Feminist groups in Israel find themselves divided over a recent court ruling on rape that liberal groups condemn as tainted with racism.
In the July 19 ruling, a married Arab father of two was found guilty of “rape-by-deception” for having sexual intercourse with a Jewish woman after introducing himself as a Jewish bachelor. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Even as others in Israel’s community of progressive activists hastened to denounce the sentence, Merav Mor, a spokeswoman for the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, told Al-Jazeera International that she saw no trace of racism in the case.
“This was purely a case of a man giving false information in order to fraudulently coerce a woman into a sexual relationship,” Mor said. “This has absolutely nothing to do with the Arab situation in Israel.”
Mor is not alone. “This is rape because it wasn’t informed consent,” said Nurit Tsur, executive director of the Israel Women’s Network. “She has the right to decide with whom she is having a one-night stand. If she was going into bed with him after five minutes and didn’t ask, then she has no case. But if she asked, and he lied, then it is rape.”
The case, Tsur conceded, “has a touch of racism,” but ultimately, she said, the verdict was right.
The Israel Women’s Network and the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel are both funded by the American-based New Israel Fund, a group whose grantees are often perceived as sharing a uniformly liberal political outlook. But among feminist groups — NIF funded or otherwise — reaction was anything but uniform in the wake of this verdict.
The convicted man, a 30-year-old Arab resident of East Jerusalem named Sabbar Kashur, was convicted of rape for lying to a woman he met in a downtown Jerusalem convenience store. He introduced himself as Dudu, a common name for Jewish Israelis, and said he was single. The woman testified that she told him she was looking for a Jewish man with whom she could have a long-term relationship. The couple went into a nearby building and made love on the roof. Later, the woman filed a police complaint for rape.
The Jerusalem District Court ruled that although Kashur didn’t rape her by the classic definition of the word, he is guilty of “rape by deception,” because the woman would not have slept with him had she known his true identity.
“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,” Judge Zvi Segal wrote.
“It smells of racism,” said Ronit Ehrenfreund-Cohen, the Women’s International Zionist Organization’s director of the division for advancing the status of women, based in Tel Aviv.
Slava Greenberg, 26, a feminist activist from Haifa, said the case also discredits women.
“We fight for women, and that sexual offenders should go to jail, but this is a cheapening [of rape],” she told the Forward. “Already, people say, ‘Oh, women call everything rape.’ It’s not that there aren’t enough sexual attackers who are actually attackers, period. But there are all sorts of fears here of Arabs.”
Kashur’s case has even caused splits within organizations. ARCCI is the umbrella group for nine crisis centers nationwide and operates a 24-hour hot line. But while Mor defended the sentence, the head of the group that runs an ARCCI affiliated crisis center in the Arab city of Nazareth found it “impossible not to ask questions in this case.”
“To give legitimacy to racist foundations and to see that racism get into the legal system — this is a very worrying and infuriating issue,” said Aida Touma-Sliman, who also heads the Israeli group Women Against Violence, based in Nazareth.
This isn’t the first time Israeli courts have invoked rape by deception. In 2008, High Court Judge Elyakim Rubinstein convicted Zvi Sleiman of the same offense for impersonating a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Housing. Sleiman seduced women with promises of free apartments and higher welfare payments. His case was a precedent; before it, men who lied their way into bed were convicted of fraud, such as a man posing as a neurosurgeon.
American legal blogger Eugene Volokh, a professor of constitutional law at University of California, Los Angeles, noted that “rape by deception” is a rare charge in the United States, other than a case in Tennessee in which a doctor was accused of rape for masturbating a patient under the guise of normal medical procedure.
But in Israel there is a broader context relating to the case’s alleged racial dimension. Kashur’s verdict arrives in the wake of a rash of initiatives — many of them government funded — aimed at keeping Arab men away from Jewish women. In February, the Tel Aviv Municipality launched a hotline for women involved with Arab men, with funding from the Ministry of Welfare in conjunction with the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. In September, Petah Tikvah, a city about 20 minutes to the northeast, bankrolled a special patrol to break up mixed couples. In the Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev, over the Green Line, vigilantes also drive to known couples’ spots to end budding romances between Arab men and Jewish women.
After the verdict was handed down, liberal Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy wrote about the court: “Don’t they realize that their verdict has the uncomfortable smell of racial purity, of ‘don’t touch our daughters’?” he wrote.
Dorit Abramovitch campaigns with several feminist organizations in Israel. Today there are more than 90, both Jewish and Arab, and they don’t always share one view, she said.
“The national-racial wall exists unconsciously and consciously within the feminist field,” she said.
Yet, within Israel’s feminist movement there is also the beginning of a dialogue between Jews and Arabs about their differences. Two years ago, a national feminist conference was held for the first time in Arab Nazareth. Speeches were translated into Hebrew and Arabic, and participation was about 50-50 Jewish and Arab. Since then, Abramovitch said, Arab women have become more vocal on the common e-mail list of all the feminist groups.
“A very large percentage of Jewish feminist organizations have at least one project dealing with Arab women,” she said. “Some of them have at least one Arab employee. It’s quite new.”
Since he was first accused in 2008, Kashur has been under house arrest at his mother-in-law’s home. Kashur’s lawyer, Adnan Aladdin, told CNN he would appeal.
Tsur said Kashur’s case was “revolutionary.”
“What will be interesting is what are consequences for future cases when someone says he is a bachelor when he is married if he is not an Arab,” she said. “Every day, women and men lie to their partners about their marital status. I think this will be very long reaching.”
Contact Daniella Cheslow at email@example.com