Israel calls for resignation of UNSG Antonio Guterres after he tells Security Council Hamas attacks did not happen in vacuum

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023.
| Photo Credit: AP

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s comment to the Security Council that attacks by Hamas “did not happen in a vacuum” angered Israel, which called for the UN chief’s resignation and apology.

Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Eli Cohen, who participated in a Security Council ministerial meeting on the Israel-Gaza situation in United Nations, was scheduled to meet Mr. Guterres later Tuesday afternoon in the UN headquarters.

Mr. Cohen cancelled his meeting with Mr. Guterres after remarks by the UN chief to the Security Council angered Israel, accusing him of “tolerating and justifying” terrorism.

Addressing the council, Mr. Guterres said the situation in the Middle East is growing more dire by the hour and the war in Gaza is raging and risks spiralling throughout the region.

The UN chief said it is “important to also recognise 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,” Mr. Guterres said in the meeting, which was also addressed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“But 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,” Mr. Guterres said.

In a post on X, Mr. Cohen said he “will not meet with the UN Secretary-General. After the October 7th massacre, there is no place for a balanced approach. Hamas must be erased off the face of the planet!”

Later talking to reporters at the UN Security Council stakeout, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan lashed out at Mr. Guterres, saying his remarks in the council are “unfathomable”.

“You, Mr. Secretary General, have lost all morality and impartiality. Because when you say those terrible words that these heinous attacks did not happen in a vacuum, you are tolerating terrorism and by tolerating terrorism, you are justifying terrorism.”

Mr. Erdan said that Hamas beheaded babies, burnt families, raped women and abducted kids, babies and Holocaust survivors, but the Secretary-General is blaming Israel and the victim.

“This is a pure-blood libel. This is a pure-blood libel. And I think that the Secretary-General must resign because from now on every day that he’s here in this building unless he apologises immediately today, we called him to apologise, there is no justification to the existence of this building,” Mr. Erdan said.

Mr. Erdan said the UN building was established to prevent atrocities. “How can the Secretary-General, with his words, justify in any way the terrible atrocities that happened to our civilians, innocent civilians?”

Mr. Cohen, addressing reporters at the Security Council, said: “There is not two sides” and “there is only one side to support”.

“Therefore, I decided to cancel my meeting with the Secretary-General later on today since we need a clear and loud voice in regards to what happened,” Mr. Cohen said.

“We are fighting for Israel but we also fighting for the entire free world. Otherwise, West will be the next but we are determined to do everything to eliminate” Hamas “totally”.

Mr. Erdan, visibly angry, said the meeting with the Secretary-General had to be cancelled “because I’ve been serving here for the last three years and I saw and I felt the impartiality of the Secretary-General and how he gives the feelings that he doesn’t really care”.

Mr. Erdan added that expressing empty words was not enough and the Secretary-General “doesn’t really care for the suffering of the Israeli civilians”.

“Mr. Secretary-General, the UN was established to prevent such atrocities like the barbaric atrocities that Hamas committed, but the UN is failing.”

Mr. Erdan and Mr. Cohen were joined at the stakeout by families of Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

A spokesperson for Mr. Guterres, Stephane Dujarric, in response to questions about the Israeli Foreign Minister cancelling his meeting with the Secretary-General, said: “This afternoon at 4:30 p.m., the Secretary-General will meet with family representatives of the hostages held in Gaza. They will be accompanied by a representative of the Israeli Permanent Mission to the United Nations.”

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