their raison d’etre, their reason for being, [to] believe the women, protect the women, protect human rights, is antisemitism and it’s also hypocrisy of the first order,” Lipstadt told Jewish Insider. “Their credibility is on the line.”

Lawmakers in attendance included Reps. Kathy Manning (D-NC), Grace Meng (D-NY), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Susan Wild (D-PA), Claudia Tenney (R-NY), Suzanne Bonamici (D-WA), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-FL), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI). Reps. Dan Goldman (D-NY) and Brad Schneider (D-IL) attended the closed-door briefing.

Frankel, who led the House resolution that passed on Wednesday, said that Gupta had committed to working on the issue at the State Department.

Jewish women leaders from around the country flew into Washington to attend Wednesday’s briefing and lobby for the passage of the resolution and other support for Israel.

“Especially in light of the events of Oct. 7 and after, we showed that we need to make our voices louder,” Iris Kraemer, the chair of National Women’s Philanthropy for the Jewish Federations of North America, said, “especially on the issue of gender-based atrocities, when most of the world has been and continues to be silent on this issue. We know that it’s on us to step up and to speak out and to make ourselves heard.”

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