UN Was 'Unwilling' to Condemn Hamas But Expressed Concern Over Pro-Palestine College Demonstrations?

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman made the claim about the United Nations, and it went viral.

Published May 2, 2024

 (Governor Tom Wolf/Wikimedia Commons)
Image courtesy of Governor Tom Wolf/Wikimedia Commons

The protracted, often bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict exploded into a hot war on Oct. 7, 2023, when the militant Palestinian group Hamas launched a deadly attack on Israel and Israel retaliated by bombarding the Gaza Strip. More than 20,000 people, the vast majority of them Palestinians, were reportedly killed during the first two months of the war alone. The violence is driven by mutual hostilities and territorial ambitions dating back more than a century. The internet has become an unofficial front in that war and is rife with misinformation, which Snopes is dedicated to countering with facts and context. You can help. Read the latest fact checks. Submit questionable claims. Become a Snopes Member to support our work. We welcome your participation and feedback.

In April 2024, as U.S. college students formed pro-Palestinian encampments on campuses to express solidarity with residents of the Gaza Strip, U.S. law enforcement reacted by arresting at least 1,000 protesters nationwide. In some cases, protesters accused police of using violent tactics — alleged actions that spurred criticism from a high-profile leader of the United Nations, Volker Türk.

In a statement to journalists, including Reuters, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said, "I am concerned that some of law enforcement actions across a series of universities appear disproportionate in their impacts."

Democratic U.S. Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania reacted to that statement with a post on X that claimed the U.N. was "unwilling to condemn Hamas" but would speak against police action against pro-Palestinian protesters. The post included a screenshot of the Reuters headline reading, "UN right chief troubled by treatment of pro-Palestinian protesters at U.S. universities." 

(X user @SenFettermanPA)

The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, among others, shared the post widely.

Fetterman's tweet had a nugget of truth but deserved extra context. 

Firstly, his caption referenced the U.N. in general, though the screenshot (i.e., the Reuters article) was about a specific individual, Türk, speaking about the protests on campuses. The U.N.'s top bodies, like the General Assembly and Security Council, have not issued a formal declaration about the protests. Likewise, they have not issued a formal condemnation of Hamas. However, individual leaders of the U.N., including Türk and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, have condemned Hamas.

We reached out to Fetterman for comment and will update this story if he responds.

To fact-check Fetterman's tweet, we first looked at Türk's past statements about Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel. In the aftermath of Hamas' attack, Türk condemned "horrifying mass killings by members of Palestinian armed groups" and noted the militant abduction of hostages was forbidden under international law. He did not mention Hamas by name. Rather, he repeatedly referred to "Palestinian armed groups."

On Dec. 6, 2023, Türk issued a statement calling for investigations into allegations of sexual violence committed by Hamas. In that statement, Türk decried violence by Palestinian armed groups (again), as well as and Israeli military. He named Hamas, specifically.

Two months after the horrific 7 October attacks on Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, in which civilians were directly targeted and hostages taken, civilians in Gaza continue to be relentlessly bombarded by Israel and collectively punished – suffering death, siege, destruction and deprivation of the most essential human needs such as food, water, lifesaving medical supplies and other essentials on a massive scale. Palestinians in Gaza are living in utter, deepening horror. …

… As the catastrophic consequences for civilians in Gaza mount, I want to again express my grave concern regarding dehumanizing and inciteful statements made by current and former high-level Israeli officials, as well as Hamas figures.

As more information emerges on serious allegations of sexual violence perpetrated by members of armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas, during their attacks on Israel on 7-8 October, it is painfully clear that these attacks need to be fully investigated to ensure justice for the victims.

It is crucial that there are rigorous investigations and accountability for all serious breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law. Individual criminal responsibility must be established.

In February 2024, Türk said at a U.N. meeting in Geneva (emphasis ours):

The attacks on Israeli civilians on 7 and 8 October were shocking. Profoundly traumatising. And totally unjustifiable. The killing of civilians, reports of torture and sexual violence inflicted by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, and the holding of hostages since that time, are appalling and entirely wrong. And so is the brutality of the Israeli response; the unprecedented level of killing and maiming of civilians in Gaza, including UN staff and journalists; the catastrophic humanitarian crisis caused by restrictions on humanitarian aid; the displacement of at least three-quarters of the population, often multiple times; the massive destruction of hospitals and other civilian infrastructure – and in many cases, systematic demolition of entire neighbourhoods, rendering Gaza largely unliveable.

In other words, the above statements were evidence of Türk publicly denouncing Hamas, using words like "horrific," "unjustifiable," "appalling" and "entirely wrong" to describe the group's attacks on Israeli civilians. We consider those words to be a condemnation of Hamas' attacks. At the same time, he also denounced the Israeli military's attacks on Palestinian civilians and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza as a result of Israeli restrictions on aid.

Second, we looked into Guterres' comments. Guterres' spokesperson released this statement shortly after the Oct. 7 attack: 

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms this morning's attack by Hamas against Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip and central Israel, including the firing of thousands of rockets towards Israeli population centres.

The attacks have so far claimed numerous Israeli civilian lives and injured many hundreds.  The Secretary-General is appalled by reports that civilians have been attacked and abducted from their own homes.

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned for the civilian population and urges maximum restraint. Civilians must be respected and protected in accordance with international humanitarian law at all times.

Guterres explicitly used the word "condemn" while denouncing the attack by Hamas against Israelis. 

Have Top UN Bodies Condemned Hamas?

The U.N. General Assembly, which is the body responsible for policy-making, has not passed a formal resolution condemning Hamas. However, individual member states of the U.N. Security Council — including Brazil, which presided over the UNSC in October 2023 — have offered their own condemnations. 

In December 2023, the UNGA adopted a nonbinding resolution (i.e., a resolution that is not legally binding but often carries political weight on the international stage) calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. The resolution also called for the immediate release of hostages in Gaza and better humanitarian access to the enclave. However, the proposal did not explicitly condemn Hamas. The U.N.'s Arab Group and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which represents Muslim and Arab countries, brought forward the resolution.

The U.S. and Austria each proposed unsuccessful amendments to the resolution that condemned Hamas' attacks. Each amendment failed to receive a two-thirds majority required to pass. Other countries, such as Pakistan, said they would not support language condemning Hamas without also condemning Israel's crimes in Gaza. 

In response to the resolution, the Israeli representative said the U.N. was becoming more irrelevant and such calls for a ceasefire would continue Hamas' "reign of terror."

The UNGA is made up of 193 member states, each with an equal vote. It has been criticized for resisting reform, and politics in the assembly are often dictated by tensions between wealthier and poorer nations.

Months after the failed amendments by the U.S. and Austria, in March 2024, the U.N. Security Council — which consists of 15 member states and is responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security — passed a resolution that demanded an immediate ceasefire during Ramadan, an immediate return of hostages taken by Hamas, and more aid to Gaza. Israel criticized that resolution for also failing to condemn Hamas for the attack.

However, numerous members of the UNSC have reportedly condemned Hamas' attacks. For instance, shortly after the Oct. 7 attacks, the U.S. called for unanimous condemnation. According to U.S. Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood, "a good number of countries," but not all council members, condemned the Hamas attack in a closed-door emergency meeting, according to PBS.

On Dec. 1, 2023, U.N. Women — the U.N. body dedicated to gender equality and women's rights — also condemned Hamas' attacks, stating:

We unequivocally condemn the brutal attacks by Hamas on Israel on 7 October. We are alarmed by the numerous accounts of gender-based atrocities and sexual violence during those attacks. This is why we have called for all accounts of gender-based violence to be duly investigated and prosecuted, with the rights of the victim at the core.

In sum, the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly have numerous member countries with varying support for a formal condemnation of Hamas. However, the secretary-general and human rights chief have explicitly condemned Hamas' actions — in addition to Israel's military campaign, which, according to Guterres' words, has brought "relentless death and destruction" to Gaza.


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Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.