Most likely, you’ve already heard that an Israeli court last week convicted a Palestinian man, Sabbar Kashur, of “rape by deception.” He met a Jewish woman on the street outside a Jerusalem grocery store. They struck up a conversation. She assumed he was Jewish due to his nickname, “Dudu,” which apparently is common among Jewish men. Within 15 minutes, the two adjourned to a nearby building and had sex. Afterward, he took off before she even was dressed. She believed he was a Jewish bachelor who was seeking a long-term relationship.
The woman then filed forcible rape charges. Later, she stated that the sex had been consensual but on false premises, and the charge was downgraded to “rape by deception.”
I’d prefer to table the fundamental problems with “rape by deception” to another post. Here, I just want to say that the notion of purity expressed by the presiding judges in this case is deeply troubling. As Haaretz reported:
In the verdict, deputy president of the Jerusalem district court Tzvi Segal, along with fellow judges Moshe Drori and Yoram Noam, wrote that although this wasn’t “a classical rape by force,” and the sex was consensual, the consent itself was obtained through deception and under false pretenses.
“If she hadn’t thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated,” the judges wrote. …
“The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls,” Segal wrote.
“When the very basis of trust between human beings drops, especially when the matters at hand are so intimate, sensitive and fateful, the court is required to stand firmly at the side of the victims … otherwise, they will be used, manipulated and misled, while paying only a tolerable and symbolic price,” he wrote.
The parallel that pops into my mind is one that I realize may be offensive to some folks: the charge of “race defilement” in Nazi Germany. No, I’m not equating these judges (much less all of Israel) with the Nazis. But there’s a notion of racial purity behind this verdict that is reminiscent of Nazi ideas about racial purity as expressed in the Nuremberg Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor (the Blood Protection Law, for short).
Under the Blood Protection Law, only men could be charged. That went for both “Aryan” and Jewish men, though the primary targets were of course Jewish. Women were interrogated and their privacy and reputations destroyed, but “Aryan” women were also viewed as victims. This legal practice followed Hitler’s bilious depiction of male Jewish sexuality in Mein Kampf:
The black-haired Jewish youth lies in wait for hours on end, satanically glaring at and spying on the unsuspicious girl whom he plans to seduce, adulterating her blood and removing her from the bosom of her own people.
(p. 270 in the James Murphy translation of Mein Kampf that’s freely available on the Web)
Compare this with the language in Segal’s opinion:
The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls.
In both instances, men in the out-group are envisioned as predatory and deceptive; they’re sexual beasts, but they’re also terribly clever. In both instances, women belonging to the in-group are portrayed as passive, innocent, and unsuspecting. In neither case are women conceived – or even conceivable – as sexual agents. In both cases, women will be despoiled if the state fails to protect them. In both cases, community, honor, and racial purity are at stake.
You see the assertion and protection of honor, too, in Segal’s insistence that the woman would not have consented to sex with Kashur if she had not imagined him to be 1) Jewish, 2) a bachelor, and 3) interested in a long-term relationship. While it’s crucial not to slut-shame women (and that includes the woman in this case), let’s not forget that insisting on protecting purity enables slut-shaming in the first place. And when it comes to protection, the racial element in Segal’s reasoning is clear: He didn’t object to Kashur’s failure to disclose that he was married. He only emphasizes that the women was deceived into thinking Kashur was Jewish. (Never mind that Kashur apparently never made such a claim.)
Just for the record, I’m not defending Kashur’s actions as ethical. Not at all. He behaved like a complete cad toward the woman who brought charges, and he was an even bigger asshole toward his wife. I’m just trying to tease out the racial implications of his conviction.
Israel was born out of deep historical oppression and trauma. It’s not surprising that some Israelis overcompensate for this. It’s sad and disturbing, though, that any Israeli would support a rape conviction that rests on notions of race defilement similar to those used historically to oppress Jews.
Fortunately, some Jewish jurists are voicing their dissent (again via Haaretz):
Elkana Laist of the Public Defender’s Office yesterday said the Jerusalem District Court had gone too far in its application of the approach of the High Court, “opening the door to a rape conviction every time a person lies regarding details of his identity. Every time the court thinks a reasonable woman would not have had sex with a man based on that representation, the man will be charged with rape. That approach is not accepted around the world either.”
Laist needs to go further and condemn the racist aspects of the verdict (and perhaps she did but Haaretz didn’t quote it). Here in the U.S., Michelle Goldberg says all that needs to be said:
If such a verdict is allowed to stand, it will be evidence of the deep and corrosive racism menacing Israel. Earlier this year, Haaretz reported on a poll showing that 56 percent of Israeli high school students would ban the country’s Arab citizens from election to the Knesset. “Around half the respondents say Israeli Arabs should not receive the same rights as Israeli Jews,” the story said. We’ll soon see to what degree they get their wish.
Like Goldberg, I too support Israel’s right to exist. But as she says, “It’s getting harder and harder to be a liberal Zionist.” If Israel is to continue to exist as a democracy, its leaders, judges, and citizens need to repudiate racist notions of blood and honor and reaffirm the humanity of everyone living within its borders.
Note to anyone who’s not a regular reader: My Ph.D. is in modern German history. While most of my teaching is in women’s and gender studies, I just taught a college course on the history of Nazi Germany. That’s why I happen to be acquainted with Mein Kampf - I’m not a neo-Nazi in disguise!