Washington state representative, Pramila Jayapal, sparked controversy on Sunday during her interview with CNN’s Dana Bash when asked if she condemns Hamas for using rape as a weapon of war. Her response, which was seen as unacceptable by many, has caused outrage among women’s groups and human rights organizations.
Jayapal, who is also the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a member of The Squad, initially gave a lecture about finding balance when discussing the atrocities committed by Hamas against Israeli women. She then went on to cite numbers from Hamas propaganda to downplay the issue of rape used as a weapon of war.
This response did not sit well with many, including Bash, who pressed Jayapal for a clear condemnation of the heinous acts carried out by Hamas. While Jayapal did eventually condemn the rape of Israeli women as “horrific,” she argued that there needed to be a balance and brought up the number of Palestinian casualties to support her stance.
Following the interview, Jayapal faced heavy criticism on social media, with many women speaking out against her lack of condemnation for a war crime. In response, Jayapal released a statement on Tuesday, clarifying that her comment about balance was not about downplaying rape as a war crime, but rather about recognizing the pain and trauma of all parties involved in the conflict.
“I understand that I have critics who disagree with me on policy, but for them to insinuate that I would think, say, or act in any way that equivocates on rape is outrageous,” Jayapal wrote.
While Jayapal’s statement may attempt to clarify her stance, it does not address the issue at hand nor does it provide any meaningful support for the victims of rape and sexual assault in the ongoing conflict.
The use of rape as a weapon of war is a war crime that should never be downplayed or justified, regardless of the context. Women’s groups and human rights organizations have been vocal about their outrage at the lack of action on this issue and have called for immediate condemnations and accountability for the perpetrators.
In the midst of the Israel-Hamas war, international women’s rights organization, U.N. Women, took more than 50 days to speak out against the atrocities committed against Israeli women and girls. This has caused many to question the credibility and motives of these groups, leading to calls for a more consistent and principled approach to condemning war crimes against women.
In a speech on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu questioned the deafening silence of women’s groups and human rights organizations and called on them to speak out against the use of rape as a weapon of war.
Jayapal’s walk-back statement is seen by many as too little, too late, and has only intensified the calls for accountability and action on this pressing issue. As the conflict continues to escalate, it is imperative that all parties involved take a strong and unwavering stance against any form of war crime, including the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war.