Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemned religious incitement related to the emerging conflict between Israel and terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip. On October 7, at least 1,500 armed attackers linked to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad infiltrated Southern Israel, killing over 1,000 Israelis (including numerous foreign nationals) and taking scores of hostages back to Gaza. As Israel responds to the terrorist attack, at least 830 Palestinians have been killed, a number that includes members of terrorist groups as well.
“USCIRF condemns, without reservation, Saturday’s brutal terrorist onslaught, that President Joseph R. Biden described as an ‘act of sheer evil.’ This attack represents the largest single-day mass killing of Jews since the Holocaust,” said USCIRF Chair Abraham Cooper. “Protestors in Sydney, Australia chanting ‘gas the Jews’ and similar antisemitic slogans destroy any credible doubt that religious incitement is contributing to violence against the Jewish people in Israel and around the world. The United States must lead international efforts to thoroughly condemn this abhorrent intolerance, including calling out Iran and other governments that stoke the flames of religious incitement.”
“Invoking any religion, including Islam, to justify taking innocent lives has no place in any society,” said USCIRF Commissioner Mohamed Magid. “Claims that violent terrorists represent the whole of Islam—or the Palestinian people seeking their fundamental human rights—are ill-founded.”
USCIRF has expressed increasing concern over religious freedom restrictions in the region which escalated in recent days. Rockets fired from Gaza hit a synagogue in Ashkelon, Israel on October 7. In its response to Saturday’s attack, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) struck at least seven mosques in Gaza, including some it claimed Hamas was using for military purposes.
“At a time of rising religious intolerance, the U.S. government should respond decisively to those invoking religion to justify killings, kidnappings, torture and all other human rights violations against people intending to live peacefully in the Holy Land and throughout the world,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Fredrick A. Davie. “Tolerating restrictions on religious freedom, including harassment of religious communities and restricted access to houses of worship, contravenes the protections guaranteed to all people under international law.”
USCIRF’s recommendations consistently urge foreign governments to implement policies protecting religious communities. While many governments have become more welcoming in their rhetoric, they have not made changes to the laws allowing for greater freedoms or toleration toward some religious communities that might be viewed as threatening. As noted in a recent USCIRF report, governments are accountable for ensuring freedom of religion or belief for all as outlined in international legal instruments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.