Yad Vashem: Remark renders 'Never Again' pledge meaningless

Israel halts UN staff visas as officials pan Guterres’s ‘truly insane’ Hamas remarks

After UN chief says terrorist massacres ‘didn’t happen in vacuum,’ Foreign Ministry says words ‘tarnish both him and organization he heads’; Edelstein says they fan antisemitism

UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan, left, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, center, and Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan browse the Yad Vashem Book of Names of Holocaust Victims Exhibit at United Nations headquarters, January 26, 2023. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan, left, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, center, and Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan browse the Yad Vashem Book of Names of Holocaust Victims Exhibit at United Nations headquarters, January 26, 2023. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Israel stopped issuing visas to UN officials Wednesday, a day after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appeared to say Hamas’s murderous October 7 assault on southern Israel was brought on by Israeli occupation.

The development came as Israeli officials continued to rail against the UN chief and demand his apology or resignation, with a senior lawmaker branding his words “truly insane” and adding that they were fanning the flames of antisemitism. The chairman of Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum accused Guterres of having “failed the test” of the refrain “Never again.”

An Israeli official confirmed the new visa policy to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity, after Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan gave additional details in an interview with Army Radio.

“Due to his remarks we will refuse to issue visas to UN representatives,” Erdan said. “We have already refused a visa for Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths. The time has come to teach them a lesson.”

During a UN Security Council meeting Tuesday on the Israel-Hamas war, Guterres said, “It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum.

“The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation. They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced and their homes demolished. Their hopes for a political solution to their plight have been vanishing,” Guterres said.

He later added that “the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza began after the terror group sent thousands of gunmen over the border to ravage Israeli border communities. Terrorists killed some 1,400 people, the vast majority of them civilians, massacring them at their homes and at a music festival. They also kidnapped at least 224 people and took them into the Strip.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, October 24, 2023. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Israel evacuated all settlements and military forces from the Gaza Strip under the 2005 Disengagement. Since then it has faced years of rocket attacks from Hamas, which rules the Strip, and from other terror groups there, as well as multiple rounds of intense combat.

It has maintained a tight blockade of the territory since Hamas took control in 2007, as has Egypt, with Jerusalem saying it must do so to limit the terror group’s ability to arm itself for attacks. In the West Bank, settlements have expanded under consecutive governments with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly arguing the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority is not a partner for peace, having rejected several offers in the past.

Guterres’s comments drew outrage in Israel. On Tuesday evening, Erdan called them “shocking” and demanded that the secretary general resign, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen canceled a meeting with Guterres, and Minister Benny Gantz labeled the UN chief a “terror apologist.”

The strongly worded reactions continued on Wednesday morning.

The Foreign Ministry tweeted that Guterres’s remarks “provoke anger and astonishment and tarnish both him and the organization he heads,” reflecting “a biased and distorted attitude towards Israel on the part of the UN and especially on the part of the Secretary-General himself.”

“The UN Secretary-General must retract his words, engage in deep personal soul-searching and apologize for his statement, which distressed millions of Israelis who are still experiencing the consequences of the murderous terrorist attack of October 7,” the ministry added.

Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, the chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affair and Defense Committee, sent an English-language public letter addressed to Guterres expressing “a profound sense of shock” and saying it would have been “best had you said nothing at all.”

“Mr. Secretary-General, you opened by saying that ‘nothing can justify the deliberate killing, injuring and kidnapping of civilians.’ However, you then [made] an about-face and added that the ‘attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum.’ Statements of this kind legitimize murderers, rapists, and terrorists around the world — rendering your condemnations null and void,” Edelstein charged.

Edelstein tweeted a photo of the letter, adding in a Hebrew-language post that Guterres’s remarks had been “truly insane” and that “against the backdrop of surging antisemitism around the world, his grave remarks are fueling a giant fire [of hate].”

Israeli leaders and US President Joe Biden have noted that the October 7 atrocities were the single worst attack on Jews since the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan, who met with Guterres earlier this year at a Holocaust-related exhibit at the UN headquarters in New York, said the UN chief had “failed the test” regarding ensuring atrocities against Jews don’t repeat.

“The slaughter of Jews by Hamas on October 7th was genocidal in its intents and immeasurably brutal in its form. Part of why it differs from the Holocaust is because Jews have today a state and an army. We are not defenseless and at the mercy of others,” a statement from Dayan said.

“However, it puts to test the sincerity of world leaders, intellectuals and influencers that come to Yad Vashem and pledge ‘Never Again,'” he continued. “Those who seek to ‘understand,’ look for a justifying context, do not condemn the perpetrators, and do not call for the unconditional and immediate release of the abducted – fail the test.

“UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres failed the test.”

In a shock assault on October 7, Hamas bombarded Israel with thousands of rockets while over 2,500 gunmen breached the border with the Gaza Strip. The terrorists rampaged murderously through southern areas, slaughtering those they found, butchering entire families in some communities and also killing 260 at an outdoor music festival. Some victims were mutilated, raped and tortured. Dozens of babies were killed. Over 220 people of all ages were abducted and dragged to Gaza as captives. Four have since been released.

Israel has responded to the Hamas assault by vowing to destroy the terror group and launching intensive strikes in Gaza, saying it is hitting terror targets while trying to avoid civilian casualties. It has told over one million Gaza residents to evacuate the northern part of the Strip ahead of an expected ground incursion.

The Hamas-controlled Health Ministry says the strikes have killed over 6,000 Palestinians so far. Those numbers cannot be independently verified and are believed to include Hamas’s own members, as well as civilians killed by hundreds of misfired Palestinian rockets.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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