Hadassah’s #EndTheSilence Campaign Sparks Global Movement

March 14, 2024

Hadassah’s #EndTheSilence Campaign Sparks Global Movement

As part of Hadassah’s largest-ever global campaign, 130,000 people from 118 countries as well as 116 organizations have written to UN Secretary-General António Guterres demanding an independent, unbiased investigation of Hamas’ use of rape and gender-based violence as weapons of war on October 7 and beyond.

Building on Hadassah’s efforts since October to bring attention to these crimes, in February, Hadassah united its staff and volunteers in the US, in Israel and, through Hadassah International, around the world, to launch a global campaign, End The Silence. This campaign is working to share the truth far and wide about the rape, mutilation and torture of Israeli women, children and men by Hamas and to demand action, accountability and justice.

Hadassah members and chapters, leaders of Young Hadassah and Hadassah International, and colleagues in Israel have worked tirelessly to help engage people in the US and globally in this critical call to action.

International Women’s Day: Speaking Out Globally to #EndTheSilence

At nearly 190 events in 17 countries around the world and online, Hadassah leaders, members and supporters mobilized on March 8, International Women’s Day.

In the United States, Hadassah chapters hosted 176 #EndTheSilence events in 32 states, including 31 events in Florida, 27 in California and 18 in New York. These rallies, conferences, webinars and other events ranged from a Florida march to programs with Nova and K’far Aza

survivors in Philadelphia and Irvine, California.

Representatives from Hadassah’s hospitals and offices in Israel kicked off International Women’s Day by running the Jerusalem Marathon, their shirts emblazoned with the #EndTheSilence hashtag. Among them were Dr. Dvora Bauman, head of Hadassah’s Bat Ami Center for Victims of Sexual Abuse, and Dr. Alona Katzir of Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem, who was invited to kick off the marathon in recognition of her work treating Israeli soldiers wounded in Gaza. At booths at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem and Hostages Square, in the public plaza in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Hadassah volunteers painted nails yellow, in solidarity with the hostages and their families.

More than 400 women rallied in Buenos Aires as part of the #EndTheSilence campaign and marched wearing black clothes and red shoes, the colors of mourning and blood. In Paris, a heap of red-paint-splattered shoes towered in front of France’s most iconic landmark, the Eiffel Tower. In Santiago, Chile, three generations of Jewish women rallied with Hadassah signs in front of the Ministry of Women Affairs. In Auckland, New Zealand, ralliers held Hadassah International signs, while in front of a UN office in Trinidad and Tobago, #EndTheSilence protestors held the Israeli flag and a sign saying, “Rape Is Not Resistance.” The chant “End the silence on sexual violence” was shouted in unison across the globe.

Standing Up and Speaking Out

Hadassah leaders have taken a highly visible role in helping this global campaign quickly build momentum.

  • In Israel: At the Knesset in February, as part of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Hadassah National President Carol Ann Schwartz addressed the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, pledging to continue to speak out against the rape and gender-based violence perpetrated by Hamas on October 7.
  • In Washington, DC: Immediate Past National President Rhoda Smolow announced Hadassah’s #EndTheSilence campaign on Capitol Hill at an event hosted by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
  • In New York City: Earlier this month, as a featured speaker at the ADL’s Never Is Now conference at the Javits Center, Schwartz urged attendees to speak out to #EndTheSilence and demand that the UN seeks justice for the victims.
  • At the United Nations: Twenty Hadassah leaders attended UN Commission on the Status of Women meetings in March. Schwartz and Hadassah leaders met with Her Excellency Pramila Patten, who leads UN efforts on gender-based violence in conflicts, to thank her for her recent report and discuss Hadassah’s efforts to #EndTheSilence on Hamas’ sexual violence against Israeli women. And Hadassah’s Elizabeth Cullen, director of government relations, spoke at the Town Hall Meeting of Civil Society to demand the UN conduct an independent, unbiased investigation into the sexual violence committed by Hamas.
  • Online (this section has a trigger warning for content that describes sexual violence):

A key part of the campaign raised awareness online. “On October 7, women were raped, sometimes so violently that their legs and pelvic bones were broken,” says one woman in a short selfie video shared with her social media networks. “Women were shot in their vaginas and breasts,” says another. “Girls were found dead, stripped naked, genitals mutilated and covered with blood and semen,” says another. Together, these videos — along with video testimonials — helped make the brutality and violence of Hamas’ actions palpable, encouraging more people to join the campaign and sign the petition. The #EndTheSilence global social media campaign, as of March 12, garnered more than 1.7 million impressions and nearly 400,000 engagements.

March 12: Documenting Hamas’ Weaponization of Sexual Violence and Demanding Justice

“The silence of the international community, international organizations like the UN … has been outrageous,” said Schwartz at Hadassah’s End The Silence event at the New York City Bar Association on March 12, “Documenting Hamas’ Weaponization of Sexual Violence and Demanding Justice.” “The acknowledgement of these attacks has been too little, too late.”

At the event, Dr. Cochav Elkayam-Levy, chair of the Civil Commission on October 7th Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children, thanked Hadassah and Jews across the United States for their support. Her non-governmental organization is documenting evidence of the events of October 7 and developing a comprehensive accounting of the gender-based violence and other war crimes committed by Hamas in Israel to create a historical record of what happened. “We couldn’t have done it without you. We feel stronger each time that we meet you. I feel stronger each time that I meet you,” Dr. Elkayam-Levy said.

Back in October, Dr. Elkayam-Levy said she sent letters to colleagues at the UN asking for help and for them to issue a report about what happened to women and children, to men, to entire families. “We received no response. Not even a thank-you note saying we know that you’ve been through hell, how can we help you?” she said. “In light of the horrific scenes in Israel, it shouldn’t have been hard … to condemn the crimes.”

A report issued by the UN on March 4 confirming clear and convincing information that Hamas committed mass rape on October 7 and sexual abuse of hostages is an important first step, she said, but “truly the battle is just in its beginning.” “We are going to face years of struggle to expose the crimes,” she said, adding that her commission is hiring independent experts — legal, forensic, academic — to help collect evidence in ways that will be credible for international organizations, many of which have been slow to acknowledge these war crimes and believe Israeli women. Still, “despite the denial and the hatred and the growing antisemitism, I am seeing a lot more allies around the world.”

One of those allies is Céline Bardet, founder of the French nonprofit organization We Are NOT Weapons of War, who also spoke. As an international criminal investigator, Bardet conducted the first trial in Bosnia 15 years ago qualifying rape as a weapon of war. Her organization has developed a secure mobile website to enable the identification of sexual violence survivors and facilitate their access to essential services.

When Bardet began looking into and speaking out about the rape and gender violence committed by Hamas in Israel, she was shocked by the prevalence of antisemitism and anti-Zionism that came her way in response.

“I've been working for decades, and I’m highly recognized in my work,” Bardet said. “Never ever in my whole career have I been put in question because I’m doing an independent job, I’m rigorous in my job.”

She was attacked on social media and received threats, with people asking, “where is the proof?” “I was very surprised at that because I didn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t understand why it was so problematic,” Bardet said.

Hadassah leaders from across the country and other Jewish communal leaders attended the event.

“I am so distraught and enraged about what’s been happening, and I think it’s crucial to raise our voices, amplify our voices in support of the investigations that are happening. And we have to counter what’s being said at the UN at every turn and in every way that we can,” said Joyce Laiter of Philadelphia, co-coordinator of Hadassah’s Education & Advocacy Division.

Hearing from Dr. Elkayam-Levy and Bardet “shows that in the darkest time, we still have a light and we are a light unto the nations, and we have to remember that,” said Stephanie Z. Bonder, a national board member and chair of Hadassah’s speakers bureau from Northern New Jersey.

“I came here today because I wanted to hear from the people who are actually doing this work,” said Frieda Rosenberg of Long Island, NY, Hadassah’s education and advocacy co-coordinator. “I don’t think there was a person in this room, man or woman, who didn’t get the

chills or didn’t get teary.”

“The world met this issue with silence,” she added. “It was the Jewish organizations, it was Hadassah who stood up very, very early on in October and said we have to speak out and, over time, not forget. We must continue to raise our voices to fight the silence and the denialism around these horrific crimes.”

Historic Campaign Continues

Hadassah’s historic, global End The Silence campaign does not stop here. We will continue to speak out and demand justice until Hamas is brought to account. We will continue to collect signatures around the world on our petition until the UN conducts an independent, unbiased investigation into Hamas’ war crimes. And we will continue to galvanize and engage our members and supporters at key moments around the US and across the globe until all the hostages are released.

Thank you to all who are helping in this important work to end the silence on Hamas’ sexual violence. Hadassah will continue to exert all our power to demand justice.

Help us heal Israel.

Read More

On International Women’s Day and Every Day, Be a Powerful Voice for Women and Girls
JPost: Hadassah Pres. Addresses Knesset on Antisemitism
JNS: Hadassah Demands Accountability for Sexual Violence
YNet: Hadassah Submits Petition to UN Secretary-General

Press Release: Hadassah Hosts Briefing on Hamas’ War Crimes

JNS Op-Ed: We cannot continue to fail the women Hamas raped and tortured

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