by AMY TEIBEL
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli officials were outraged Wednesday over U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ comment that the deadly Hamas attack on southern Israel “did not happen in a vacuum,” calling it justification for terrorism. Foreign Minister Eli Cohen canceled a scheduled meeting with Guterres while Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, said the U.N. chief “failed the test.”
“I will not meet with the UN secretary-general. After the October 7 massacre, there is no place for a balanced approach. Hamas must be erased off the face of the planet!” Cohen posted Tuesday on social platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
Israel’s envoy to the U.N. Gilad Erdan called for his resignation, saying Israel must rethink its relations with the world body.
“We will refuse to grant visas to U.N. representatives. We have already refused to give one to Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths,” Erdan told Army Radio, accusing Guterres of justifying a slaughter. “It’s time to teach them a lesson.”
Israel historically has had tense relations with the U.N., accusing it of being biased against it.
On Tuesday, Guterres addressed a special Security Council meeting on the Israel-Hamas war that was sparked by the militant group’s Oct.7 attack, which left at least 1,400 Israelis dead, and more than 220 taken hostage.
Israeli airstrikes have destroyed large swaths of the Gaza enclave, leaving at least 6,500 Palestinians killed, including over 2,700 children, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry. The U.N. chief told the council that he “condemned unequivocally the horrifying and unprecedented 7 October acts of terror by Hamas in Israel.” “Nothing can justify the deliberate killing, injuring and kidnapping of civilians — or the launching of rockets against civilian targets,” he said.
But his contextualization of the attack created an uproar in Israel. It was important, Guterres said, to acknowledge that “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,” he said.
On Wednesday, Guterres tried to walk back the comments, tweeting: “The grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the horrific attacks by Hamas. Those horrendous attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
But Israel was not mollified.
“The slaughter of Jew by Hamas on October 7th was genocidal in its intents and immeasurably brutal in its form,” Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan said in a statement.
He said that it tests the sincerity of world leaders who came to Yad Vashem and pledged “Never Again.”
“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.”