Monday, June 04, 2001

Case of Gang Rapes in Rishon Letzion and Ashdod, Israel

Case of Gang Rapes in Rishon Letzion and Ashdod, Israel

Rishon Letzion, Israel
Ashdod, Israel

Early May, 2001 there was a rash of violent sexual attacks on young women by males, including the gang rape of a 17-year-old in Rishon Letzion, and the sodomizing of a 13-year-old girl in Ashdod by three youths. In the former case, one defendant simply said that he was just "having some fun."

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Table of Contents:   

  1. Gone Are The Days, Almost  (06/04/2001)

Gone Are The Days, Almost
By Netty C. Gross
The Jerusalem Report - June 4, 2001

Was 1999 just two years ago? The question was posed one recent morning by an elderly resident of my Jerusalem neighborhood as she sifted through a stack of old newspapers before tossing them out. Indeed, glancing through the tabloids, those seemed, by comparison, such innocent times. Jordan's King Hussein was alive; Internet companies were sizzling; the peace process, however wobbly, was limping along; and, Yitzhak Mordechai, who had been fired as Bibi Netanyahu's defense minister, was being touted as a candidate for prime minister. ("It will either be Netanyahu and Barak, or Netanyahu and Mordechai" in the expected runoff, wrote one pundit.)

Accompanying photographs portrayed a thick-set, confident Mordechai shaking hands with Shas spiritual leader Ovadiah Yosef; another, at his 1997 wedding to a woman 25 years his junior. "And look at him now," sighed the woman, about 80. "He looks terrible. Skinny like a pencil. And his wife left him. It's so sad," she said wringing her hands.

At that moment, a neighbor - an 18-year old female soldier recently drafted intothe army - breezed by. In her case, two years really does make a difference, I observed silently. Just yesterday, it seemed, she was a kid; now, the uniform. There was something touching in her transition from shy schoolgirl to confident soldier.

Something scary too. In late April, two male judges - who evidently shared the older woman's sympathy - sentenced Mordechai, the highest-ranking Israeli public official and only prime ministerial candidate to ever be convicted of sexual assault, to an 18-month suspended jail term, explaining that they were averse to sending one of the country's greatest war heroes to prison. The third judge, a woman, wrote the dissenting opinion in favor of a four-month jail sentence.

According to the March verdict, on two separate occasions Mordechai attacked women who fended off his advances: One, an officer who worked for him in 1992; another, a married Likud activist who applied for a job in 1996 when he was that party's defense minister. For years they remained silent. It was the news that another woman had complained of a similar assault that led them to come forward.Ironically, Mordechai was acquitted of attacking her.

The state prosecutor's office is weighing an appeal against the sentencing, and Mordechai plans to appeal the verdict. The former jovial, contented pol, who has lost a ton of weight and developed an angry, haunted demeanor, continues to insist on his innocence. My elderly neighbor, for one, bought the ex-defense minister's victimizer-turned-victim act and felt he'd suffered enough. "And now, with the security situation what it is ... to jail a general?" she mumbled.

But it is the young draftee neighbor's world now. A friend, a leading academic who served decades ago under Mordechai, told me, quite casually, that "this stuff had been going on all the time. Girls used to come out of his office crying. But things are much better today."
Women's groups reacted with expected anger at Mordechai's light sentence; spokeswomen for Na'amat and WIZO and the Israel Women's Network say they are taking a wait-and-see approach, planning to wage both legal and public campaignsif the state does not file an appeal. Still, one can't help but notice a certainlack of public rage. A Saturday night demonstration in Tel Aviv was only attended by several hundred women. Na'amat legal counsel Michal Baron says Israelis are "just beginning to understand that what Mordechai did was a criminal offense and not an acceptable macho norm." Men, she says, like Mordechai, for whom women "are mere chattels" and Israeli women - like my elderly neighbor - who have been browbeaten into accommodating the situation, are "transitional figures."

And yet Baron, who recently represented Na'amat in a Supreme Court plea to overturn the appointment of Lt. Col. Yaron Be'eri to commander of the Southern Command's logistics unit, after receiving several complaints from married women soldiers about Be'eri's abusive behavior - including screaming, intimidation andmaking humiliating remarks about their job performance - acknowledges the difficulties of this transition period. The Mordechai conviction, she says, "wasa watershed event for us. That a man of his stature was found guilty is quite extraordinary. It's still very hard to get a conviction in these type of cases. The witnesses, typically, are terrified to come forward. This is a small country, and women are afraid to lose their jobs or get a reputation as a trouble-maker. It's also often hard to remember details in these type of cases, and the defense lawyers are very aggressive. Many women just crumble on the witness stand."

The judges, adds Baron, who says she anticipated Mordechai's light sentence, are also something of a mixed bag. "Some understand the severity of sexual harrassment, what it does to a woman to go through something like this, others don't." Still, Baron believes "there have been many positive changes. New social norms, which reflect the belief that aggressive male behavior toward women is not acceptable, are starting to sink in."

But not fast enough. Indeed, early May has seen a rash of violent sexual attackson young women by males, including the gang rape of a 17-year-old in Rishon Letzion, and the sodomizing of a 13-year-old girl in Ashdod by three youths. In the former case, one defendant simply said that he was just "having some fun."

I wonder what the elderly woman, who'd held on to those old, beaming press photos of Mordechai, thinks of that.

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