Israel recalls ambassador to UN over response to Hamas sexual violence report

Report released on Monday found abuse of hostages still held in Gaza may be continuing

Israel has recalled its ambassador the United Nations for consultations, claiming the UN chief is failing to take steps to address a report finding signs that sexual violence was committed during the Hamas-led October 7th attack on Israel.

The UN report released on Monday, which was largely welcomed in Israel, found “reasonable grounds” to believe that sexual violence had occurred in at least three locations, and “clear and convincing information” that hostages had been subjected to sexual violence, including rape. It said abuse of those hostages still being held in the Gaza Strip may be continuing.

Noting that an array of fighters from Hamas and other groups took part in the attack, the UN report said its experts could not determine who was responsible for the sexual assaults.

In a social media post, Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz criticised UN secretary general António Guterres for not immediately convening the Security Council to discuss the report and to declare Hamas a terrorist organisation. The authority to convene the council, however, lies not with Mr Guterres but with the president and members of the council, according to UN bylaws.


Mr Katz said he had recalled UN ambassador Gilad Erdan for consultation in protest at what he said was a concerted effort by Mr Guterres to “forget the report and avoid making the necessary decisions”. Mr Erdan was on a plane back to Israel on Tuesday, he said.

A UN spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, rejected the claim, saying the work on the report was done “thoroughly and expeditiously” and that “in no way, shape or form did the secretary general do anything to ‘bury’ the report”.

Despite the skirmishing between Israeli and UN leaders, the report was welcomed by many in Israel.

President Isaac Herzog said the report was “of immense importance” and he lauded it for its “moral clarity and integrity”.

The Hostage Family Forum said in a statement that the report made it “glaringly obvious that the female hostages are going through hell every moment, every minute,” and warned that the people of Israel would not forgive prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the cabinet if they did not bring them home.

Ruth Halperin Kaddari, a legal scholar and women’s rights activist, said on Tuesday she was confused by the decision to recall the Israeli ambassador from the United Nations. The UN report, she said, “serves as confirmation on the highest level of the fact that sexual violence and gender atrocities were indeed a part of Hamas’s attack on October 7th.”

But tensions have been rising between Israel and the UN, which is broadly distrusted in Israel.

Mr Guterres has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and has been pushing for an immediate and binding ceasefire, as well as for the release of the hostages taken during the October 7th attacks.

Israel has accused about 30 employees of Unrwa, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, of involvement in those attacks, and the agency’s head on Tuesday said Israel was trying to undermine its operations. And Mr Erdan earlier called on Mr Guterres to resign for remarks condemning the “collective punishment of the Palestinian people”.

The UN report was based on information collected in Israel and the occupied West Bank by a team of experts led by Pramila Patten, the secretary general’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict.

The UN report detailed significant challenges to determining what happened on the day of the attack. The report said it was nearly impossible to review the sort of forensic evidence often used to establish sexual assault, and it noted a deep reservoir of suspicion among Israelis toward international organisations like the UN.

In the past, Israeli activists have expressed frustration over what they considered to be the UN’s slow response to the accounts of sexual assault during the October 7th attack. On Tuesday, Mr Herzog’s wife, Michal, said on Israeli radio that the report was “the first time after five months that a senior UN official supports what we’ve been claiming in the past months”.

In a post on Telegram, Hamas rejected the report, calling the findings false. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times