NCJW Campaigning Against Sexual Violence

National Council of Jewish Women CEO Sheila Katz spoke at Wednesday, February 14’s U.S. Congressional Roundtable to raise awareness of this sexual and gender-based violence on October 7 and since then against the hostages in Hamas captivity.

Watch the video of her speech on Facebook: https://fb.watch/qhLefS-D1c/

Read her speech in full:

We are here today to make sure the voices of victims of sexual violence are heard. That the final screams of the women assaulted and then killed by Hamas terrorists on October 7th in Israel are heard.

That the cries from the women assaulted still by Hamas terrorists while being held captive in Gaza are heard. We are here today to bear witness. 

We are here today to tell the survivors of sexual assault on October 7th that we believe them and it is not their fault. We are here today to tell those still held hostage in Gaza that we believe them and are fighting for their return. 

And we are here today to speak out to ensure no other woman will be subjected to the violence they experienced. We are here today to call out rape as a tool of war. 

I spent most of my career in education and served as a rape crisis counselor in my decade plus with Hillel on college campuses and working with students.

I sat in the same hospital room while many received rape kits, trying to give them dignity in a process that is less than dignifying. I sat on the floor of their college dorm rooms listening to what happened to them, what was taken from them.

I told them: I believe you. It’s not your fault.

I’ve been with hundreds of survivors on their journey to move from victim to advocate, each ultimately on a life long journey to healing.

Rape is a violation against humanity. We must not allow sexual assault to be normalized in any form. Not on our college campuses. Not in the streets of our cities. Not when it’s used as a tool of war.

Rape must never be justified.

When Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel four months ago on October 7th, they intentionally used rape in their arsenal of terror.

Israeli women and girls were tortured, raped, and killed — forever silenced by Hamas. When evidence emerged indicating the use of rape as a weapon of war by Hamas, the voices we expected to speak up fell into the loudest silence we could have imagined.

But silence normalizes rape. And in this case, It normalizes sexual assault as a weapon of war.

The truth is we have a decision to make.

Either rape is always unacceptable. Or it isn’t.

Either all women are believed. Or they aren’t.

Either we condemn rape as a weapon of war. Or we normalize it.

Every person and every member of Congress has an obligation to raise their voice to make clear that rape cannot be tolerated.

Not just women and women members of Congress. Not just Jews and Jewish members of congress. But everyone and every member of Congress. It shouldn’t be a hard thing to say.

I wish I could sit with the women who were assaulted and silenced by Hamas and tell them we heard their cries. That the final moments of their lives would not define them. That we would work every day to make sure this never happened to anyone again. I wish they could hear us advocating on their behalf today. 

In Jewish tradition, when someone dies, we say, zichrono livracha — may their memory be for a blessing. But in 2019, during an epidemic of domestic violence in Israel, Israeli feminists began to say something else: zichrona l’ma’apacha – may her memory be for a revolution. 

The way we honor the women Hamas silenced is by speaking louder, demanding more, and ensuring rape is never tolerated, debated, or used as a weapon of war again. Let this be the revolution they inspire.