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Bowman reverses after calling reports of Oct. 7 sexual assaults in Israel ‘propaganda’

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In the weeks after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Rep. Jamaal Bowman not only publicly cast doubt on reports that Israeli women were raped, but also called those accusations “propaganda.”

“There was propaganda used in the beginning of the siege,” Bowman (D-N.Y.)told aNov. 17 rally of about 50 pro-Palestinian protesters in Westchester, according to a post on TikTok reviewed by POLITICO. “There’s still no evidence of beheaded babies or raped women. But they still keep using that lie [for] propaganda.”

Asked about those remarks on Thursday outside the House floor, Bowman declined to talk about them on the record.

“I’m focused on my votes and other things. I’m not talking,” he said. When asked if he still doubted those claims, he added: “I’m not talking about that now. My team will get back to you.”

In a statement after his brief interview with POLITICO, Bowman contradicted his previous remarks. He and his team did not deny that he made them. The “propaganda” comment was one of several comments he’s had to walk back on in recent months, including raising conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“As I said at this rally, what Hamas did on October 7th is a war crime and they must release all the hostages,” he said. “The UN confirmed that Hamas committed rape and sexual violence, a reprehensible fact that I condemn entirely. I also voted yes on Resolution 966, which officially condemns the rape and sexual violence committed by Hamas. So let me be clear, and ensure my words are not twisted: I always stand against sexual violence in all forms and stand for peace for all.”

Multiple reports of Hamas’ sexual violence during Oct. 7 emerged soon after the attack. A number of Bowman’s Democratic colleagues have decried sexual assaults during the attack going back to Oct. 9, when Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) asserted the attack included “the rape and killing of women, along with the murder of children and the elderly.”

On Oct. 23, the Israeli government showed dozens of foreign reporters a 43-minute video of the atrocities, including children getting killed and some Israelis being decapitated.

“[One] clip showed an Israeli woman inspecting a partially burned woman’s corpse to see if it was a family member,” The Guardianreported that day. “The victim’s dress was pulled up to her waist and her underpants had been removed. Maj. Gen. Mickey Edelstein, who briefed reporters after the viewing, said authorities had evidence of rape.”

A few weeks later, on Nov. 10, the British newspaper also reported that evidence of several incidents of sexual assault and rape were reportedly obtained via video footage taken by Hamas, Israeli civilians and emergency responders. Survivors and witnesses said they had seen women getting raped at a concert site in the Israeli desert.

Four days later, around 150 lawmakers attended a screening of footage from the Oct. 7 attacks, hosted by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. While Bowman participated in House votes that day, a spokesperson did not respond to a question about whether he attended the briefing.

In the months since Bowman’s November remarks, evidence of the Oct. 7 rapes has grown substantially. The Physicians for Human Rights Israel published a paper about the “sexual and gender-based violence” that day, a U.N. envoy said there was “reasonable grounds” to believe the claims and President Joe Biden said that he condemned Hamas’ use of “rape, sexual violence, terrorism and the torture of Israeli women and girls.” The BBC also reported in December that they had talked to numerous people who had collected the bodies of victims and said they had “seen multiple signs of sexual assault, including broken pelvises, bruises, cuts and tears.”

In a local press interview on the sidelines of that Nov. 17 rally, Bowman did not repeat the claims calling the rapes and beheadings “propaganda.” Instead, he said: “what happened on Oct. 7 was horrible, and I condemn that and we condemn that.”

Bowman, who lost the support of the progressive pro-Israel group J Street in January because of his “singling out” of Israel for responsibility for the war and his embrace of anti-Israel activist Norman Finkelstein, is facing a serious primary challenger who is targeting the Squad member for his stance on Israel.

Bowman also has come under fire recently for his past comments about the Sept. 11 attacks. In late January, he said he should not have raised conspiracy theories years earlier about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “It’s obvious to everyone, especially the far-right MAGA Republicans I take on every day in Congress, that I will always stand up and fight against misinformation and harmful conspiracy theories,” he told CNN at the time.