Israel Demands UN Chief Resign as Tensions Flare Over Mideast
(Bloomberg) -- The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations demanded that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres resign for saying Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel didn’t happen in a vacuum, capping a day of heated exchanges at the Security Council over violence that threatens to spark a regional war.
Ambassador Gilad Erdan was responding to Guterres’s speech at the the opening of a Security Council meeting to discuss the Israel-Hamas war in which the world body’s leader said no Palestinian grievances can justify the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7, which killed about 1,400 people.
But “those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people,” Guterres also told the Security Council. “It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum,” he said, adding that Palestinians “have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.”
Guterres’s remarks provoked Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen to cancel a meeting with him. Cohen gave a speech before the council in which he held up photographs of Israeli children held hostage, who he called innocent “victims of evil.” He also played an audio recording he said was a Hamas terrorist boasting of killing Israelis, and identified people who were guests in the council chamber as relatives of Israelis killed or taken hostage by Hamas.
Erdan later took to social media to demand Guterres step down for what he called a shocking speech that “proved conclusively, beyond any doubt, that the Secretary-General is completely disconnected from the reality in our region.”
The exchange highlighted the tensions that have followed in the wake of the Hamas attacks and Israel’s airstrikes in response, which Palestinian authorities say have killed more than 5,000 people. It also reflected the challenge for Guterres, who as head of the 193-member United Nations must represent both Israel and its allies, as well as adversaries such as Iran — not to mention countries such as Egypt and Jordan that recognize Israel but have criticized its policies.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to the UN for the debate and sought to shame those countries that have condemned Israel for its attacks on Gaza but refuse to speak out against the massacre against civilians by Hamas. He called for “humanitarian pauses” for aid to flow into Gaza.
“Where’s the outrage? Where’s the revulsion? Where’s the rejection? Where’s the explicit condemnation of these horrors?” he asked. But he also called for restraint. He said Israel has the right to defend itself, but “the way it does so matters.” And he said to other forces in the region that may consider widening the war: “Don’t throw fuel on the fire.”
Delivering a warning to Iran, Blinken said, “The United States does not seek conflict with Iran. We do not want this war to widen. But, if Iran or its proxies attack US personnel anywhere, make no mistake: We will defend our people, we will defend our security, swiftly and decisively.”
Later in the afternoon, Cohen, the Israeli foreign minister, was yelled at when speaking at a demonstration in support of the hostages held by Hamas in front of the UN headquarters in New York City. Protesters interrupted him several times with chants of “bring them home” and “bushah,” or “shame” in Hebrew. The families of many victims were in attendance.
During the UN session, Riyad al-Maliki, foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority, denounced what he called the hypocrisy of governments that tout human rights but allow dehumanization and abuse of the Palestinian people.
“Israel is avenging against Palestinian women and children and the entire Palestinian people,” rather than targeting the perpetrators of the Oct. 7 attacks, he said.
Understanding the Roots of the Israel-Hamas War: QuickTake
During Tuesday’s session, UN officials described a dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, and repeated calls for an immediate cease-fire. They condemned the Hamas attacks but expressed alarm over the scale of the Israeli response and resulting civilian casualties.
UN officials urged Israel to restore water and electricity to Gaza that has been cut off and to allow the free flow of humanitarian goods. They warned against escalation or widening of the conflict.
“Any miscalculation could have immeasurable consequences,” said Tor Wennesland, the special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.
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