MeToo WashU elicits mixed reactions after statements about Israel-Gaza conflict
MeToo WashU, an advocacy Instagram account for survivors of sexual violence, has become a microcosm of the larger tensions on campus around Israel and Palestine following two posts published on its account, Nov. 29 and Dec. 11.
The posts speak out against the use of sexual violence in the war, referencing harm inflicted both by Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). They also opposed Israeli state practices, “reaffirm[ing] support for the right to a free, unoccupied Palestine.”
MeToo has posted several times about political issues in the past, including in support of Ukraine and opposing the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The last time that the account posted in reference to Palestine was on May 23, 2021, in a post that stated it “unequivocally condemn[s] the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government.”
Many users in support of the posts state that they support the posts’ anti-Zionist and pro-survivor rhetoric, with some endorsing the account’s condemnation of Israeli state practices that they view as genocidal.
Those opposed to the post expressed that the group employed a “double standard” in how the account treated Palestinian and Israeli Jewish survivors of sexual violence.
WashU Hillel Rabbi Jordan Gerson said that the timing of MeToo’s posts relative to Hamas’ attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, which came 53 days after the initial attacks, was problematic.
“It’s challenging to see that it took so long for an organization, whose whole existence is about calling out sexual assault, rape, harassment, to recognize the atrocities that happened over Oct. 7 to the Israeli women and even non-Israeli women,” Gerson said. “It’s unimaginable that this organization that is so quick to call out perpetrators of crimes said nothing.”
Account representatives from MeToo sent a statement via Instagram to Student Life addressing this criticism.
“The delay in our initial statement was mostly due to internal disagreement within our team as to whether or not we should post a statement,” MeToo wrote in its statement. “However, as we saw more and more localized impacts from the genocide abroad, including violence against students on college campuses, we felt it was necessary to speak out.”
On Jan 26, the International Court of Justice “found it is ‘plausible’ that Israel has committed acts that violate the Genocide Convention” but that “the court cannot make a final determination right now on whether Israel is guilty of genocide,” according to NPR.
Gerson also said he thought the account posted about Israeli victims to avoid criticism for recognizing only Palestinian victims.
“It’s clear that there was an understanding that if they didn’t say anything about [Hamas’ violence]…that they would get called out for not saying anything,” Gerson said. “It does not seem like they did it with genuine interest and care about the Israeli survivors of sexual assault, perpetrated by Hamas.”
MeToo told Student Life that it opposes all instance of sexual violence, including against Israeli women.
“This was a core component of our initial statement, and not an afterthought,” they wrote.
Aside from the timeline of the posts, some community members also took issue with their content, rebuking what they saw as unequal outrage against sexual violence inflicted against Palestinians versus Israelis.
Like Gerson, junior Samantha Kanner, who is Jewish, took issue with the difference in language and focus when comparing how the posts discussed sexual violence against Palestinians versus Israelis.
“They have a text slide with a ton of things and details about Palestinian survivors and what they’ve endured and how they unequivocally stand with them,” Kanner said. “[The post said] ‘We are saddened that feminists and survivor support organizations have failed to support Israeli survivors,’” she said. “How about [writing] ‘we are outraged?’”
Senior Lila Steinbach, who is also Jewish, said that they appreciated how the account supported all survivors.
“I think the people who said that this content didn’t talk enough about sexual violence faced by Jewish women were trying to deflect and take legitimacy away from this post, which had clearly done its research,” they said.
Kanner said that she saw the posts as forcing people to pick between their Jewish identity and sexual assault advocacy work.
“[Its posts force people] to either give up your core value of the Jewish right to self determination and to have a Jewish homeland, or to be on their side and do advocacy that you’re passionate about,” Kanner said. “For so many of us, that isn’t a choice we can make, and so inevitably what goes is having to support those organizations.”
Given that MeToo is a platform created for students to share their experiences as sexual assault survivors, some commenters stated that survivors who identify as Jewish or Israeli may no longer see it as a safe space.
“I feel like if your mission is to be a support space and to have support accessible to everyone, then that is your primary job and to do something so inherently controversial and to choose to alienate so many people is irresponsible, at the least,” Kanner said.
Kanner added that she felt these posts not only alienated certain students, but that the account’s posts might make students feel that supporting Israel and supporting victims of sexual violence are mutually exclusive positions.
Senior Emma Platt, who is Jewish, said that the posts could upset Jewish survivors who had previously sent in stories and trusted the account with personal information.
“To see something that is so hurtful, from an account that you’re really trusting, can do a lot of damage.” she said.
Steinbach said they don’t think that sexual assault survivors would be treated any differently by MeToo if they were Zionist.
“I don’t want to invalidate how people feel, but I don’t think that any Zionist, or Jewish student obviously, would be treated any different as a victim of sexual violence,” they said. “I would say this account is valid in their criticisms of Israel because obviously, it is important to place historical events in a larger historical context, especially on a political Instagram account.”
Michael Allen, a lecturer in the Department of American Culture Studies, commented on the post to say that he appreciated how it did not wait for the United Nations to condemn sexual violence in order to view it as legitimate. He also said that advocacy should be centered on survivors and their personal accounts.
“There’s a very real history of, [not only the UN], but police departments and governments concealing sexual violence, not taking allegations seriously, or even perpetrating it in a war,” Allen said. “I thought it was a great kind of intersectional work that reminded us again, our condemnation of sexual violence and sexual abuse should be universal.”
Allen went on to say that he thought the account may have been trying to platform what he believes is an underrepresented viewpoint.
“There was a strong sort of political push from supporters of Israel on this issue that did not acknowledge the possible sexual violence and verifiable past sexual violence committed by Israeli soldiers against Palestinians,” he said. “I thought that maybe [the post] was a desire to counterbalance that dominant narrative.”
Travis Phulnauth, who graduated from the University in 2023 and commented in support of the posts, said that he believed MeToo’s comments were effective. He said that he sees the University’s social media bubble as “extremely polarized.”
“The anti-Palestinian rhetoric is often used to shut down, demonize, ‘cancel’ people on campus and make them feel unsafe, as many Islamic students do,” Phulnauth said.
Some commenters took issue with the post’s statements about Israel, saying that the account should not be making overarching statements about the creation of the country.
Steinbach said that contention with the post’s comments regarding Israel are unproductive and that people should not conflate critiques of Israel with antisemitism.
“I think that a lot of young Jewish people, a lot of Zionists, are programmed to believe that criticisms of the foundation of the state of Israel are criticisms to their personhood as Jewish people, and I just don’t think that’s true,” they said.
Kanner took issue with the terminology that the account used to describe Israel’s state practices.
“You can post about Gaza and civilian deaths and say that there should not be a war happening right now [but] there has to be a better way to address this without denying Jewish indigeneity to the land,” she said.
Steinbach added that they thought people who critiqued the posts were uncomfortable with discussing anything that could disparage Israel.
“I think that those people were upset probably because for them, this conversation is more comfortable when it only highlights the losses and traumas of people on the side that personally affects them,” they said.
Allen said he views MeToo’s post as one that focused on true solidarity across survivors.
“One of the great pains of everything that’s happened since Oct. 7 is observing how people start splitting universal values of safety and protection into exclusive categories,” Allen said. “I thought what they were doing was trying to remind us of the need for solidarity across the lines, the need for true condemnation and advocacy against sexual violence.”
Platt said that she has thought a lot about how to carry out intersectional activism when engaging with relationship and sexual violence prevention work.
“I have not figured out the answer of, ‘how do you do this work and support everyone,’” she said. “I also acknowledge that I don’t think that they’ve done that either.”