Emmett Till in Israel: How False Allegations of Rape Are Used to Lynch African Refugees and Palestinians
Top officials implicated in sex crime scandals occupy top positions within Israeli state, says journalist David Sheen
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
Is rape used as a political tool in Israel, to demonize and dehumanize Arabs and Palestinians? Last June, the Israeli public was shocked to hear of a girl with a mental disability, who was reportedly raped by a Palestinian, as an act of nationalistic violence. The girl has eventually confessed that her family pressured her to invent the rape, in order to have a Palestinian boy arrested. In December, the Israeli Committee for Women’s Rights, held a debate on sexual offences in joint Jewish-Arab communities. Now, the debate quickly deteriorated into incitement against Arabs.
In a recent piece in Electronic Intifada, David Sheen reported that among the political parties who organized the debate, is the Shas Party, which is described as a very religious, Jewish political party there. A senior member of the party, Amnon Cohen, has been arrested and was recently accused of receiving bribery, in the form of sexual favors. A woman testified that she was afraid for her life if she refused to have sex with the former member of the Israeli Parliament.
Today we’re joined by the author of the article, David Sheen. David is an independent journalist and a filmmaker, originally from Toronto, now living and reporting from the ground in Dimona, Israel. David has written for numerous publications, and he regularly speaks on U.S. College campuses, and in European Parliaments, about his work. Which focuses on racial tensions and religious extremism in Israeli society.
And David’s joining us today from Israel, David, welcome to The Real News.
DAVID SHEEN: Thank you for having me.
KIM BROWN: David, if you could, describe for us, what is the culture of rape, in general, and what does it mean in Israel?
DAVID SHEEN: Mm-hmm. Well, rape culture is a problem everywhere in the world that I know of. The places that I lived and visited where patriarchy, misogyny — where men controlled society, and view women and their bodies as fair game, as essentially, an extension of their own property. And this permeates culture. And it’s a problem in North America, and it’s a problem here in Israel.
Now, unfortunately, what we see is that in Israel, instead of the government saying, “This is a major problem, we need to work at reducing the amount of misogyny and the amount of rape culture and incidences of sexual harassment, and sex crimes.” Instead, what we have, is top members of the government committing these crimes. Top members of law enforcement, top members of the judiciary, top members of regional councils. And people in society like, university deans, and the head of the largest bank in Israel. The President of Israel! From… on rape charges.
So, we see that throughout the top levels of society, there’s serious, serious, serious sex crimes, and that sends a message to the rest of society. Well, you know, this is a normal way to act, and, sadly, the only time it ever gets mentioned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is if he thinks he can somehow blame rape on non-Jewish… non-white, non-Jewish people, specifically Palestinians, and African refugees, and other non-Jewish folk in the country.
KIM BROWN: So, given the fact that, as you said, rape is prevalent throughout the globe, and doesn’t necessarily tend to be exclusive to one particular society or the other, but the issue with rape is, that it is often under-reported. So, to your knowledge, what kind of data exists about the prevalence of sexual violence motivated by nationalism?
DAVID SHEEN: Mm-hmm. Well, this was the topic of the discussion in the Knesset, in December. And essentially, members of the Knesset were stating, “We have proof, in fact there’s a plague of Palestinian citizens of Israel, Arab men, who sexually harass and sexual assault women.”
Police representatives, representatives of the Israeli police force, which by no means are suspect of being pro-Arab, but they were (inaudible) …no evidence of this, you know? We talked to all of our local police forces and they reported back to us that they see no incidents. In fact, the level of sexual assaults in those mixed cities, where you have both Jewish and Palestinian populations, the amount of sex assaults there, is actually going down. That includes sex assaults in general, and sex assaults committed by non-Jews. That was the police statement.
And in the article, the same thing happened five years ago. The last time that the right wing tried, once again to convene a Knesset session to blame non-Jews, police said no, “I’m sorry, we don’t have any evidence of some kind of concerted attack by Palestinian people, specifically trying to attack Jewish women, as a way to get revenge or to harm Jewish people, in the weakest link, you know, women, who are easy prey for sexual (inaudible) …evidence of any of this.”
It’s in the minds of racist lawmakers, and I don’t mind also saying, there are many groups in society, who their ostensive reason to exist is to prevent Jews and non-Jews, from being in romantic relationships. I know you had a film called, “Loving”, that came out in the United States just a few months ago, about the Supreme Court — Loving versus Virginia — how a white man and a black woman were not allowed to wed, just a few decades ago in the United States. It had to be a Supreme Court decision to overrule that.
It’s been pointed out that in Israel, until this day in 2017, there’s no way for Jewish people and non-Jewish people to marry in the country. So, the incidences of Jews and non-Jews, deciding to live their lives together, is relatively rare to begin with. But even those few rare instances are… they make racists so angry… (inaudible) …groups to patrol streets in Israel, and beaches and public places.
And they get funds from the government to actively try to prevent romantic relationships between Jews and non-Jews. And these groups are the ones who put this idea out there that, “Oh, the only kinds of… the kinds of relationships are abusive and therefore we’re not… we’re trying to prevent these relationships to happen, because we’re trying to prevent abuse.”
But the ultimate reason is, they want to prevent miscegenation. They’ve got a eugenics objective to have ethnic purity, and this is what they openly state. And sadly they receive government funds to try to make this manifest.
KIM BROWN: Talk about the accusations against refugees from Africa, who are also blamed for sexually assaulting Jewish women. How much validity should be given –- or credence should be given –- these accusations, because they sound like they could be somewhat politically motivated?
DAVID SHEEN: Sure. Sure. Look, there is no question that no one is going to claim that the crime rate of any group in society, is zero. Yes, there are rape crimes committed by Jews, non-Jews, Arabs, Africans, and that’s going to be the case, regardless. But police themselves will say that refugees have a lower crime rate per capita, than native-born Israelis.
So, why then, is the focus on non-white, non-Jewish folk? Well, again, it’s a way to incite racism, and this is what we have seen for the last several years in Israeli society. And the way that this has become a factor — just look a couple of months ago in the city of… (inaudible), it’s a suburb of Tel Aviv — and the incitement is so great against refugees, and associating them with sex crimes, baselessly, I might add.
That now we can have an Emmett Till-like situation, where a refugee was walking down the street, right outside of City Hall, and he walked past a group –- the reason why we know the details, is because since it’s outside the City Hall, there are cameras situated there –- and so we saw CCTV footage of what actually happened.
So…(inaudible) …old black man just walking down the street, he sees three girls, three teenage women standing there, and you know, they’re, I don’t know, three feet, maybe five, six feet away from him. And he says something to them –- you can’t tell, but whatever –- it’s over in ten seconds. He walks away. Words are exchanged for ten seconds, and the man walks away.
Within seconds, he’s pounced upon by a group of young Jewish men, and they beat him for over an hour, in front of City Hall. And it got to the point where they pummeled him to death, and to the point where he was unrecognizable. The only way that his brother was able to recognize him, is because years ago when he fled the fighting in Darfur, he was maimed and he lost several fingers. And because that was the only way that his brother was able to recognize him –- because his face was, you know, unrecognizable.
So, on the pure… the accusation that a non-white, non-Jewish man spoke, to some non-Jewish girls, that was enough to set off a lynch. And since that time, the mayor of that city, instead of saying, “Wow, we’ve got to stop this racism.” Just the opposite, instead, he’s rounded up African refugees in the city, and he’s shut the electricity off to their apartments, to banish them from the city.
This is part and parcel of the way that (inaudible) …society, but it does speak to the greater phenomenon of also insinuating that non-Jews are sex criminals, and they should be treated as such.
KIM BROWN: And, David, in the piece that you wrote about this, you write about the, “Sex crime epidemic in Israel.” Why does Israel have such a high rate of sexual violence, in your opinion?
DAVID SHEEN: Well, it’s always difficult to actually measure sexual violence, because as many people have said, so much of it is unreported. So, is it rising, is it falling, or are people just talking about it more, they’re aware of it more? One thing is clear, in that, the attitudes around sexual violence are very problematic. Something like 61% of Israeli men do not think that raping someone who is an acquaintance is rape.
Somehow, they conceive of rape as only being a situation, I guess, where you’re hiding behind a bush, and you jump out at some complete stranger and then physically assault them. They only conceive of that as rape. The idea that someone you’ve met a couple… once or twice, and then you socialize with them and then rape them, that’s… they don’t think of that as rape. Which is, of course, it’s ridiculous. It’s rape in every single way.
But, that really speaks to the overall, overarching problem, of how sexual violence is categorized, and even understood and acknowledged, in society. So, that being the case, the message has to come from up top.
But when you have Benjamin Netanyahu himself, working in an office that’s full of sex criminals. When you have multiple former chief advisors to the prime minister, who have been accused of sex crimes, some more than once. When you have the prime minister’s spokesperson, who’s been accused of sex… (inaudible)… Prime Minister’s driver, who’s driving him from place to place, convicted of raping multiple women and young girls.
Yeah, the problem is that we do not have leaders… and when we have mayor, after mayor, after mayor, who are going to jail for sex crimes. Then yeah, we have a message from up top: that women are for the taking, and unless we have a message from the government saying, “This is a national emergency. We need to snuff this out. We need to condemn this, and make clear to our men folk, that women’s bodies are not yours for the taking. And assaulting anyone, whether you don’t know her or whether you know her, whether you’re going to ever know her, that’s a crime and don’t even think about doing it.”
We need to have that kind of messaging. Unfortunately, the message comes from the top as we hear in Israeli society, the (inaudible) so-called, which means the… (inaudible) …rest in Hebrew, and that command your spirit is, that women’s bodies are for the taking. Until we see a change from the leadership, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, we can expect this sex crime epidemic to continue.
KIM BROWN: We’re going to take a quick break right now. We’ve been speaking with journalist, author and filmmaker David Sheen. He has been reporting on the issue of rape culture in Israel. Also how racism impacts Israeli society.
Stick around for Part 2. You’re watching The Real News Network.
KIM BROWN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.
David Sheen is still on the line from Israel. We have been discussing the impact of a rape culture, and how it pervades Israeli society, all the way from the very top tier of the political strata, and how it also impacts women every day in Israel.
David, thanks for being with us.
DAVID SHEEN: Thank you for having me.
KIM BROWN: So, talk to us about what has been the response from women in Israeli society? What about feminist organizations in Israel, such as the ones promoting the use of a term, “culture of rape”? Do they get along with the incitement against Palestinians? Do they participate in that at all?
DAVID SHEEN: Mm–hm. Well, I should say that the feminist organizations in Israel, including one of the representatives of the Rape Crisis Centre, who was present at that very Knesset session, that I spoke of earlier — and I wrote about in the article — they unequivocally say the problem is not Palestinians. The problem is throughout society –- Jewish, Arab, rural, urban –- it’s pervasive, and the way to combat it is not to focus on one specific ethnic group.
I can’t say that women’s groups who speak out about rape culture, no, they haven’t been falling into the same trap of making sectarian claims. We see in response that there are protests, that in recent years, on occasion, you have feminist groups going out into the streets and protesting against rape culture.
For example, we saw this most recently, when the former president, Moshe Katsav, who was sentenced to jail for a number of years for sex assaults against several women, including rape, he was let off early. Even though throughout the entire trial, and since then, and since his incarceration, you know, he has been very –attacking the women who accused him, and not (inaudible) crimes — but regardless, he has received… his sentence has been curtailed by a third.
So, when last month he was released from jail, we saw protests like this. The very same day he’s released from jail, he had someone who had killed their rapist, was sentenced to 20 years in jail and will receive no reduction in their sentence.
So, on that, yes, we had women come out into the streets and protest, but it doesn’t seem to make a mark. The protests aren’t especially large, and politicians haven’t taken that and, taken it to heart and done anything about it, unfortunately.
KIM BROWN: Can you tell us about the organization –- I hope I’m pronouncing this correctly –- Lahava? Who are they, and what is the goal of Lahava?
DAVID SHEEN: Okay. Well, Lahava, their main professed goal is that they’re an anti-miscegenation… (inaudible) to prevent Jewish people and non-Jewish people from having romantic relationships. Now, it should also be said that they are… the leaders of this group are openly and unabashedly Kahanists, meaning they’re followers of Meir Kahane, that’s the founding father of Israeli fascism. You could say a politician who really is the leading ideological figure of the far right in Israel.
But, we should also point out that Lahava has the same top funder as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Falic family. These are a group of… a family of Americans, who are the largest contributor to the election campaigns of Benjamin Netanyahu, in Israel. They’re also the largest contributor to the Israeli armed forces, and they are the largest contributor to Lahava, this anti-miscegenation organization.
This group, first of all, I should also point out, they have some side issues, too. They also attack Christians. They’re also anti-Christian. They try to repel any instance of Christianity. If there’s a Christian choir singing in Jerusalem, they will protest them and try to banish them from the public sphere. They’re also really trying to push ascension to the Temple Mount, to conquer the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in Jerusalem.
But their main focus is anti-miscegenation, and to do that, what they do is they’ll patrol… (inaudible) especially Jerusalem, where they’ve been very successful. Thursday nights, Saturday nights, especially, and they’ll walk around and they’ll, let’s say, walk up to a Palestinian person and they’ll say, “Hey, have you got the time? Do you know what time it is? Do you got a…?” And the person, not thinking anything of it, will just say, “Yeah, sure it’s so-and-so, the time,” and as soon as he answers them, “The time is so-and-so,” but it can be heard that he has an Arabic accent when he’s speaking in Hebrew, then that tells them, ah, this person is a Palestinian.
And so, once they know that, then they attack them. Physically attack them. And the idea is to banish all non-Jewish Palestinian people from the Jerusalem area, with the ostensive objective of… so that Palestinians and Jews won’t socialize. Because downtown Jerusalem, of course, Thursday night, Saturday night, these are nights when people are out in the street walking in public areas, and like I said, there’s so much going against it. There’s so little… few opportunities for Jews and non-Jews to actually socialize and meet.
But even those few opportunities drive them mad, and to the point that they will, you know, police people’s social behavior, and to the point where they will physically attack Palestinian people. So that, when they decide… you know, when they’re sitting at home on a Thursday night, or a Saturday night, they’re, like, “You know what? I feel like going out tonight, but I don’t feel like getting my head kicked in.”
…(inaudible) and in that way, they do that enough to the point where we see Jerusalem is eventually, and slowly, being ethnically cleansed, of Palestinian people.
KIM BROWN: I mean David, I have to ask this question. We talk about ethnic cleansing, and we talk about these campaigns to push for Jewish purity, and anti-miscegenation groups that have connections to the prime minister, and to the Israeli army. How is this different from what the Nazis did in Germany, and in Eastern Europe, with the Holocaust and this push for Aryan purity? I mean, the irony can’t be lost on the Jewish people of Israel, in these policies.
DAVID SHEEN: Yeah, yeah. Look, there are people in Jewish-Israeli society who’ve been screaming about this, yelling about this, at the top of their lungs. For years and years and years, but no one ever listens. They never get a play. And of course, they’re attacked.
But here’s the most classic example. Just seven months ago, one of the top generals in the Israeli army, (inaudible), he… it was on Holocaust Remembrance Day, that’s celebrated on two different days, but on the one in which it’s celebrated in Israel, on (inaudible), he said that when he looks around and he sees Israeli society looking more and more and more like Germany in the 1930s –- not in the late ’30s or in the 1940s, when there was actual genocide being perpetrated.
But certainly in the run up to that time, because those policies of genocide did not spring up, you know, magically out of nowhere. They were built upon years of demonizing the Jewish population in Germany, to the point where dehumanizing, to the point where people were fine with genocide.
So, yeah, we do see in those years, and we see in recent years top Israeli cultural figures, ex-government figures, and now army figures who are saying, “Yes, I’m scared. Our country is looking more and more like, what to do…?” That’s the touchstone in our culture, in the world’s culture and in Jewish culture, that’s what we know. That’s the symbol of evil, and our society is exhibiting more and more and more of these racist manifestations. We’re horrified by it.
The problem is, that no one is really listening, because there is a lot of reasons for people to adopt Brand Israel, to want to believe that Israel is good. Well, if you want to believe that… you know, if you want to do good for Jewish people, just believing that Israel is good, doesn’t cut it.
Because what you’re doing is, essentially, you are silencing voices of dissent; you’re silencing voices that are speaking out about the problems of society. These problems aren’t getting any better. We’re talking about them in Hebrew, but sadly, no matter how much we speak, it gets worse and worse and worse every year. The scariest part is the youth are getting more racist than their parents.
So, when we speak out in English, instead of having our voices augmented, we’re essentially… said that we’re anti-Semites, we’re… people here are trying to improve their society, trying to point out the problems, so we can improve. But instead, we have people silencing it and mainstream media just pushing it off the pages.
Well, I don’t think that’s any way to show love to Jewish people, to condemn them to a society in which racism flourishes, and gets worse from year to year. Of course, if you really care about Jewish people, and Palestinian people, and African people and others, you will speak out and you will augment the voice. The critical voices, who are pointing out the problems in society, so they can be improved.
But I don’t see that happening today, or tomorrow. And with the Trump administration, it’s hard to imagine that that’s going to happen any time soon. Perhaps what we’ll see is people realizing, oh, yeah, that’s what y’all have been talking about all these years, and Israel warning us about how… what society looks like when, ostensibly democratic society, starts going off the rails. There were problems throughout, from the very, very beginning.
But (inaudible) Israel’s dispossession of Palestinian people from even before ’48, but in recent years, we just see it going off the rails. And, I guess, y’all in America are getting a little bit of a taste of that now, with your pussy-grabbing-in-chief president, and just a sense of what we’re living under here. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And I know, now you’ve got to spend your time focusing on how to fix your society, but maybe take some words of advice: don’t wait ’til it gets worse. It’s a problem, and you need to speak out about it.
KIM BROWN: I think that’s an excellent place to leave that. We’ve been speaking with David Sheen. David is an independent journalist and filmmaker, originally from Toronto, now living and reporting from Dimona, Israel. You should check out his work in a variety of publications, but his most recent piece appears in Electronic Intifada.
David, we appreciate your time, and your extensive reporting on all these different complex issues that are impacting Israeli society. We really appreciate it.
DAVID SHEEN: Thank you so much for having me.
KIM BROWN: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.