State Department Denies Report It Accused Israel of 'Systematic' Sexual Abuse

U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Getty Images)
March 26, 2024

The State Department is denying a recent report that claimed a top U.S. official accused the Jewish state of "systematically" sexually abusing Palestinian women, but told the Washington Free Beacon that it has raised concerns with Israel over "credible allegations" of abuse committed by its forces.

The State Department in comments to the Free Beacon described as "inaccurate" a recent Israeli report claiming a top U.S. diplomat working on the "Israeli-Palestinian portfolio" accused the country of committing sexual assaults on Palestinian detainees.

"It was a meeting that shook me," Israel Defense Forces Brig.-Gen. (res.) Amir Avivi recounted after the meeting. "We sat there, talked about the situation, and suddenly she accused Israel of systematically sexually abusing Palestinian women."

The State Department said the report on the meeting was inaccurate, but U.S. diplomats have nonetheless raised the issue more broadly in their meetings with Israel.

"What has been said throughout our meetings with Israeli leadership is consistent with what we've been saying publicly: Israel must thoroughly and transparently investigate credible allegations of wrongdoing and ensure accountability for any abuses or violations," a State Department spokesman said.

"We take seriously all reports of sexual violence, including reports of sexual violence against Palestinians in detention—as we said after the recent release of U.N. Special Envoy Representative [Pramila] Patten's report on this subject," the spokesman added, citing a recent United Nations investigation into claims of abuse in the wake of Oct. 7.

The State Department’s comments come just days after Al Jazeera deleted a story falsely claiming that Israeli soldiers raped Palestinian women during a recent assault on the Al-Shifa hospital in the Gaza Strip, which has been converted into a Hamas command center.

The claims were based on information from Hamas militants and ultimately proved to be false, according to Al Jazeera columnist Yasser Abuhilalah, who tweeted about the controversy earlier this week.

"It was revealed through Hamas investigations that the story of the rape of women in Al-Shifa Hospital was fabricated," Abuhilalah wrote, according to the Jerusalem Post. "The woman who spoke about rape justified her exaggeration and incorrect talk by saying that the goal was to arouse the nation’s fervor and brotherhood."

Three sources familiar with the matter identified the U.S. official cited in reports as Jill Hutchings, a career foreign service officer and director of the State Department's Office of Israeli and Palestinian affairs, which is overseen by assistant deputy secretary of state Andrew Miller. A State Department spokesman would not comment further on the matter when asked to confirm this information.

Experts who spoke to the Free Beacon said that Hamas routinely lies about alleged crimes by Israeli soldiers and that the U.S. government should be advocating against U.N. investigations that target Israel instead of Hamas.

"It's alarming that we have State Department officials using Hamas and Al Jazeera fabrications as political weapons against Israel," said Richard Goldberg, a former White House National Security Council member. "The U.N. is pro-Hamas and systemically anti-Semitic. Just because a Jew-hating U.N. official takes Hamas lies seriously, doesn't mean a State Department official should."

"There needs to be high-level guidance provided to all our diplomats not to engage in attempts to downplay the sexual crimes committed by Hamas on October 7," said Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank. "And that's exactly what's going on here."