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VP Harris to spotlight ‘horrific’ sexual violence of 10/7 at White House event

Harris will deliver remarks urging the international community to do more ‘to promote justice and accountability’

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during day two of the high-level segment of the UNFCCC COP28 Climate Conference at Expo City Dubai on December 02, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

As the Biden administration pressures Hamas to accept a hostage and cease-fire deal, Vice President Kamala Harris will host an event on Monday spotlighting conflict-related sexual violence, including war crimes committed by the Palestinian terrorist group on Oct. 7 and in the months since. 

Harris will deliver remarks at the event, which will also feature a partial screening of “Screams Before Silence,” Sheryl Sandberg’s documentary about Hamas’ “horrific” sexual violence, according to a White House official. Harris plans to argue that “more must be done by the international community to promote justice and accountability,” the official told Jewish Insider. The plans for the event were first reported by CNN

The White House event has been in the works for several months, according to an administration official, who said the timing is unrelated to President Joe Biden’s calls for Hamas to accept a cease-fire deal in Gaza. 

The event is being spearheaded by the White House Gender Policy Council, which has been working closely with the National Council of Jewish Women and the Hostage and Missing Families Forum in recent weeks. The two organizations brought a delegation to the White House last month that included female relatives of hostages as well as women who have been released from Hamas captivity, according to a source involved with that effort. One of the released female hostages is slated to attend the Monday event. 

During the Israel-Hamas war, Harris has taken a visible role in empathizing with Palestinian civilians in Gaza and publicly pressuring Israel to do more to address the humanitarian crisis there. Last week, she gave an interview to Rolling Stone touching on the issues she plans to speak about at the White House. She urged people to have a “full conversation,” rather than looking at the issue “as though it’s binary.” 

“On Oct. 7, 1,200 people were slaughtered, many of them young people attending a concert. Think Burning Man. Women were horribly raped. I’ve seen this in different places around the world, rape being used as a tool of war,” Harris said. “Let’s understand that Israel, when that happened, has and had a right to defend itself. We would. And let’s understand that how it does so matters.” 

The audience for the event will include advocates who work to fight conflict-related sexual violence. The event will also feature speakers addressing sexual violence in countries including Haiti, Ukraine, Sudan, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A source familiar with the planning of the event said members of Congress are not expected to attend. 

The Gender Policy Council sent invitations to all the major feminist and women’s rights organizations, according to one person involved in organizing the event. 

U.S leaders and Jewish women’s organizations have sharply criticized prominent advocates for the rights of women and girls for staying silent after the Oct. 7 attacks and for ignoring widespread reports of sexual violence committed by Hamas that day.

“Too many others — in particular those who make their mandate fighting gender-based violence — have remained silent or only belatedly and reluctantly spoken out in the three months since these barbaric attacks,” wrote U.S. Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council Michèle Taylor and Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, in a January op-ed.

In November, NCJW called a belated statement from the group UN Women “reprehensible” for “fail[ing] to explicitly address the severity of Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel.” 

“We deeply appreciate Vice President Harris for her powerful condemnation against the sexual violence perpetrated in Israel by Hamas on Oct. 7,” Sheila Katz, NCJW’s CEO, told JI. “National Council of Jewish Women is honored to participate in this significant event at the White House and remains committed to partnering with the administration to unequivocally condemn the use of rape as a weapon of war, ensuring such atrocities never happen anywhere again.”

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